"Lifting the Veil"

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"Lifting the Veil"

Gusti Linnea Newquist

October 31, 2021


Based on *Isaiah 25:6-10a. A Vision of Wholeness.

On this mountain, God will lift the veil
that has spread over all the nations.

It is no mere coincidence, I would suggest, that we have gathered to celebrate the promise of new life at the exact same time we find ourselves reeling from the death of the beloved Benita Keller, whose life touched so many in our midst. It is, after all, All Hallows Eve. That time, the ancients tell us, when the veil between the worlds is very thin, with mere threads to separate the land of the living from the land of the dead.

You can almost feel on this All Hallows Eve our beloved Benita – and all the others in that Great Could of Witnesses – passing the baton from the great beyond to baby Greer. You got this, girl, they are saying to her and to us. Grow up and get on with the business of feast-making and veil-lifting and tear-wiping and disgrace-removing. Get on with the business of LIFE!

That is certainly the message of the prophet Isaiah in our Lesson for today.

Get on with it, he is saying to them and to us. All will be well! And all shall be well! Eat, drink, and be merry, for we shall never die!

Yes, the message of the prophet Isaiah in our Lesson for today is meant to inspire hope. The gift of baton-passing from the great beyond on All Hallows Eve is meant to inspire hope. And it does inspire hope. But that hope is not inspired in a vacuum. That hope is hard-earned. With fierce determination. Even in spite of all evidence to the contrary of hope.

Just one chapter ago, in the book of Isaiah, the people feel far beyond hope. The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants, Isaiah 24 tells us, utterly laid waste and utterly despoiled. Does that sound familiar? A curse devours the earth, Isaiah 24 laments. The city of chaos is broken down. The gladness of the earth is banished.

It is almost as if the people of Isaiah are living through a global pandemic! Or at least something very much like it. We know that feeling of breakdown, do we not? That feeling of fleeting gladness. That in-your-face reality of what we have lost. That wondering if this is it. If this evidence all around us to the contrary of hope is just the way things are now. If this world, as it is, full of COVID, full of racist nationalism, full of climate destruction, wins now, without end, Amen?

At least that is what the people of Isaiah 24 wonder.

The answer, according to Isaiah 25, is no! And a little bit yes. And then emphatically NO!

No, Isaiah insists, this desolate world, this city of chaos, this falling apart at the seams, this feeling of being done already, as I have heard so many of you share this week, is not the end of the story. There will come a day, Isaiah 25 insists, when every manner of thing shall be well. And that day will be a great big party, Isaiah proclaims. A feast for you and me and every one of God’s Beloved Children.

But that party really does have to be for all people everywhere, Isaiah says. Which is why God is not swooping in to stop the breakdown just yet. In fact, in a hard to hear twist of irony, the verses of Isaiah 25 just before our Lesson today, give thanks to God – on behalf of the poorest among us – for the downfall of the city of chaos. The way of life we miss so intently was not working for them in the first place. They are glad it is gone for good. They are, in fact, celebrating.


Only when we truly accept the need to leave that life behind, Isaiah is saying, in his time and in ours, will the veil truly lift, and the feast truly emerge, and the disgrace of who we have been for the poorest in our midst be removed. Only when we truly accept the need to leave that life behind, Isaiah is saying, can live together on this mountain as the beloved community God has intended us to be all along.

Believe me, I get it, it is so hard to truly leave our pre-pandemic life behind. We were just getting started! Children were dangling from the rafters of our overflowing balcony! Everything in us is desperate to have that time back. To ditch the masks. To reconstitute the work force. To get decent restaurant service. To get the price of gas in line. To have Benita back. To pack the pews and fill Sunday Studio. To start singing again!

We do not want this world, as it is now, melting into malaise, to be the way things are, without end, amen. And it really will not be! I promise you, in the spirit of Isaiah, it really will not be. But I also promise you, in the spirit of Isaiah, that the veil will only lift, and the feast will only emerge, and the disgrace of who the people have become for the poorest in our midst will only be removed when we truly accept the need to leave pre-pandemic life behind. Period.

Acceptance is, after all, the final stage of grief. And after acceptance, we wait. And wait. And wait. Who knows how long? And waiting is, as Tom Petty sings, the hardest part.

But, as we discovered in our Teach the Preacher gathering this week, in the wisdom of Isaiah, waiting is not giving up! Waiting does not equate with failure! In fact, for those of us who speak some Spanish – or biblical Hebrew – waiting equates with hoping! In Spanish – and in biblical Hebrew – waiting and hoping are the exact same word!

Waiting and hoping, on the other side of accepting, is what Ellie Lloyd and Harald Lorenzen were doing as baby Greer gestated in Ellie’s womb those nine long months. Waiting and hoping, on the other side of accepting, is what all of us were doing as we prayed for her safe delivery during the time of COVID. Waiting and hoping, on the other side of accepting, is what we do even now in our desire to keep her – and all of our children – safe. Waiting and hoping, on the other side of accepting, is the commitment we just made in her baptism, trusting that our part in teaching her The Way of Jesus through this community will be made very clear to us at each step along the way, whatever that way might turn out to be.

In the Sacrament of Baptism, we celebrate LIFE in all its sacred mystery, including the inevitable cycles of dying and rising and dying and rising that come along the way. In Baptism, we say, the church is still here! That will never change.

Far from being evidence of failure, in the wisdom of Isaiah, accepting the loss of pre-pandemic life, while waiting and hoping for the promise of new life, is the exact transformation that will take us to the mountaintop!

And as we wait, this Baptism brings us hope. A briefly held wholeness. A declaration that we are, all of us together – holding on to the new life in our midst – the very ones we have been waiting for. As we wait, this Baptism declares the hand of God is even now already upon us. And that we will be back together on this mountaintop – someday! – with a really big party. And that, as we wait and hope, on the other side of acceptance, the veil is – even now – lifting for us all.

Let the church say, Amen!

Incarnational translation of Isaiah 25:6-10a

On this mountain the Holy One will prepare a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. This feast will be for everyone!

On this mountain, God will swallow up
the pall that has been cast over all the people,
On this mountain, God will lift the veil
that has spread over all the nations.

God will swallow up death forever.
God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
God will remove the disgrace of this people
from all the earth,

These are God’s very words.

When that happens, we will say,
Alleluia! This is our God;
The one we have waited for,
the one who will heal us.

And we will be filled with grateful joy.
For the hand of God will rest on this mountain.