A Promised Feast
a message by the Rev. Dr. Bruce Havens
Arlington Congregational Church, U.C.C.
October 4, 2020
1O Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you, I will praise your name; for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure. 2For you have made the city a heap, the fortified city a ruin; the palace of aliens is a city no more, it will never be rebuilt. 3Therefore strong peoples will glorify you; cities of ruthless nations will fear you. 4For you have been a refuge to the poor, a refuge to the needy in their distress, a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat. When the blast of the ruthless was like a winter rainstorm, 5the noise of aliens like heat in a dry place, you subdued the heat with the shade of clouds; the song of the ruthless was stilled.
6On 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. 7And he 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 forever. 8Then 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.
9It 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. 10For the hand of the Lord will rest on this mountain.
Who doesn’t love a “feast?” Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, July 4th? All seem to feature great plans for food. The early church declared some things “fast” days, when you didn’t eat at all, and other days to be “feast days,” to be celebrated with gratitude to God and lots of food. The Scriptures are full of promises of God offering us the invitation to a feast, whether it is in blessing creation, manna in an empty desert, or the welcome at the Table of the Lord today.
All that is by way of saying, welcome to World Communion Sunday. This is an annual interdenominational Christian celebration. It began in 1933 in one denomination and spread. The hope was in sharing a common day for the Sacrament unity between churches of all stripes would grow. That was a time when people seemed to actually want to bring people together more than divide them. To me it still a powerful reminder of the meaning of Communion beyond our personal, individual salvation. It speaks to the vision Christ had for a church that our original UCC motto proclaimed: “that they may all be one.”
The passage this morning from Isaiah is a word of praise and hope. It was a word in the midst of a time of national conflict and challenges. It begins with praise for God’s work in their lives:
1O Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you, I will praise your name;
for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure.
The chapter before this one tells us what the situation was in Israel before Isaiah spoke these words of hope and praise. Israel had turned away from God’s call to do what was right, and Isaiah sees signs of the results everywhere. He declares, “The earth is utterly broken, the earth is torn asunder, the earth is violently shaken...the moon will be abashed, and the sun ashamed.” (24:19, 23). Everything has been laid waste, even the wine cellar. Isaiah says, “The wine dries up, the vine languishes, all the merry-hearted sigh, the mirth of the timbrels is stilled, the noise of the jubilant has ceased.” (24:7-8).
But chapter 25 changes from the present to the future, all while acknowledging who God has been for Israel from its birth. Isaiah remembers that God has been
4 … a refuge to the poor, a refuge to the needy in their distress, a shelter
from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat.
For those of us who remember classic Christian hymns our memories recall the words of “Our God, Our Help in Ages Past,” which reminded us that God was and is “a shelter from the stormy blast and our eternal home.”
And in remembering Isaiah proclaims a promised feast:
6On 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...
and the cloud covering Israel will be shredded and the sun will rise.
And so the image of the feast ties in with our common Christian heritage in the sacrament – proclaimed as the “joyful feast of the Lord, for all people,” in our communion liturgies in many churches.
But Isaiah announces something even more exciting than just a feast. He announces that hope for salvation that is both here and now and yet to be fulfilled. He promises that God will:
“swallow up death forever. 8Then 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.”
In fact this is what our celebration of Communion is also about. Communion is the great feast of celebration that Christ has broken the bonds of death and opened the way to salvation for all people. It proclaims that God’s reality is more powerful than human realities. Communion is meant to remind us that there is an alternative to the things we live under as reality.
Last week I spoke about how we believe in a “scarcity reality.” There isn’t enough for everyone. If I am going to have something I have to take it from you or if you want something you have to keep me from having it. There isn’t enough for all. So we create economies that tell us only some deserve to live with enough and others deserve millions of times more than enough. It tells us some must go hungry while others of us constantly need diets – like me - or we die from our gluttony. I said last week that God is constantly trying to remind us that God’s reality is different. God’s reality is an “abundance reality.” There is enough for everyone. There is enough food, enough shelter, enough medicine, enough resources for all of humanity and more. As long as we continue to believe in a scarcity mentality, that human economies are the only way, we will continue to watch others die, and we ourselves will surely die.
The Communion Feast announces Christ’s way conquers death. It is the way of salvation. Isaiah prophecies this when he announces:
9It 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.
In sharing Communion we remember the way Christ conquered death by his own death and resurrection. We speak of his body broken and his blood poured out, as humans are broken and poured out every day. But we also declare that there is an alternative reality to this broken and poured out world. It is this Communion feast. In a little morsel of bread and a tiny sip of juice we imagine a new reality, an alternative reality, where no one need hunger, if we all share the bread and cup with one another as we do in the sacred feast of communion. Imagining a different reality is the start to overcoming this reality where being broken and poured out is all around us, and within us, and seems unending.
The message of Communion always point us toward the Easter message:
“God will swallow up death forever.”
And Isaiah, the Hebrew prophet, speaks of it long before Jesus shared a last supper in an upper room with his disciples.
One writer comments, “This is one of the few passages in the Jewish scriptures that say something like this. Most of the [Jewish Scriptures] knows what everybody else knows: that death is an ongoing reality. Sometime after we are born, we die, and this is the one perfect statistic. Nobody gets out of this world alive. We fund medical research to postpone the event. We try to give up the bad habits that could shorten our lifespan. .... Yet death stands right there, right in the middle of the road, blocking the way to our hopes and dreams.
“But suddenly in this text, Isaiah declares that God will swallow death, that death is the main course for God’s Easter dinner.
“This is a strange promise. Some scholars say this is mythical language, that it is [symbolic] language. In Isaiah’s day, one of the Canaanite gods was named Mot, the god of death. And Yahweh, the God of Israel, will finally swallow Mot, the death-god who has, up until now, been consuming everyone. It is a battle between good and evil, a cosmic battle that the God of Israel is certain to win.
“God swallows death. That is the great Easter Dinner. When the apostle Paul thinks about the resurrection of Jesus, he announces it is the first in a chain-reaction of events. Christ is risen; death is defeated. That means death no longer has any power over God’s people. The power of Easter gets larger and larger until, Paul says, “death has been swallowed up in victory.” (1 Cor. 15:54).
Easter is God’s promise of an alternative reality to the one we have been conditioned to believe in. In our reality we believe there is not enough for all. We believe only the beautiful and the rich are lovable. We believe only those in our political party are right. We believe some people have to suffer for others to have incredible wealth. Isaiah announces an alternative reality. Jesus proclaimed that reality the “Kingdom of God,” or, because most of us think of Kingdoms as fairy tales, I like to say, “the Reign of God.”
Communion is the symbol of the celebration feast of that Reign. Communion is the foretaste of the Promised Feast. God has declared a new thing the Bible says. Isaiah reminds us that God has already prepared a fabulous feast for all people, one with rich food and delicious drinks. When we celebrate this Sacred, Promised Feast let us remember the alternative reality God has promised. But even more, let us remember Christ has already died for it. Christ has already conquered sin and death. Christ has already swallowed death with his victory. We don’t have to believe the false gods, the “Mots” of death, of scarcity, of hating others because they might take what we have. God’s Promised Feast is a sign of God’s eternal abundance. Can you taste it?
Let us proclaim with the old Hebrew prophet:
1O Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you, I will praise your name; for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure.