By Pastor Jeff Fox-Kline
6 On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. 7 And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever.
8 Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. 9 It will be said on that day, Lo, 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.
I am a young person, just 33, and my experience of death is still quite limited. This is not to say that I haven’t experienced death in my life. I’m a pastor, and death is part of my job. I officiate funerals, walk with grieving people, lose beloved congregation members, visit hospitals that people will never leave. It’s part of the job, one that I hold as a sacred trust and hope to honor as much as I can.
But in my personal life, death has not hit me in the ways that it has some others. I no longer have any grandparents, but I have not lost a parent or sibling. I’ve lost a close friend in my life, but his death five years later still stands out as my primary experience of unexpected death.
I think for this very reason, I often lose sight of how incredible the comfort and promise of God is. My theology is so often rooted in the here and now: Love God, love neighbor. Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God. When you did to the least of these, you did also to me. My favorite scripture passages all speak to the importance of loving one another, of speaking up on the side of righteousness, on caring for the oppressed and disenfranchised. And that’s fine. I’m very at peace with this.
We are encouraged to live well in those passages, but I sometimes forget the power in the passages like the one above.
“He will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces…”
I’ve seen the ways that this passage, and others like it, can turn sorrow to hope. Can shade the enormous grief with hues of comfort, nostalgia, celebration, love. As a Christian, I can never forget that the strength of God’s promise is liberation for us here, and for all time. Grace and mercy fuel our understanding of this promise. We have not earned this, and nothing we will ever do can bring us to that space.
In our grief we also recognize this. Sometimes we are able to recognize it well, sometimes it is so dim as to be invisible. But the promise remains for us to return to.
I need to hold on to this promise more tightly. Not just when I’m officiating a memorial service, and not just when someone dies. Not just on All Saints Day. The promise of life eternal stands alongside the proclamation of liberation, and they stand as pillars that hold up the Christian life. If I shortchange one in favor of the other, I do myself a disservice. I do my loved ones a disservice. And I put God in a box that is always going to be too small.
Pastor Jeff Fox-Kline