YEAR B: EASTER DAY (ALT.) OR EASTER EVENING
April 8, 2012
Isaiah 24-27 consists of a series of oracles on apocalyptic themes similar to oracles in Ezekiel 38-39, Joel 2-3 and Zechariah 9-14. The chapters surrounding Isaiah 24-27 refer to the late period of Isaiah of Jerusalem and to the Assyrian destruction of Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel. These oracles can be dated to the last quarter of the 8th century BCE. But chapters 24-27 make no historical allusions. They could be from the period of Babylonian exile or more likely from the time of disillusionment that developed in the post-exilic setting, many centuries after the 8th century.
These chapters are of special interest as they may be among the very latest of the oracles in the Book of Isaiah and the first example of apocalyptic writing in the Hebrew Bible. As in the case of Daniel, apocalyptic texts were often attributed to a figure prominent in Israelite history. A vision of the future is attributed to that figure from the past, the future being the time in which the first readers of the apocalyptic text were living. Visions of the triumph of God on behalf of his people served to reassure Israel despite the disasters of their current circumstances. Apocalyptic literature often encompassed political comment relating to Israel’s oppressors. For this reason the visions are often obscure and the symbolic elements not easy to interpret.
Isaiah 24 begins with an announcement that Yahweh will lay waste the earth (24:1). In brilliant poetry, the writer indicates that all people will be caught up in this desolation (24:2-3). The desolation in view is of cosmic proportions. Reference to heavens and foundations (24:18-19) recalls the destruction of the flood. The moon and the sun are aghast at the divine punishment of the kings of the earth (24:23).
In v. 21 we find the phrase most frequently used to refer to this future event: ‘on that day’, which appears 43 times throughout the Book of Isaiah. This phrase first appears in a recurring litany in Isa. 2:11 and 17 but the cosmic elements appear first in Isaiah 24. It is apparent that ‘that day’ is used by the prophets in more than one sense. It may refer to events of their day as well as to a future climactic time in history.
It is of interest to note that another phrase associated
with the coming of Yahweh in sudden and unexpected circumstances, namely
‘the Day of Yahweh’, is not at all frequent in Isaiah. It first appears
in Isa. 2:12 and 13:6-9 but nowhere else in that book. In Isaiah it is
linked to fear and the pain of child birth and speaks of a God of cruel
wrath and fierce anger who destroys sinners and makes the land desolate.
Even less frequent is the phrase ‘the last days’ (found only in Isa. 2:2;
cf. Gen 49:1 and Micah 4:1). However, an important hopeful note appears
in Isaiah 2 that speaks of a time when Jerusalem will be a centre for international
pilgrimage from which the word of the Lord will go out. The place of Jerusalem
becomes a key feature of apocalyptic visions of the future.
So also the text for today envisages a significant role for Jerusalem, the city set on the mountain of the Lord (Isa 25:6). Here God will offer divine hospitality to all people. Both the food and the wine are described in superlative terms. Through this divine welcome, the shroud of destruction and horror will be lifted from all the peoples of the earth. Death itself will be swallowed up. The sadness of tears and the shame of disgrace of his people will be removed. These promises of restoration are the word of the Lord (v. 8b), a phrase that marks a turning point in this oracle.
The remainder of the oracle encompasses vv. 9 and 10a. In this way it ends with the opening theme of the text: ‘the mountain of the Lord’. The preceding declaration of divine hospitality is followed by the response of the people ‘in that day’. They testify to the saving work of God on their behalf: ‘Look, this is our God’. Twice we hear of their patience rewarded and twice of God’s salvation. The salvation of God and God’s hospitality can only lead to one thing: ‘let us rejoice and be glad’.
The Gospel set for Easter evening (Luke 24:13-49) also portrays the salvation of God around the symbol of hospitality. Christ is known in the breaking of bread by those who have patiently journeyed and discussed with him. It is important for a preacher to distinguish among the vast array of images of salvation that now surround the figure of the Christ. Classic emphases upon legal images – substitution, and those of the sacrificial system of propitiation no longer hold meaning for many people, and seem to portray a conception of God that is repugnant to the theme of grace behind both the older and the new covenants.
Divine hospitality on the other hand is a theme that pervades scripture, beginning with the garden of Eden. It becomes dominant in the parables of Jesus with their visions of the great banquet in the heavenly kingdom (Luke 14:15-24). Its significance is highlighted by the tradition that Christ came to his own, but his own did not receive him. But each person is able to experience salvation by offering to God the hospitality of one’s own heart and mind and life. The hospitality flowing from the heart of God finds tangible expression in the hospitality that God’s people offer to others in the world. Thus, in the theme of hospitality we possess a profound image that encompasses salvation, the nature of God, and Christian mission. The existential aspect of this theme of hospitality makes it theologically accessible today where the categories of classic metaphysics fail. Hospitality is theologically the thematic partner of reconciliation, and in these themes Christians today are able to articulate their faith in a way that is easily grasped.
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
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