‘It will be said on that day,Behold, this is our God;we have waited for him, so that he might save us.This is the Lord for whom we have waited;let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.’ (Isaiah 25:8-9)
These words from the prophet Isaiah speak of the end times and give us a flavour of what God will do when death will be overcome forever. Because of this, these words may appear a little hazy and distant; in a sense, they may not seem to bear much relevance in the busyness of our daily affairs or in the midst of grief. In fact, to few people they may just dismiss them as simple optimistic platitudes churned up by some ancient writer. Yet, if we had the humility and patience to sit with these words for a few minutes, to really open up to their message, we would see in them a message of hope.
Isaiah’s message of hope is explained here by three main themes. The first one is a banquet, a great feast of rich food, prepared by God himself in his holy place and open for all to attend. The promise of such a feast would have been a shocking statement for Isaiah’s original listeners as they were poor refugees in a foreign land with little food and protection available. The second theme is the destruction of the “sheet” or “shroud” covering all nations and it refers to both death itself and to the custom of wearing special funeral garments which is common to many cultures around the world. So with the destruction of funeral clothes, Isaiah says that one day, as death will be overcome for good, there will be no more need for mourning garments; in a sense, no more need for tears. Finally, the last theme is the manifestation of God to his people; not a manifestation through symbols or clothed in unapproachable mystery, but a direct vision of God. ‘It will be said on that day, Behold, this is our God;’ As if to say, “Look, see for yourself, experience directly,
this is our God.”
The words of Isaiah point in hope to a day when death will be finally overcome, when we will see God face-to-face, and we will sit at table with him and with those who have gone before us. This is the Christian hope and hope is not the same as optimism or wishful thinking. Hope opens us up to reaching beyond this earthly life, to reaching towards God himself and to having a share in his life. Hope makes us to long for God – as St Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest Christian writers, affirms, hope makes us expect nothing less from God than his very self, and this is what we are promised in our reading from Isaiah.
However, hope sometimes takes a battering by difficult situations we experience, and when those close to us die hope, like the flame of a candle, often seems to flicker and falter, getting close to go out amongst the darkness of despair. Yet, hope is able to make surprising come backs and we are able to re-light it by sitting patiently with the Word of God as we do tonight, by looking at Jesus who was raised from death, by participating at Mass – which anticipates banquet mentioned by Isaiah – and by remembering those we love but we no longer see in prayer before God.
A recent song by Passenger, one of my favourite singers says, ‘If we all light up, we can scare away the dark’. In a few moments we will have a chance to light small tea lights in commemoration of our loved ones and as a symbol of hope. As we light these candles we dispel the darkness around us and we strengthen hope in our hearts once more – hope that in Jesus Christ death does not have the last word; hope that as Jesus has been raised from death so we will be raised to life immortal with him; hope that one day the garments used for mourning will be put away forever; a hope that will see us through until – as our final hymn will sing – ‘until in heaven we take our place’.
‘It will be said on that day,
Behold, this is our God;
we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.’