Behind, Before

By James Cornwell

Feast of the Annunciation

A Reading from Isaiah 52:7-12

7 How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
who announces salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
8 Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices,
together they sing for joy;
for in plain sight they see
the return of the Lord to Zion.
9 Break forth together into singing,
you ruins of Jerusalem;
for the Lord has comforted his people,
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
10 The Lord has bared his holy arm
before the eyes of all the nations;
and all the ends of the earth shall see
the salvation of our God.

11 Depart, depart, go out from there!
Touch no unclean thing;
go out from the midst of it, purify yourselves,
you who carry the vessels of the Lord.
12 For you shall not go out in haste,
and you shall not go in flight;
for the Lord will go before you,
and the God of Israel will be your rear guard.


As Isaiah prophesies the deliverance of God’s chosen people from their bondage, announcing the coming of our Lord’s eternal kingdom, we are at last liberated from the provisional lordship of the powers and principalities of this world. As in all prophecy, there is a sense in which what is prophesied has already taken place, but also a sense in which we must endure and wait.

Today we commemorate the Annunciation — an event which is itself exemplary of this “already-not-yet” nature of Isaiah’s prophecy. After all, what could be more present than a baby growing in his mother’s womb? And yet, as we anticipate the birth, we wait for what has begun to be fully manifested. The kingdom of God is at hand, and yet we pray, “Thy kingdom come.” The Annunciation is that lynchpin of salvation history, the place where Isaiah’s prophecy is made present, and yet we still await its ultimate fulfillment. This is consistent with the way that Isaiah prophesies that God will go before us, and will also be our rearguard. We are already safely within his presence, and yet we must also pursue him.

In many churches, the baptismal font is set up in the rear of the church, facing the altar. When we walk up the center aisle to receive the Eucharist, our baptism is our rearguard, and God is also really present there before us. In that journey, we embody the already-not-yet nature of the Church and live into Isaiah’s prophecy. We also enter the holy space of the Annunciation, in which salvation history is both made present in the First Coming and calls to us from the future in the Second.

The next time we take that journey from font to altar, let us remember that Christ is both our rearguard and our vanguard, and respond to him, in the words of his mother: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”

James Cornwell lives and teaches in the Hudson Valley with his wife Sarah and their seven children.

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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer

Today we pray for:

The Diocese of Kivu – Eglise Anglicane du Rwanda
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Prosper, Texas


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