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First Impressions: Isaiah 25:6-9

October 27, 2009

We celebrate an elaborate All Saints Day service and serve Holy Communion on the first Sunday of each month, so I will be preaching a short sermon on Isaiah 25:6-9 this week.  It is a text reminiscent of Revelation 21, which borrows some of Isaiah’s language.  It is a scripture full of hope and promise, focused exclusively on what God is doing.  The only human action in the text is our “waiting” until God will finally save us and then rejoicing when salvation comes.

25:6 This is a beautifully specific image of the Messianic banquet (though Isaiah and his redactors may not have used that term), and it makes me hungry just reading about it.  Since All Saints Day tends to become a memorial event, it might be wonderful to jump into the text by remembering all the food-related events that have connected us to the saints past and present.  From there, you could expand to the image of a broader, more expansive banquet where the host is God and there are no boundaries, no family squabbles, no one left forgotten in a corner.  This is a hope and promise given to our departed saints and to us.

25:7 The “shroud” image in this verse is perfect.  The end of the verse references death, but to me, the shroud also symbolizes the ignorance, fear and hatred that often characterize our human existence.  The removal of the shroud not only removes death, but also enables us to live freely, loving God and one another.  Is this a hope for the now or the not yet?  My heart wishes that this could be a hope for the now as well as the not yet.

25:8 This is the verse used in Revelation 21:4, but in Isaiah’s context it seems to refer more to exile (note the “disgrace” in the second half of the verse) than to death, though I am sure both meanings can be used with integrity.  And how can we believe this promise?  “The Lord has spoken.”

25:9 Again, this is the only verse that indicates any type of human action at all.  We wait and rejoice.  This bright future (in contrast to Churchill’s “broad, sunlit uplands”) comes only when God acts decisively.  This particular drama is beyond us.  We cannot bring about this utopia by our own striving, nor are we even co-creators.  It is God’s work alone.  If you preach this line, you may wish to keep James in your back pocket for balance.

It will be a little tricky—but most certainly fruitful—to preach this text for All Saints Day.  I am always afraid that our worship on this day will turn into Memorial Service: The Sequel, but this text seems to place the focus on God’s work for Creation.  I will want to preach a sermon that points to the Hope that is bigger than any single one of us.  Somehow I also want to express a sense of living that Hope even when it seems a long way off.

What are your plans for All Saints Day?  How will you connect your preaching with the moment that is at once pastoral and theological?

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