Years back my wife (Jen) and I took a road trip up from Winnipeg, MB to L.A., before swinging back around through Montana and South/North Dakota on our way back home. While we were in L.A. we had an opportunity to go to Gordon Ramsey’s restaurant The London, one of the restaurants that emerged from his long running show. Jen is a chef, I am the furthest thing from. Which is to say, while she could apprecate the experience for what it was, I was very much out of my element. I couldn’t read or pronouce anything on the menu, and when whatever it was that I ordered arrived (part of a 3 or 4 course meal) I still didn’t really know what was on my plate. No word of a lie, it took me about 10 minutes to locate a glass of water on the menu.
I’m not sure which was braver, me for stepping out of my comfort zone, or Jen for walking through those doors with me (I’m going with her). For future reference, I prefer the experience of eating somehwere where it doesn’t feel like I’m ripping up my money by eating what are very small portions of what feels like i might as well be made of gold and be framed somewhere rather than consumed. Another way to put that might be, I prefer my comfort and familiarity and normal portion sizes.
I find an echo of this experience in this passage from Isaiah 55. The call in this passage begins with the simple invitation to “come”. What follows this invitation are three contextualized realities that shape this call:
This chapter in Isaiah pivots on the mention of the “I” in chapter 3 and the “covenant” or promise the I is making with those who are hungry and thirsty. The larger framework for this covenant is the image of the “suffering servant” in 55:2. What is interesting here is to note how the “I” (God) plays into the “he” (the suffering servant) whom the I has made into a “witness” to the peoples of this great feast. And somehow it is through the he that that we who are hungry and thirsty also bear witness to the all of these nations whom it says “surely will come” in 55:5.
What strikes me then is this two fold vision. The invitation to come hinges on the “he” through whom this covenant promise is made true and real and beautiful in our midst. The picture this covenant points to is fleshed out in the second half of Isaiah 55 inthis way:
Secondly, there is a sense in which we participate in this witness even as the “he” of this passage plays out this story in its fullness and for our sake. The promise that “I” will accompish what I desire through the “he” who is made a witness to this grand feast and invitation to eat and drink seems to play into those who either resist this meal and spend their money elsewhere as well as those who arrive at this feast to eat and drink. The promise is in play, but the call and the invitation remains equally true.
To return to the London in L.A., there is something that strikes me about this picture as saying something about this interplay between the covenant promise and the invitation itself. I imagine this contrasting picture of this upscale establishment and the local budget diner down the street. It is easy for me to sit in the diner and to look at this upscale establishment as a place where I do not belong. Where I do not feel comfortable. The food might be quality, and the portions might be made so as to savour and appreciate. I prefer the simple pleasure of that 3.99 breakfast plate. I judge the price, the social etiquette and dress that sets it apart, the expectations, and even the people who attend these kinds of restaurants.
Now imagine if The London was advertising its meal for free. And imagine if the only pre-requisite for entry was being hungry and thirsty. And then imagine if the establishment was not about the literal food and drink at all. You could get faus gras or that 3.99 breakfast special.
Here I think we start to get a little bit closer to the imaginatve picture of Isaiah 55. As the “all” breaks down those barriers that seperate one establishment from the other, in its place we find a different kind of food and drink, one that is interested in addressing the need for community, belonging, liberation and love regardless of background or social status. There is a powerful integrative nature with tihs sort of “spritual” longing and “spiritual” food and the real world social and economic reality that rings through the words of Isaiah 55. The story that the “he” is embodying brings together not just the covenant of David, but that larger story of exile and exodus to which David belongs. This is what it means for Jesus, who comes in the typology of this suffering servant, to embody the story of Israel, is to locate the idea of covenant faithfulness in a real world setting and context.
The real problem with that local diner is not the food or the location, but rather the socio-economic divide that it represents. I think of my own neighborhood here in the North End of Winnipeg, notorious for its low income status. To imagine a rich establishment down the road as I walk by the local Mcdonalds where many of the Indigenous families in our neighbrhood hang out feels deeply problematic precisely because this imagines the promise of an upscale meal that perpetuates this division between us and them. This feast appears to be doing something quite the opposite. It isn’t drawing people to some establishment, it is drawing people to a “he” through which all of these barriers between us and them suddenly fall away. This isn’t seperating people according to the kind of food we eat, which unfortunately we see in Christianity and its systems far too often, rather it is uniting people by a similar need. All who are thirsty, come drink from that which is free and will satisfy the true thirst for community and belonging and social liberation and healing.
To think about it from this perspective is to reframe what it means to partcipate in the Judeo-Christian vision of a feast where all of the nations are drawn and to which all of the nations comes. Sadly, if the vision of Christ as the fulfillment of this covenant promise is the one to whom these nations are drawn, we as Christ followers are prone to making this into something quite other than Christ imagines. How easy it is to treat this vision exclusively and to then prop up our establishments as an exclusive measure of what it means to eat and drink at such an establishment, with all of its proper “etiquette” enforced and menu items pre-determined and controlled. It’s no wonder many of us would rather just stay in the diner down the street, the irony being that these diners manage to achieve that Christ-like vision far more readily than the Churches that propose to be entertaining this grand feast.
Perhaps freedom then comes not from the establishment but from refocusing our sights on what precisely “he” is doing in Isaiah’s grand vision. Read it and reread it and give attention to this movement from the call to the fulfillment of this grand promise that informs this call, and ask ourselves how it is that I am participating in this feast myself. Recognize that for as much as we are being “fed”, the call here is towards the “eating” together.
How would it tranform our vision of this great feast if we placed the Cross in the center of the table? And what if we bring in the many Gospel passages that imagine a people who do not belong in the Temple being given the first seat? And what if by feeding on the drink and the food of the Cross that we begin to embody Christ and that the Christ that dwells in us is given its fullest expression in the taking up of our own Crosses for the sake of participating together in this great, unifying feast? Everything in the Judeo-Christian story is wrapped up in the seeming tension of this promised declaration that the kind of Kingdom promised in the latter half of Isaiah 55 has arrived and is here but is also not yet here. The words “seek now” for the kingom “is at hand” feels like an untenable juxtapositioned at best, frustrating and defeatist at worst. And yet this is precisely what we find in the “he” of this passage. Something very real happened when Christ took on the role of this suffering servant. The feast has arrived, the meal is there for the taking. In Christ the nations are being drawn. And yet we participate knowing the brokenness and the division this meal anticipates. Knowing the failures of our own participation in this meal in ways that have prevented the participation of others and buried the Cross at its center. Here the words of Isaiah ring true with the call to turn and reorient our actions and our perspective towards the “he” who is sweeping us up in to this grander story. Here I like to personalize this verse as speaking directly to me and my failures- seek the Lord, forsake my (our) wickedness and unrighteous thoughts so that God might have mercy on (me). To me this is the real promise that “he” came to fulfill, is that in doing so it is through my own Christlike partcipation that the Kingdom can then be built. This is the true currency we have been given through the suffering servants own purchase of the good, the true, and the beautiful.