This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregations I serve.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Practice Resurrection.


Isaiah 25:6-9

I.
            The resurrection of Jesus gives us the summary of the message of the Bible.  Just as the Biblical story was set in motion and determined by the event of Passover, when the Israelites were liberated by God from slavery in Egypt, now, in Jesus’ resurrection, that liberation is extended and applied to the whole creation and all people.  Beyond being freed from bondage, now it is release from death itself, the ultimate bondage and slavery in human existence.  Indeed the resurrection reveals to us the meaning and destiny of human life, and all life, and creation generally.
            In other words, the deliverance of God’s people from Pharaoh’s tyranny in Egypt is a sign, a symbol, an image, a foretaste, and a representation of this even bigger and more inclusive and comprehensive deliverance in which all people are freed in the end from all tyranny.  All inequality, all bondage, all disease, all oppression, and even death itself, is swallowed up, overcome, defeated by the unstoppable, inevitable goodness and love of God. 
            Throughout the Scriptures we are occasionally regrounded in this fundamental heart of the story, that it is all about life, deliverance, healing, redemption, and joy.  No matter how grim and destructive the imagery gets – or our lives get – there is no question about the deepest truth on which we are to rely.  And that is the ultimate blessing and goodness at the core of everything.
            If a story begins well and ends well, it completely reframes whatever else might happen in the middle.  Human beings will repeatedly, out of ignorance and fear, do things and develop systems that are so out of synch with God’s love that they collapse in disaster.  Human history could be seen as the succession of these catastrophes.  And after each one, God emerges again, coming to restore and deliver us, and call human beings back to this vision of reality of freedom, plenty, and justice. 

II.
            This great banquet, this “feast of rich food,” that Isaiah prophesies, will take place “on this mountain.”  He means
Jerusalem and the hill upon which the Temple was built.  It is to this place that Isaiah says “all peoples” will come.  This banquet is for everyone, people of every nation.  
            Of course, the first thing we notice is that the people who are welcomed by God extend beyond just the chosen Jewish nation.  As far back as Abraham, and even to Noah, the Bible recognizes that God is intending to bless and gather together all the families of the Earth.  No nationality or ethnicity is excluded.  God chooses one family to be the conveyer of this blessing, but it is the whole planet and everyone on it that will receive and participate in it. 
            When Isaiah says “all,” he means all.  The banquet recognizes no divisions or hierarchies among people.  It is not just for rich, privileged, powerful people.  It is not just for healthy, beautiful, and popular people.  Neither is it just for the poor and the infirm and the outcast.  It is not just for religious people, or people who call themselves “Christians.” 
            You know, Isaiah’s vision is not about heaven or the end-times.  He expects this to happen in real time.  That’s why he mentions a particular, solid, physical, temporal mountain.  He expects God’s people to live now in light of this vision and create a community that reflects these conditions.  This is in fact what Jesus comes to do; and we who follow him are to continue his work, by the power of the Spirit he gives us.
            So if we are going to be faithful to this vision, it means we will have to learn how to be a wildly inclusive community, without superiors and subordinates, without haves and have-nots, without these categories of difference we impose on people.  At this banquet we are all equal before God.

III.
            Isaiah describes this banquet as characterized by “rich food” and “well-matured wines.”  He says that twice.  So Isaiah talks about this vision as one of spectacular abundance.  There will be no scarcity.  There will be no limit to God’s blessings and provision.  There will be more than enough for all.
            Jesus lives this way as well.  He feeds thousands from just a few loaves and fish.  He never tells someone coming for healing that he has run out of power, or that he doesn’t have enough for them.  He is ridiculously generous.
            Isaiah and Jesus witness to the astounding goodness of God in providing us with a planet which is more than able to produce plenty of food for everyone.  God created the Earth as a place where scarcity is unheard of.  Life is ridiculously, almost absurdly, abundant.  How many acorns does one oak tree produce? 
            It is not God’s fault that there is hunger in the world.  It is the fault of the systems we humans invent to grow, process, and distribute food, which invariably create scarcity and huge inequality for various economic and financial reasons.
            What we are called to do, if we want to anticipate this vision of the banquet, is to work to build a way to feed everyone, starting, of course, in our own gatherings and communities.  Then extending it into the whole world.  God wills and gives us incredible abundance.  There is more than enough for all.

IV.
            So, to this banquet everyone is invited, and there is plenty for all, and finally God “will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations; 
he will swallow up death for ever.”
            The picture of God somehow opening his mouth and devouring death is kind of weird.  But the point is that God is bigger than death and the Lord of death.  The fact that is the greatest power in our lives, death, is to God merely… lunch.  God controls and consumes death; death is not an alien power but something within God, it is now part of God’s system for goodness and blessing.  Death is no longer a source of fear or terror for us; its violence and grief and emptiness and loss is not a perpetual shadow hanging over God’s banquet, like it hangs over all our existence.  But this shadow is devoured by the light of resurrection. 
            Death was the source of the fear that caused our divisions and exclusions.  With death deactivated, we can sit with all other peoples without fear.  Death was the source of the fear that caused our hoarding and stealing, leading to scarcity of resources.  With death immobilized, we can all have abundance.
            And that is the message of resurrection.  Death is swallowed up.  Death is de-fanged and domesticated.  Instead of the yawning horror at the end of the system, the source of all fear and sin, death is now defeated and incorporated into life.  As Paul famously says in Romans 8: “Neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  The resurrection means that all has been gathered under God’s love and life, revealed in Jesus.

V.
            This resurrection season, let’s remember that in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, God is giving us the power to anticipate the vision of this great banquet in our own lives.  Because he has defeated death, we are free from fear, and therefore even from sin.  We are free to welcome everyone with joy to our table.  We are free to express and celebrate and provide for all the abundance that God intends.  There is no scarcity at God’s table!
            Death has been swallowed up. There will be no tears of grief, sadness, or pain.  There will be no disgrace.  And the One for whom we wait will come, and will find us sharing together in a community of love, forgiveness, discipleship, and joy.

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