Reflections on the oft-neglected OT lectionary passages
Those among my dear readers who have undergone any academic training will probably have had to answer this essay question: ‘1 Corinthians 15:4 states that Christ “was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures”. Which scriptures, exactly?’
This is an interesting question: Paul, along with our liturgical creeds, clearly saw the resurrection as have been predicted in some way in the OT, although it is not easy to see exactly where. So our solitary OT lectionary passage for Easter Day (not counting the Psalm, of course) doesn’t directly address the resurrection per se, but it does talk in symbolic language about what some of the results of resurrection might be, whether or not it directly expected the physical resurrection from death of an individual.
It’s worth noting first that Isaiah’s scene is played out on a mountain, while Jesus is crucified on Skull Hill. In the OT mountains are often places of encounter with God, and most clearly the place of law. The cross becomes the place where earth and heaven meet, but the place of law becomes the place of grace.
Isaiah begins here, as he so often does, with food. Whatever event he is looking towards, it is set around a laden table, with people celebrating joyfully with the finest of fare, something of a contrast with the austerity of the Last Supper. It is also a feast open, he tells us, to all peoples. The resurrection of Jesus, our lectionary compilers are clearly trying to tell us, is for celebration and nourishment, and all are welcome, not just ‘PLU’s (People Like Us).
While the people feast a ‘shroud’ is removed from them. This might refer to the shroud of death which, like taxes, is inevitable for all, or it might be an introductory phrase which is spelt out in the next few verses as he promises the defeat of death, misery and disgrace, negative elements as much of a threat to all of us today as they were in Isaiah’s time and ever since. The resurrection of Jesus promises us not just freedom from the sting and fear of death, but also the possibility of forgiveness for the shamefaced, healing for the sick and joy for the downcast.
Isaiah ends by noting that whatever it is that God is doing, it has been long-awaited. It shows the other side of the coin from all those desperate ‘How long?’ cries which ring through the OT and down the ages. For so long, it seems, God has chosen, for whatever reasons, not, apparently, to do very much. But now he has stirred himself: he is on the move, his purposes are being worked out, and his salvation is there for the asking.
Our response to all this? As it will be on Easter Sunday in our churches, rejoicing is the only appropriate way to celebrate this mighty act of God.