“Holy Cow!” is an expression I have used various times over the years to express amazement or delight, but I never thought much about the background of the statement.  In looking it up this week I discovered that the expression was used regularly by sportscasters Phil Rizzuto and Harry Carry.  Some people speculate it references Hinduism.  Others think its Irish Gaelic.  Personally I am more interested in the first half of the expression than the second.
 
What comes to your mind when you hear the word “holy”?  Sacred?  Pure?  Divine?  Though you would not be wrong in thinking this way, it is not where my mind goes.  In Hebrew (the language of the Old Testament) holy means “separate” or “set apart.”  Combine this thought with the middle term above and we have something good going.
 
Consider God’s word to his people on Sinai.  “You are a people holy to the Lord your God.  The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” (Deuteronomy 7.6)  This, of course, applies to God’s people of all time … which includes you and me.  We have been set apart to the Lord our God – simply because he has chosen us.  As a people made pure and set apart from the world in our baptism, we are God’s treasured possessions.  If there is anything that should make us feel safe and special, this is it.
 
Peter provides us with a New Testament echo.  “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2.9-10) Do you hear “holy Christian and apostolic” church in these words?  I hope so.  The multiple descriptive phrases at the beginning describe the holy Christian church and “apostolic” is all about “proclaiming the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.”  Again, these words are written so that we might feel safe and special … while also realizing that we have been sent (commissioned) to make a Gospel difference in the world.
 
So what are we to make of last Sunday’s reading where one seraph says to another, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6.3)?  One way to look at it is this way:  If we, as God’s holy people are set apart and pure, the “thrice holy” implies that our God is exponentially more pure and separate than us.  And, of course, here we can add those initial terms of sacred and divine.
 
One additional important item to note is that “separate” and “set apart” are not by any means another way of saying “standoffish”, “self-righteous”, or “arrogant”.  In fact, as we see in God’s behavior in Christ Jesus, it means the exact opposite.  What sets God and his people apart from the world is our loving care and service extended to all.  Note again that we are set apart to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”  His excellencies are found in undeserving forgiveness for all and his light shining into this dark world.
 
Holy Cow!  Amazing grace – how sweet the sound, that saves a wretch like me!  Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim till all the world adore his sacred name.  Holy cow – what a gift!  Holy cow – what a calling!  Holy cow – what a delightful life we have been given.

A holy nation proclaiming excellencies!“Remember,” Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” (John 4.13-15)

Holy Cow!