6 On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. 7 And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; 8 he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. 9 It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation. (NRSV).
A Feast of Rich Food
I have good news to preach to you today. I have discovered the jewel of Mount Vernon, the great gem of this city, the culinary holy of holies itself. Hawg N Sauce. I know God told the Israelites to eat Kosher and avoid pork, but by golly there better be baby back ribs in heaven. My favorite barbeque restaurant is still Rib Country in Hayesville, North Carolina, but Hawg N Sauce is pretty good.
Living in the Carolinas was barbeque heaven. There’s East Carolina style (which is vinegar and pepper based), West Carolina style (which is tomato, vinegar, and pepper based), and South Carolina style (which is mustard, vinegar, and pepper based). They’re all good in their own way, but West Carolina style is my favorite. There is no better food on planet earth that West Carolina style baby back ribs. I eat the meat and suck the marrow from the bones. I even dip the bones in the sauce just so I can suck on the marrow again.
This is why I’m certain there will be baby back ribs at the great banquet in heaven, “the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples…a feast of rich food filled with marrow.” And, I hope, barbeque sauce.
Isaiah’s words give us a glimpse of what God has promised: feasting, true sight, the end of death, the comforting of those who weep, and the removal of our disgrace. This is what salvation will look like. And death in this text isn’t merely the ending of an individual life. Death is spoken of in the Scriptures as a power, an enemy that must be destroyed. It’s the power associated with the other things mentioned around it. Death is why we mourn and weep.
But the road to get to salvation is not what we would expect. It’s a road that’s paved with suffering. And it’s not only our suffering, but God’s. If we’re honest, suffering is the part we all want to skip. We want to get right to the glory without the cost it takes to get there. We want the reign of God without judgment.
Well, some people want judgment. But the people who want judgment are usually those smug types who can’t wait to see how those other people get their just deserts. They don’t fear judgment because they’re fine. Those are the types I worry about the most because I think the Judgment of God is going to be a shock for them.
But typically, we are a people who want to get right to the feast in the Kingdom of God without the cost to ourselves, to others, and to God.
To put it in other words, we want Easter without having to go through Good Friday. As a pastor, I’ve lamented many times that Easter Sunday services are packed, while Good Friday services are barely attended. But that’s who we are as people. We want the resurrection without the crucifixion. But the truth is, without the crucifixion, there is no resurrection. Without the suffering, there is no glory. Without the cost, there is no triumph.
It’s the same with almost any story that’s written. Without power there is no conflict. Without conflict there is no tension. Without tension, there is no story because there’s nothing to be overcome. The struggle is what makes a story good.
God doesn’t always work the way we want God to work. We want God to snap his fingers and make everything okay, make all of our sins disappear, erase every mistake we’ve made. We want God to say, You know, it’s okay. This whole human sin thing, we’ll just pretend it never happened.
But redemption comes with a price. Death is a power that had to be overcome. The glorious reign of God comes with a price. By and large, it’s a price that God paid with the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yet, human suffering continues when people and institutions continue to resist God’s will.
It helps to look at the context of these words in Isaiah 25 alongside Isaiah 24. Chapter 24 isn’t easy to read. The entire chapter is about God’s judgment of heaven and earth. Part of it says this: “The earth is shattering, shattering; the earth is shaking, shaking; the earth is teetering, tottering. The earth trembles like a drunk and shudders like a hut; it’s rebellion weighs heavy upon it; it will fall, no more to rise. On that day, the Lord will punish the forces of heaven in heaven, and the kings of the earth on earth” (Is. 24:19-21, CEB).
Suffering and judgment are the result of human sin. It’s our disobedience to God’s way, our rejection of God’s love, our resistance to God’s rule and reign that causes us to leave suffering in our wake. Sin is what will cause us experience judgment in the future. Judgment isn’t pretty. Suffering isn’t pretty. But they’re both real, and they’re the path we trod to get to glory. No one is left untouched by them. Even God. The suffering servant bore our sins on the cross as he offered himself for our sake. The judgment we deserve, God took upon God’s self in order to show us what real love and obedience look like.
One of the things God said to us in the crucifixion of Christ is: Look! The way you treat each other, the way you do violence to each other and cause others to suffer, whether it’s individuals, governments, or organizations, it affects me, too. God made us to love and to be loved, so when we fail at that, it doesn’t leave God untouched any more than it leaves our fellow human beings untouched.
At the same time, God is working to defeat sin, evil, oppression, and violence from among us. The church is called to participate in that work in whatever way we can. We can see a glimpse of God’s victory—the victory over death—in the resurrection of Christ. And we can experience a foretaste of the victory banquet every time we come to the table for Holy Communion.
This is God’s table in God’s dining room. This is where our community of faith communes with each other. But it isn’t only with those gathered here. This feast reaches across the world. In it, we share a meal with Christians everywhere. Yet, there’s also an eschatological quality to the Eucharist, in that we are mystically feasting with the saints on earth and in heaven. It’s a foretaste of the feast to come.
God’s feast on Mount Zion is for all peoples, not for a select few. The invitation is wide open. Anyone who wants to come is invited and welcomed.
Death comes for everyone, but our hope is in God’s promise of life on the other side. We hope, we believe, and we have confidence that those who leave us behind are alive and well. Because of that, our own lives need not be defined by grief and mourning. Yes, we experience deep sorrow when someone we love dies. We do grieve. We do mourn. But we also have hope.
The lectionary actually lists a text from a book called the Wisdom of Solomon as the Old Testament reading for today. Isaiah is the alternate text. Wisdom of Solomon is in the Catholic and Orthodox Bibles, not in Protestant Bibles. But, since the vast majority of Christians on the planet hold this book to be sacred Scripture, and since this text is read in many Protestant churches for All Saints’ Day, I think it’s fair that we at least pay some attention to it. Wisdom of Solomon says this about those who have died:
“The souls of those who do what is right are in God’s hand. They won’t feel the pain of torment. 2 To those who don’t know any better, it seems as if they have died. Their departure from this life was considered their misfortune. 3 Their leaving us seemed to be their destruction, but in reality they are at peace. 4 It may look to others as if they have been punished, but they have the hope of living forever. 5 They were disciplined a little, but they will be rewarded with abundant good things, because God tested them and found that they deserve to be with him. 6 He tested them like gold in the furnace; he accepted them like an entirely burned offering. 7 Then, when the time comes for judgment, the godly will burst forth and run about like fiery sparks among dry straw. 8 The godly will judge nations and hold power over peoples, even as the Lord will rule over them forever. 9 Those who trust in the Lord will know the truth. Those who are faithful will always be with him in love. Favor and mercy belong to the holy ones. God watches over God’s chosen ones.” (Wisdom 3:1-9, CEB).
I think both of these texts sum up our hopes fairly well. Those who have died are alive. Though their bodies—and ours—will experience decay, we will live. Though we experience suffering and pain in this life, there will come a day when God holds us and gives us such comfort that we’ll no longer weep. Every injustice shall be set right. Every act of violence will be paid in full. But we don’t need to be afraid of judgment because God bore everything for us in the cross of Jesus Christ.
God will wipe away the tears from our faces. God will set a feast for us with well-aged wines and rich, marrow-filled foods. And so, we wait patiently. Not idly, but with active patience as we labor for God’s Kingdom just as the saints before us labored. One day, we’ll join our voices with all of God’s people as we say, “This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” (Is. 25:9b).
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) and the Common English Bible (CEB).