Mark 16:1-7 & Isaiah 25:6-9
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
April 1, 2018 – Easter
Centuries before Jesus, the Son of God, walked this earth in human flesh, the prophet Isaiah was given to see a day when God would “destroy…the shroud that is cast over all peoples” and “swallow up death forever”, and would “make for all peoples a feast of rich food”. On that day, they will say, “This is our God” for whom we have waited; “let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation”.
Though the full feast of gladness is yet to come, the party has already begun because Jesus in His crucifixion and resurrection has indeed swallowed up death, and is even now dishing out generous foretastes of that fantastic feast that’s on its way. Today and every day we can dig into appetizers and previews of it!
I was recently struck by how a Denzel Washington movie gives a picture of both the final feast in heaven and the ongoing feast of grace on earth. Antwone Fisher tells the true story of a man abandoned at birth by an incarcerated mother and raised in abusive foster homes and reform schools.
When Antwone joins the Navy, his troubled soul and suppressed anger get him into one fight after another. His military superiors order him to undergo counseling. To facilitate healing, a psychologist encourages him to explore his family roots.
Antwone discovers an aunt and uncle in Cleveland. They drive him to the run-down apartment where his mother lives. She answers the door with suspicion and coldness in her eyes. Once she realizes that Antwone is the child she’d given up, she retreats to another room and collapses on a soiled couch to shed silent tears.
Antwone follows her to ask why she never tried to make contact. She does not respond, but simply stares ahead, tears still running, but not daring to look at him.
Antwone leans over and kisses her on the cheek as if to say, “I forgive you.” Then, after a last longing gaze, he heaves himself off the couch and with heavy steps walks away, dejected and despondent. He climbs into the back seat of his aunt and uncle’s car and lapses into a sorrowing silence as they drive back to their house.
Upon arriving, Antwone drags himself to its front door; but crossing that threshold, he has the surprise of his life and steps into the fulfillment of his dreams. Fifty relatives and family friends, of all ages, greet him with a chorus of cheers. They smother him with hugs, slap him on the back, and beam bright warm smiles upon him. Kids hold up signs with his name scribbled next to crayon-drawn smiley faces and rainbows. Antwone walks about overwhelmed, as if in a happy enchantment.
He then is led into a large room where a grand feast is spread across a long table. It overflows with chicken, mac n’ cheese, salads, fruits, desserts and other delicious dishes. An elderly woman waves to him to come over to her, cups his face in her hands, and whispers with all the might she can muster, “Welcome!” Antwone blinks in astonished joy. For the first time, he belongs, and is cherished and stuffed with the food of love.
That scene helps me imagine Christ’s feast with all God’s family present. And it prompts me to think that Christ is no one to wait until then to start feeding us with food that will delight, strengthen and nourish us. For the One who called Himself the Bread of life, whose first miracle was to turn 150 gallons of water into wine for a party, who supernaturally fed thousands at a time, who that first Easter opened people’s eyes to His reality by eating with them, and who greeted His disciples in Galilee by inviting them to join him in the breakfast He’d just cooked for them, there’s no reason to miss an opportunity to provide previews of the party He’s prepared for anyone who would come.
The Jesus who is still alive and still around, and still packed with a passion to bless us, jumps at every chance to feed us, and to feed our hunger for what He’s serving – after all, sometimes we don’t realize how hungry we are until we start to eat!
Now, He knows the finest fare is yet to come. Therefore, to keep our appetite for it sharp, and to keep us from filling up on the empty calories of things like pleasure, comfort and status, He supplies us with samples from that future feast. He also knows that, until we arrive at that party, we face challenges and endure struggles, and need the strengthening nutrition of His spiritual food of peace, power, life and love.
The risen Christ is eager to feed us every day just because He loves us and loves to love us. But He is also eager to do it because He knows we need to be assured of the reality of the food He promises to provide – for we often don’t see it or even catch a whiff of its aroma – and because He knows we need enough foretastes of it to stay off that junk food that ruins our appetite for better fare and so undermines our health.
Most of the time it’s hard to see or smell anything of the future feast. At such times, we have to live by the faith that it will be there for us in the end and that in the present it may already be there for us in some form, right before us.
I think of an analogy in the tragic death of mountain climber Andy Harris who lost his life on the slopes of Mt. Everest. Harris had lingered too long alone at the summit after the rest of his party had started their descent; and, in the thin air of five miles above sea level, his oxygen supply had run out. In a panic he radioed base camp. He mentioned how he’d come upon a cache of oxygen canisters left by others, but that they were all empty. But the people at base camp had just passed that way and assured him the oxygen canisters were full. Though they swore they were telling the truth and pleaded with Him to try them, his oxygen-starved brain, addled by its lack of oxygen, led him to insist they were empty. His brain’s deprivation of the oxygen by which it is fed kept him from the recognizing the presence of its food right in front of him. He died for want of oxygen in the presence of an abundance of oxygen.
Day in and day out, the risen Christ offers us an abundance of life-giving food; but we often don’t see it. For such times, we’d do well to develop the habit of listening to, and trusting in, what God’s word and God’s people are telling us is in fact there Sometimes the proof is in the pudding. Sometimes we have to taste in order to see the goodness of the Lord.
So we do well to believe and take the risk of faith. And we do well to beware of the candy with which the world tempts us lest it kill our hunger for real nutrition and cause us to starve in the presence of an abundance of good food.
So let us trust in the word, and follow a soul-healthy diet, enjoying in moderation this world’s candy but digging in daily to the fine fare of grace Jesus serves. Then we will keep growing and keep going until we find our seat at the future feast of gladness, with our gladness building and building all the way to the table. Let us pray.