Bible Tuesday for All Saints Day, 2015
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.
The first part of the book of Isaiah was written to the Israelites as siege and defeat by Babylon loomed large. Toward the end of first Isaiah, the prophet speaks a word of unprecedented and, in some ways unwanted, peace and harmony. God will bring out this harmonious peace at a feast! This feast will not be just for Israel or for Judah, but for ALL PEOPLES. Those things over which peoples war: disgrace, death, will be that which God eats, while all the guests will eat the richest delicacies and choicest foods.
The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it;
2for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers.
3Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place?
4Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully.
5They will receive blessing from the Lord, and vindication from the God of their salvation.
6Such is the company of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah
7Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in.
8Who is the King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle.
9Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in.
10Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory. Selah
It is thought that this is a call to worship or entrance hymn in the ancient liturgies of Israel. Verses 1-2 would have been the Call to Worship, verses 3-6 would have been the opening litany with the priest speaking or singing verse 3 and the congregants speaking or singing verses 4-6. The “selah” is thought to be a musical interlude, rather like what an organist might play between the second to last and last verses of a gathering or sending hymn. Then, during this musical interlude, the doors of the Temple are opened and the congregation cries out or sings verses 7-10.
Note how God is described in this hymn. These descriptions are the reasons for the worshippers gathering. Verses 1-2 states what is God’s and why…because God made all that is. Then picking up in verse 8, God is mighty and valiant in battle, victorious over all peoples, so much so that the psalmist titles God, The Lord of Hosts, that is, Master of All Peoples.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; 4he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” 5And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.
The book of Revelation, originally written for Christians living under severe economic, religious, and physical persecution, is filled with carrot and stick admonishments and threats meant to encourage faithfulness to Christ. There are violent, fantastical images of evil wreaking havoc on earth and its inhabitants, building to the very brief and anticlimactic battle between the Jesus, the slaughtered lamb and all the hosts of evil. Then comes the beautiful final chapters. Those who have survived the ordeals of the previous chapters are rewarded not by being raptured, but by seeing the new bride-city, Jerusalem, descending from Heaven to a new earth. God now makes God’s home with all peoples on earth. God tends these people, drying their tears and vanishing all their terrors, refreshing them with the gift of new life. The book of Revelation is meant as an allegory of life under Roman oppression for the early Christians, and as a statement of hope in God’s final banishment of evil resulting in new life of bountiful love, safety, and healing.
2When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”35Jesus began to weep. 36So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”37But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” 38Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
The whole of the 11th chapter of John is the story of Lazarus’s death and resurrection. It is unfortunate that only the resurrection scene is in the pericope for this Sunday. This story when read in its entirety, more than any other in all the gospels, speaks the truth of death. Weeping, sobbing, wracked with grief and despair, first Martha and then Mary accusatorily greet the late coming Jesus with the words, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!” Do we not say the same thing when an abducted child’s dead body is found? Do we not say the same thing when prom night car accidents kill high school kids whose lives are on the precipice of beginning? Do we not wonder where God is in the midst of famines and AIDS epidemics, and so many other tragedies?
Jesus’ answer to Martha is a statement of identity, “I am the resurrection and the life…” But in this passage of the story, Jesus does not answer Mary this way, but instead goes to Lazarus’ grave and sobs. “Disturbed” and “deeply moved” are the translation here. Why is Jesus disturbed and deeply moved, to the point of sobbing? Jesus knows he is going to raise Lazarus. He said as much when the word first came to him that Lazarus was ill. Why then?
Here we see that even Jesus is not immune to the ravages of death. Of course we know that Jesus suffered horrifically as he was dying, but we don’t think about Jesus suffering at the death of others. Of all people on earth, Jesus is the only one who passes from earth to heaven to earth and then ascends to heaven. Why should death bother him?
But it does. A lot. Death is the embodiment of ugliness and horror. One moment is life, personality, possibility, potential, thoughts, actions, and the next cold waxy blue skin already starting to stink. Death binds us, like Jacob Marley’s chains. From dust were you made and to dust you shall return. “All we are is dust in the wind.” But Jesus’ last words in this passage are a statement of what he came to accomplish. “Unbind him and let him go!” he said about Lazarus and his linen death wraps. “Unbind them and let them go!” Jesus cries as he “descends to hell”. And as the sun rises on Easter morning, we find ourselves free, dimly as we look in the mirror of this word, completely as we look at God face to face in the next.