Prepare the highway

Published 5:00 am Sunday, July 28, 2019

I have lived in various parts of our state and have numerous friends who have worked to build our system of roads and highways. There is always a project or repair that is needed, under study or under construction. This time of year that work is often done at night, when there are fewer cars to reroute and the air is not so hot. It can be blistering work, but the results are enduring, and help countless people.

Virginia’s highways and bi-ways take us throughout our scenic state. The U.S. interstate system enables fresh food and fast freight to reach us in every ZIP code. Such systems were known in ancient times, as evidenced by enduring archaeology and the imperial motto that “all roads lead to Rome.” But Rome was not the first.

The ancient world had a “Royal Road” before Rome was even a local kingdom. The Assyrians ruled over the region of Egypt, Syria, Turkey and Iraq. Extending from their chief cities of Assur and Nineveh (now Mosul), they created the first “express highway.” It wound from Susa (in Iran, near the Persian Gulf) up to Ephesus (on the Turkish Coast, across the narrow Aegean Sea from Athens). Some of the earliest sections may have been used as early as 2500 B.C., with developed improvements over the centuries.

The “Royal Road” was not for everybody, though. It was for the king’s couriers (the ancient version of the internet). Messages sprinted in relays of riders and mounts that cut communication time by up to 90 percent. Indeed, the ancient Greek historian, Herodotus wrote, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor darkness of night prevents them from accomplishing the task proposed to them with the very utmost speed.” (Herodotus, The Histories).

Some biblical scholars consider this the image evoked by the prophet Isaiah: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God!” (Isaiah 40:3). Like creating an express highway, the people are called to remove obstacles from their lives to receive the ride-like-the-wind message of good news of God’s presence. It will take dedication and effort, even team-work to build.

God provides the bedrock for the road to exist at all. God gives the message of hope and the messenger who brings it. We don’t create God’s desire to be with us, but we do respond to it.

REV. MICHAEL KENDALL is lead pastor of Farmville United Methodist Church. His email address is mkendall@farmvilleumc.org.