“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines. On this mountain he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations; he will destroy death forever. The Lord God will wipe away tears from every face; the reproach of his people he will remove from the whole earth; for the Lord has spoken. On that day it will be said: ‘Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us! This is the Lord for whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!’ For the hand of the Lord will rest on this mountain.” (Isaiah 25:6-10a)
Every now and then, in the prophets’ constant trudge through sin and judgment, redemption and deliverance…and then sin and judgment again…we seem to be suddenly transported to a different world, a world that completely exceeds the realm of possibilities with which we are familiar. One well known example can be found in Isaiah 11, where the prophet proclaims the coming of and king who will restore justice and establish a world in which “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,the suckling child shall play over the hole of the asp..they shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.” It is a world far away from the one which we know, one that is often difficult to even believe possible.
Our passage today takes just such a leap, a leap to a world where all is feasting, the veil (shroud) is taken away, and death is no more. But this is not another world; it is still our own planet earth. It is, however, another realm: the Kingdom of God. That is, it is our old world renewed because God’s will reigns and all experience the benefits of that reign. It is what the world will be like when we experience the answer to our daily prayer: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Moreover, it’s coming is a sure thing, a sure and certain hope, for God has commanded it to be: “for the Lord has spoken”.(v8)
It is passages like this one that give us confidence to live into that future, assured that its fulfillment belongs to God and it is good. This hope has fortified many in their struggle, even in the midst of apparently insuperable difficulties, among them, African American Methodist pastor Charles A. Tindley. He was the son of slaves and lived in a time of horrid discrimination and yet was able to write some of the most confidently hope-filled hymns of all time, inspiring and encouraging not only those of his time, but ours as well. I must confess that, remembering what he and his people endured, I cry every time I sing this hymn:
“A better day is coming, the morning draweth nigh when girded right with holy might shall overthrow the wrong. When Christ our Lord shall listen to every plaintive sigh and stretch his hand o’er all the land in justice by and by. No more will angry nations in deadly conflict meet While children cry and parents die in conquest or defeat, For Jesus Christ the Captain, will give the battle cry The Holy Ghost will lead the host to victory by and by. No more shall lords and rulers their helpless victims press And bar the door against the poor and leave them in distress But God the King of Glory, who hears the ravens cry Will give command that every man have plenty by and by.
As we meditate on this passage given to us in this first reading, we are challenged to take as our own the very hope to which it points, the same hope that inspired and sustained Tindley in the midst of his struggles. Like he, we are called to trust that no matter where we find ourselves, no matter how painful or ominous the situation, “A better day is coming, the morning draweth nigh when girded right with holy might shall overthrow the wrong. When Christ our Lord shall listen to every plaintive sigh and stretch his hand o’er all the land in justice by and by.”
And we are called to to sustain ourselves in that hope by the very sources of grace Our Lord has given us: by surrendering ourselves constantly to the work of his Spirit in our lives, and partaking of the extraordinary banquet to which are welcomed every time the Eucharist–both a forestaste of and initial participation in the extraordinary banquet we see promised here–is offered.
In Revelation 21 we find a passage which corresponds almost exactly to the one on which we’ve meditated here, for it is its fulfilment:
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth…and I heard a great voice from the throne saying ‘Behold the dwelling place of God is with men… he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more , neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more”.
As a pastor for forty years I officiated more than 500 funerals and in almost every one of them I used these words at the graveside. Every time I proclaimed them not just as our future hope but as the present experience of one who has died in Christ. Already for him “death had been swallowed up in victory”. (I Cor. 15:55) Already for her “Mortality has been swallowed up by life”. (II Cor.5:4)
The Kingdom of God has been inaugurated and nothing can stop its consummation! The Lord has spoken it. Thanks be to God! Forward by faith into God’s Future!