In our text for today, we have a vision from Isaiah of Zion at the great eschatological feast. This is not the first time we have seen this feast. God gave a foreshadowing of it even at Sinai, in Exodus 24:9-11. Jesus speaks of the great eschatological feast in Matthew 8:11; 22:1-14; 25:10; and Luke 14:15. In John’s Gospel, Jesus was asked rather excitedly by His mother to start up this feast for a couple in need, which in His hesitancy He only grants a taste-test in His first Miracle at Cana, in Galilee (John 2:1-12). Finally, in Revelation 19:9 we see this feast in the great apocalypse of the apostle John, which is the marriage feast of the Lamb without end.
A possible sacramental connection for Lutherans during the sermon would be to our own “foretaste of the feast to come” in the celebration of Communion. However, there may need to be some qualification because the “richest of fare” in Isaiah’s feast does not quite look like the “host” and “cup” present at our altars.
Even so, Isaiah draws our attention to the food as the best money could buy. There is no skimping in the service. Here is the absolute best. What is better, elsewhere Isaiah highlights how it is all absolutely free: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Isaiah 55:1).
The feast then turns dark with the “shroud” in verse 7. The dynamic equivalent to this word choice today would have to be “pall,” similar to what we put over a casket. This is a common symbol of mourning in ancient times (2 Samuel 15:30; Jeremiah 14:3; 2 Corinthians 3:12-18). One strange and yet gracious surprise in our text is verse 8. As opposed to what is on everyone else’s plate, God has on His plate “Death/Mot.” It would have been clear to Isaiah’s audience that he was playing off the idea of death and death’s personification in the Canaanite mythology of “Mot.” Mot is most often pictured as an open and unsatiable mouth. Mot was the great “eater,” and here our God demonstrates His authority by swallowing up “Death/Mot” forever. So, the main course for God in this great eschatological feast is death itself, while we are graciously given, without cost, the lavish course of life. A little grim in the imagining, it is still a stark reminder of the cost to God of what would be given to us freely by grace for life. The curse which is cast like a “pall” over all humanity (Genesis 2:17) is here done away with by our Lord and Savior.
The main course for God in this great eschatological feast is death itself, while we are graciously given, without cost, the lavish course of life.
Notice how God does not simply dismiss death. Instead, He actually takes it upon Himself and into Himself. He ingests, digests, and passes death so we might be spared from even tasting it. However, He not only tastes it, but He actually takes it all for us. The way He does this is through His Suffering Servant Messiah (Isaiah 52:13-53:12). Paul cites this passage when talking about the benefits of Christ’s Resurrection, in 1 Corinthians 15:54, in order to demonstrate the certainty for us of the resurrection of the dead on the Last Day. As mentioned earlier, John the revelator cites our reading (verse 8) in Revelation 7:17 and 21:4. Finally, in verse 9 of the Isaiah text, as he speaks of “salvation” it echoes the very first time this word was used in scripture. That is when the Lord brought Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 14:13). It is helpful to note how every time this word is used in the Old Testament it is in connection with the announcement of the Lord’s power over every enemy.
The critical Gospel move for preaching this sermon will have to be based off the turn that happens in the text with verse 8. It is when the clue is revealed about what God has on His plate as opposed to what we have on ours. This moment will require the greatest amount of work and rhetorical force. The meaning of this moment will be the Gospel turn, but the revelation of the moment will be a kind of Law proclamation which will upset the equilibrium of your hearers. So, the revelation will be surprising law, but the unpacking of it will be powerful Gospel. It will be a gospel image similar to the kind we find in Psalm 23:5: “You have prepared a table before me in the presence of my enemies... You make my cup overflow.”
A perfect structure for this sermon is one developed by Eugene Lowry, in his book The Homiletical Plot. He suggests you create a “aha moment” by using the sequence of the sermon to build experiences on the part of the hearers which mirror the movements of a typical plot form. So, Isaiah’s feast on Mount Zion moves from an amazing image of grace to a moment of mournful realization for God. This leaves the hearers conflicted through a deeper complication of the understanding of the text, to crisis, and finally to resolution. A Lowry Loop, as it is often called, has five sections:
- Upsetting the equilibrium (“oops”)
- Analyzing the discrepancy (“ugh!”)
- Disclosing the clue to the resolution (“aha!”)
- Experiencing the Gospel (“whee!”)
- Anticipating the consequences (“yeah!”)
“Just as in a narrative the climax of the story often arises from a surprising discovery of a new way of looking at things, so too in this sermon the reversal is something unforeseen by the hearers and, therefore, a surprise, or as Lowry calls it, an “aha!” experience.”
Here is a potential outline based off the Lowry Loop, all fleshed out:
You will want to spend considerable time helping people imagine Heaven like a great feast. Ask them if they like food (who does not) and ask them to imagine what will be on their plate at the great feast of God at the end of all time. Turn this moment to a reflection on our loved ones. Ask them what their loved ones who have already died will have on their plate. Make the connection that their loved ones will not forget about them. In fact, they will be saving them a seat (yes, a little sentimental, but this sets up the next move).
Isaiah 25:8: But what happens when you look at God’s plate. What is on His plate? It is a pall, like the thing that covers a casket. This is quite appropriate because if you were to look under the veil you would see death is on His plate. Grim, gaunt and pale, death is personified here. In fact, in Isaiah’s day death was personified in Mot (might need to explain the Canaanite god briefly here). God is eating the eater!
God is eating the eater!
What has been eating at you recently? Has it been guilt? Or Cancer? Or Age? Or Sin? W. David O. Taylor, in his book Open and Unafraid, talks about something that was “eating away” at his family:
“On April 17, 2010, my wife and I lost our first baby to a miscarriage. This took place on my thirty-eighth birthday. For months afterward we carried around a gnawing pain—a pain that slowly ate us up from the inside, leaving us profoundly disoriented. On September 11, 2011, our daughter Blythe came into the world. Hope again surged in our hearts. Other children would now come easily, we thought. Our dream of a big family (five children!) could still be achieved, our advancing years notwithstanding.
Two days shy of Christmas 2014, after months of fertility treatments, we lost our second child to miscarriage. After this, our marriage suffered considerably. Our communication repeatedly broke down, and our capacity to meet each other’s needs dissipated. Small hurts flared up into angry conflict, and each of us resorted to surrogates we hoped might dull the pain, but that only made things worse.
There are still days when the pain feels almost unbearable. Neither of us is getting younger, our parents are growing older, our friends’ children are reaching their college years, and the train, so it feels, is passing us by. What we needed then was language to say out loud what our hearts can only grasp at with inarticulate groans. What we needed, quite desperately, was a community to bear witness to our sadness. Above all, what we needed was to know God can handle our broken hearts and our raging words of protest.”
God has taken care of them by taking that “gnawing pain” in Christ, who came as a child, would grow, and who would even bear all of that pain, sadness, and death on the cross. That savior, Jesus Christ, gave us a small miracle at Cana to show us a greater salvation which would be given through His cross and empty tomb. Greater still, Jesus gives more to us in the little bit of bread and wine in the feast we come to every time we gather around the altar. Joined together with Him, we join in the feast which will bring all suffering and tragedy to an end and will have an endless supply of grace in our times of hurt and need.
John 2:1-12: Unpack the foretaste of the feast to come by exploring Mary’s “real” request at the miracle during the Wedding at Cana, in Galilee.
Jesus’ resurrection has made our way by grace through faith to the feast that will have no end. Just as it was promised in 1 Corinthians 15:54: “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’” Also, 2 Corinthians 5:4: “For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened, not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.”
Jesus finished that plate from Isaiah’s vision at Calvary (John 19:30). The Empty Tomb is the guarantee that no death was left over because the grave was empty. Jesus’ resurrection life proves the deed was done. Now, we enjoy the feast every time we are at the altar because we know it is just a sample of what we will enjoy, as Isaiah says, in Heaven forever.
Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on Isaiah 25:6-9.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Isaiah 25:6-9.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Isaiah 25:6-9.
Lectionary Kick-Start-Check out this fantastic podcast from Craft of Preaching authors Peter Nafzger and David Schmitt as they dig into the texts for this Sunday!
 In Hebrew, the root word translated as “death” from Isaiah 25:8 is מָוֶת (pronounced “maw-veth”). This can be rendered to an English character equivalent as the letters “mot.”