The shroud is gone…utterly destroyed.
I remember it well, sitting in the very chair I am sitting in as I write today, working to compose a necessary email before taking some much needed time away in the recent wake of my mother’s death.
I had just seen off the last of my houseguests from that whirlwind of the last months which had so many coming and going so as to spend time with this one so beloved and I had come to the office for just a few minutes to take care of some details before getting some necessary time away for rest.
As I recall it, my brain literally would not seem to work those three days after the funeral. I could not pull the necessary words out of the ether and move them through my fingertips to the keyboard to the screen. Someone came to my office door then with a matter which was urgent to them then, but not at all to me, and I remember looking up and saying, “I just can’t right now.”
For the shroud was surely heavy then. It was like a fog enveloping me, making only that which was right in front of me important, and even that did not matter that much for a while then.
A wise one coached me in those vulnerable days to only spend my time with those who could make space for such grief, for it would take time for the exhaustion that came with that long vigil to lift.
And it did take time — compounded as it was by other griefs not yet fully grieved. Even so, I could sense the shroud lifting a few weeks later when I stood in the sunroom at my sister’s to see a tree full of cardinals, their feathers bright against a rainy February afternoon, pulling me out of myself once more into the world where the shroud no longer held sway. At least not like it did.
And that is the promise in the beautiful words of the prophet now. Accompanied by an unprecedented feast is this promise:
‘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.’
And yet, while it lasts, the ‘shroud’ is a necessary kind of a protector, isn’t it?
We wrap the body in a ‘shroud,’ (or a casket), conveying it to its final resting place. Our eyes are thus shielded from seeing the worst that quick decay can and does do to our beloved who, after all, were made from the earth in the first place.
And the ‘shroud,’ the ‘cloud’ of grief is necessary, too isn’t it, as our bodies and minds and spirits grapple to make sense of a world which will never be the same. Indeed, that shroud can shield us from a world which would have us move on too quickly before such healing has a chance to take hold.
But what we hear today in the ancient words of the prophet is that the day will come when such a shroud is no longer necessary at all, not in a world where God is so very present and leaning down to wipe away the tears which are no longer reflective of the world we have been given to inhabit.
And so we live in the promise now of a day when the shroud will be gone. Utterly destroyed.
And so this is the truth I carry with me as I listen in on the story of the king’s banquet now. For it is so that I have long felt pity for the guest who came in such inappropriate attire that he would be punished by being banished to ‘outer darkness, where weeping and gnashing of teeth’ held sway.
And yet, I know this of Jesus. Jesus would not hold responsible one for whom the proper wardrobe was out of reach through no fault of his own. No, it must have been a deliberate choice on his part to not take part in the festivities in a way that was appropriate! Indeed, as I lay this story alongside the vision cast by the prophet, Isaiah, I wonder if this one was simply unwilling to lay aside the ‘shroud’ which had too long been the wardrobe of necessity or choice.
For the shroud which symbolized death in all of its forms, though necessary in a broken world, is entirely uncalled for in the one promised today!
No indeed, this one must have been entirely unwilling to entertain even the possibility of a world different than the one he had always known:
- That world where there seemed to never be enough:
- not enough money
- not enough food,
- not enough water,
- not enough shelter or safety,
- not enough love for everyone to have a place.
- One where greed trumped generosity.
- Where violence, it seemed, always won the day.
- One where fear motivates and hope is always outrun by despair.
A world where the shroud was still needed.
A world marked by the covering of loss and grief and dashed hopes and dreams.
And oh, I can see how this might be possible, to be the one who cannot let go of the world as we have always known it in exchange for the seemingly impossible abundance and joy of the promised banquet. Even so, for all this time so many of us have been privileged to have lived in the light of the promise of another way as well. And maybe it is ours, all of ours, who have been invited to the banquet, to allow the powerful image of that life still to come to have room to grow as well, and to seek to live like it is already so.
Maybe that is how we show up to the banquet wearing the ‘right clothes.’
The ones which symbolize life and hope and trust and promise.
And joy. So much joy.
- How does the promise that the ‘shroud’ will be destroyed speak to your heart today?
- What would it mean for you and for your community to make room for that promise to grow?
- How might we be less like the one who showed up in ‘inappropriate attire’ for a party where such joy is celebrated?
- And how do we keep the balance now: acknowledging the continued need for such ‘shrouds,’ even as we live in the light of this abundant promise?