“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.”
Isaiah with a few strokes of his pen evokes in us a flood of emotion, of yearning, and all the power of memory with the senses fully engaged.
“A feast of rich food…” he says.
The phrase itself evokes all the senses, does it not?
It brings to mind all those places and times when the aroma of food triggers in us delight, anticipation and memory. All the gatherings where we may have experienced such blessing.
“Rich food filled with marrow…” brings to mind the smell of barbecue over the American Royal, or while tailgating before a Chief’s game.
Or, perhaps it is the scent of ham in the oven, or roasting pork, or prime rib of beef, or the turkey with all the trimmings, or the goose with its fat dripping, ready to be made into gravy of the favorite family holiday gathering.
“A feast of rich food…” The scent of bread baking, or rolls in the oven the tantalizing aroma of fresh baked cookies, or mom’s apple pie, or the cake before the birthday.
“Well aged wines strained clear.” Not just any dinner, any meal, but an event! Isaiah’s words describe a gathering where the host has chosen the vintage, paired the tastings, planned the appertif, the main course accompaniment, and all the way through to that final wonderful glass of the port at the end.
A feast, Isaiah says, on this mountain.
He evokes the gathering. The coming together before or because of the event, seeing those whom we have not seen for a long time, and then pushing it beyond just this event to include even more as he describes death itself swallowed up, a promise that Christians will see as foreshadowing Jesus’ promise of resurrection and the opening of the graves.
A feast for all peoples…he says. This is not exclusive to invitation, but rather the invitation is going out and YOU are included because you are in the hearing of it!
You are invited into the imagining of it.
With a few strokes of his pen Isaiah invites his own people to step out of their measured, difficult existence that they are living under exile to imagine what God is going to do, what God does, and what God promises to do. It is a promise that is lavish, one befitting a gracious God!
We hear it, and we are invited to do the same, to step out of our own measured existence, whatever that might be, and to imagine what God’s intention is for us.
All done as an exercise in creative imagination and prophetic promise. This is what God intends to do, and this is how it will unfold, so now, Isaiah says begin to imagine it, and be ready to live into it!
In the same way John’s Gospel gives us the story of Lazarus, and the lament of Mary, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died….”
It is an exceedingly sad story, rife with detail about the difficult, measured existence under which Mary and Martha are now living, along with their community since Lazarus has died. The story gives us an abundance of detail about regret, death, hopelessness, mourning and grief. A measured existence of just getting through the next day.
Right up until the point at which Jesus says, “Take away the stone.”
We hear it, and Jesus’ words first evoke a panic of what could be with his command, the waft of stench, of rotting flesh, the grief interrupted of mourners and relatives. We, along with those gathered in John’s Gospel at first resist with every impulse we have, not wanting to dare go there, But Jesus’ words of command are quickly followed by words of God’s intention and promise.
“Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” Jesus says.
What follows is every bit as much of a stretch to the creative imagination as a feast of rich things to a people who are living in exile.
Lazarus coming forth from the tomb, alive, walking, and eventually bound for a feast!
Abundance of joy!
Rich blessings of being reunited and sharing once again.
All this done as an exercise of creative imagination and prophetic promise. This is what God intends to do, to swallow up death, to unbind those wrapped in the dressings of grief and decay.
“Lazarus, come out!” Jesus says.
“Unbind him and let him go!” Jesus says.
With those spartan words Jesus invites Lazarus, Mary, Martha, and all of us really to step out of our own measured existence, focused on mourning, death, decay and decline to imagine what God is going to do, what God does, and what God promises to do.
It is a promise that is lavish, wiping away every tear, one befitting a gracious God!
So, on this All Saints Sunday we are invited by both of these scripture passages into our own creative imagination and prophetic promise work.
How shall we experience this gracious and audacious God, who dares to promise feasts to those in exile, and life to those stricken by grief?
We light candles.
We make our way up to the table, up to the feast that we say is a foretaste of that feast to come, and we light a candle of remembrance.
We dare to say in this flame that that one who appears to be with us no longer is with us still.
They join us in the Communion of Saints, the gathering at Jesus table where everlasting life and the forgiveness of sins is promised.
We light a candle against the darkness of our own measured existence, and we imagine the day when we will feast together again.
It seems such a small thing at first, until we remember that it is the lighting of a candle that marks the beginning of our journey to this table.
The candle lit at the font where God takes hold of us in Baptism and commands, (with audacious hope and power, befitting a Gracious God) “Let YOUR light so shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
In the lighting of that candle over the gurgling, spitting, fussing lump of baby flesh the creative imagination is being stirred, and the prophetic promises of God are being called forth.
This is what God intends to do, to be with this child, to pour God’s Holy Spirit into the child, to empower this child for good works, and for life, and for a future with promise.
It’s just a helpless lump of flesh when the water is splashed, but in the lighting of the candle and the words of promise spoken the creative imagination is sparked.
We can begin to see great things, expect great things befitting a gracious God who led people throughout history, and who now promises to lead this little one as well.
It is a promise that is lavish, “Child of God, you have been sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked with the Cross of Christ …. Forever!”
It is a promise befitting a gracious God who has always been called steadfast, abounding in love, and who promises to be with us all to the close of the age.
On All Saints Sunday we are called to invoke the creative imagination of our God and to reflect upon the blessings of God, and how abundant they are.
But more than that.
We are this day called upon to live into them, and that gets us to this little experiential packet you received when you walked in today.
It’s annual Stewardship time, but this year I’m challenging you to make this experiential. Not something you throw on the table and think about in 3 weeks time when we ask for your pledge card.
No, this year I’m encouraging you to engage the creative imagination and prophetic promise of our gracious God in your daily life.
I am challenging you to live into God’s graciousness, by being gracious and generous, and it has to do today with these little cards.
“As you have been blessed…”
In this coming week, I want you to get rid of these in as creative and imaginative a way as you can find.
Be a blessing to someone.
Dare to say, “at this restaurant God prepares a feast of rich food…and pay for a random stranger’s lunch, or coffee for the person behind you at the coffee shop and give them this card telling them they have received a random blessing from God, and ask them to pass it forward however they choose, to be a blessing to someone else this day.
Or maybe you’ll double the normal tip you would leave to your server, and pass on this card with an explanation that your crazy pastor is asking you to be a blessing to someone this week, but not only that, to pass the blessing forward. Take the card and use it to bless someone else in a random way, let blessings multiply.
Engage your creative imagination.
It doesn’t have to involve money, how could I be a blessing to someone this day? How could I show them that God is real, and is here, and has lit a light in me that is mean to shine out to others.
Could I give up a coveted parking place in a crowded lot, let someone else have it, and hand them the card?
Could I spend some time volunteering and hand a person the card?
If you each get rid of your cards, that will be 500 blessings that will flow from this place into the lives of people, hopefully mostly strangers, who will look at you dumbfounded, and then look at the card, and will have to make a choice.
If they take that blessing and call to heart, and decide to pass it forward, that would be a thousand blessings flowing from St. James into the community, most of which we will never see or know of, but that is after all befitting a gracious God who sets a feast for all people, and whose intention is to swallow up death and wipe away tears.
Who knows how far the blessings could reach, how many different hands the cards could pass to, how many lives might be given glimpses of rich feasts and unbounded joy?
It might even be said by someone, (somewhere down the line of all these blessing who has been hoping to see some sign of God,) “This is our God, we have waited for him.”
“(This is a sign from) the Lord for whom we have waited, let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
As you have been blessed…. Go forth and spread God’s blessings and experience the creative imagination and prophetic promise of God.