God’s Restoring Judgment

A Homily for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Isaiah 25:1-9


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who prepares a feast for us. Amen.

It’s been sort of like living out Murphy’s Law this year, hasn’t it? If it can go wrong, it probably has. I won’t belabor the point because I think we’re all pretty much tired of 2020’s parade of horribles at this point, but let’s just consider the natural disasters: a string of tornadoes that destroyed one of our companion churches in Nashville, wild fires running the length of the Pacific coast that have sent smoke across the entire lower 48, a hurricane season so active that we’ve run out of names (and then some), a derecho that leveled buildings and destroyed crops across ten states, all of this in the midst of a pandemic the likes of which we haven’t seen in over a century.

(Any one of these would make for a far-fetched action movie starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as a body-builder-turned-scientist racing against time. All of them at once can only be described with a sigh and a bitter remark about what else 2020 might have in store.)

And while Georgia has been speared most of the weather-related emergencies, the COVID pandemic has been enough to force difficult decisions in every part of our lives.

This weekend, we gather for the first time since March – and even still, it is far from normal. We parted ways in the Lenten wilderness, and even though it has been six months, it still feels like we’re waiting for Easter Sunday. Even today, as we take this small step towards reopening, we cannot say how long it will take to move from cars in the parking lot into the sanctuary around the Altar of our Lord.

Such is the state of the world. We may call it Murphy’s Law, but to put it theologically, we live in a fallen cosmos ravaged by sin and death. And while 2020 may be bad, it is not the first time God’s elect have faced world-shacking catastrophes. (Even taking 2020 as a whole, this is something like World Changing Event #Four or Five in my thirty-some-odd years alive.)

The prophet Isaiah was witness to one such moment as the Assyrian Empire (known for its wanton cruelty) conquered an area stretching from the Persian Gulf along the Tigris and Euphrates up into modern-day Turkey and down along the Mediterranean into Africa along the Nile – with the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah directly in the way of their warpath into Egypt. It was a time of great fear and apprehension and would end with ten tribes of Israel destroyed and the King of Judah, David’s heir, “shut up in Jerusalem…like a bird in a cage.”

On the cusp of such a cataclysm, Isaiah offered the word of the Lord – this morning’s promise that the Lord God will come in judgment to punish the imperial powers that have oppressed Abraham’s descendants – as if to say to the Assyrian Empire, If it’s destruction of cities and piles of rubble you want, if that will earn your respect, then very well. And those who live and die by the sword shall see and believe.

But!

But God’s righteous judgment does not end with destruction. The Lord is coming – not to pay back violence with violence, destruction with destruction.

No, God will meet our violence with true peace and our destruction with re-creation.

When the Lord comes, the shroud of death will be pulled away, and death will be swallowed up.

(Yes, Death, you shall die. Where, then, is your victory? Where is your sting?)

Yes, when the Lord comes, all tears shall be wiped away. We will cry out with Isaiah and the people of Judah and Israel and all the saints, “We have waited for [the Lord our God] so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”

And on that day, God will prepare a feast for us – we, who have been removed from the Eucharist, that heavenly feast of grace and have yearned for it for so long – yes, even we will find our place at the banquet table. Then, we will join with the earth and sea and all her creatures, with the Church on earth throughout the ages, and all the host of heaven, with angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim, and sing that unending hymn:

Holy, holy, holy
Lord God of power and might
Heaven and earth are full of your glory
Hosanna in the highest!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest!

On that day, all of the isolation, all of the anxiety, all of the social and physical distance, all of the destruction and chaos of 2020, shall pass away. Every tear shall be dried. As Saint Julian of Norwich assures us, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be made well,” as we join in the Feast of our Lord in the Kingdom of God.

Amen.

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