Read: Isaiah 25:6-10a
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. And 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 (Isaiah 25:6-8a, NRSV).
“Form forms,” the architects tell us.
I have felt the force of this observation in recent years. At the seminary where I teach, we gather each Friday around a familiar table. It sits, not at the front of our chapel, but at the center. We gather around it like the big, rowdy family that we are. We don’t agree on everything, but we agree on one thing, namely, that we are sinners, hungry for grace. As the popular invitation puts it:
Beloved of God—come to Christ’s table.
Come, not because you ought—but because you may.
Come, not because you are righteous—but because you are penitent.
Come, not because you are strong—but because you are weak.
Come, not because you are whole—but because you are broken
The table is at the center of Isaiah’s vision as well. The first thing to catch our eye is the food and wine. But if we look around, we realize that the family is similarly broken. This chapter sees beyond the pain of the present, though, transforming our ability to see possibilities invisible to the naked eye. Isaiah’s corrective lenses allow us to glimpse a day when “the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces” (v. 8).
This comfort is far from casual. It is based on an incredible claim. With the flair of a magician, God sweeps away “the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread of all nations” (v. 7). To make sure no one ever uses that shroud again, God destroys it. Death’s appetite may seem insatiable, but in Isaiah’s vision, death itself is swallowed up. God eats it, so that we don’t have to.
The table really is at the center. We don’t have to understand it to sense it, and we are drawn to it like children who hear their mother calling, “Supper’s ready!”
So, come, Beloved of God. Come not because you ought—but because you may. Come, not because you are righteous—but because you are penitent. Come, not because you are strong—but because you are weak. Come, not because you are whole—but because you are broken.
Ponder these stanzas of the old hymn by Joseph Hart (1712):
Come, ye sinners, poor and needy
Weak and wounded, sick and sore
Jesus ready, stands to save you
Full of pity, love and power
Come, ye thirsty, come and welcome
God’s free bounty glorify
True belief and true repentance
Every grace that brings you nigh
Let not conscience make you linger
Nor of fitness fondly dream
All the fitness he requireth
Is to feel your need of him.
Come, ye weary, heavy-laden
Lost and ruined by the fall
If you tarry ’til you’re better
You will never come at all
I will arise and go to Jesus
He will embrace me in His arms
In the arms of my dear Savior
Oh, there are ten thousand charms
Pray: Make us hungry for your grace, O God.