Illuminated “S” with Saint Peter Liberated from Prison. 14th century Italian. Public Domain.
Isaiah 25:1-5 (6-9) Contemporary English Version
1You, Lord, are my God! I will praise you for doing the wonderful things you had planned and promised since ancient times. 2 You have destroyed the fortress of our enemies, leaving their city in ruins. Nothing in that foreign city will ever be rebuilt. 3 Now strong and cruel nations will fear and honor you.
4 You have been a place of safety for the poor and needy in times of trouble. Brutal enemies pounded us like a heavy rain or the heat of the sun at noon, but you were our shelter. 5 Those wild foreigners struck like scorching desert heat. But you were like a cloud, protecting us from the sun. You kept our enemies from singing songs of victory.
6On this mountain the Lord All-Powerful will prepare for all nations a feast of the finest foods. Choice wines and the best meats will be served. 7 Here the Lord will strip away the burial clothes that cover the nations. 8 The Lord All-Powerful will destroy the power of death and wipe away all tears. No longer will his people be insulted everywhere. The Lord has spoken!
9 At that time, people will say, “The Lord has saved us! Let’s celebrate. We waited and hoped-- now our God is here.”
Isaiah 25:1-5 (6-9)
The context for our reading from Isaiah is awful. The Babylonian empire destroyed the city of Jerusalem in 586 BC and carried off many of its inhabitants into forced exile. These exiles were settled on the outskirts of the great city of Babylon. Some were sold into slavery. Others lived on the periphery of society, having little legal rights and treated as outsiders.
Then the Persia empire destroyed the city of Babylon and carried off many of its inhabitants into forced exile in 539 BC. This is a classic example of the cycles of violence on large scale. As a result of Babylon’s destruction, the Jews living outside Babylon were liberated and were able to return home.
Isaiah 25 captures these events in poetic form, but it does so with the belief that God will break the cycles of violence between empires and nations.
The poem begins as poetry in the Hebrew Bible often does, by praising God. Here, God is praised for delivering the people out of the humiliation of exile. The powerful who cruelly oppressed the poor and needy have been knocked out. For the writer, justice has been restored.
Then, the cycles of violence are broken. Instead of another desolation, God invites all the nations to Jerusalem for a great banquet. The poor and needy of every nation will be invited, even those that have already passed away. God’s care and hospitality for the poor and needy extends even beyond death.
We are mindful of the different ways people in our communities are experiencing this pandemic. Age, family unit, health, geography, and wealth all play deciding factors in whether we are making do or not. Around the world, others entered the pandemic in awful situations. Wars in Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and Iraq, and violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mexico, and South Sudan, had already destabilized economies, affected families, and caused great suffering. The systemic racial injustice that preceded the pandemic in the US means non-white Americans are more likely to be adversely affected by the pandemic and more likely to get sick and die from the COVID-19 disease than white Americans. In our communities, some are now stuck at home with violent people without the safe havens of school, job, and extended family.
Our lesson from the book of Isaiah reminds us that the God of our faith cares especially for those in awful situations. Regardless of difference (our text the inclusive language of “all nations”), our scriptures imagine a world where the vulnerable are protected, and God hosts a great banquet for those most affected by violence and oppression.
We cannot forget the suffering of others during this pandemic. We also cannot forget those that continue to bring about justice and healing during this time. May we think of others, continue to work for justice, even now, and pray for deliverance.