The lyrical and lengthy fifth reading from the Easter Vigil is one of the many dozens of options for the Rite of Penance. It’s the entire fifty-fifth chapter of the prophet Isaiah. And it’s too much to cover in one post. It actually might take several. Let’s settle for three …
Placing this passage in the Biblical context, we find these words at the end of a lengthy reflection on the restoration of Israel after the Babylonian Exile (Isaiah 49 through 55). What does that mean for us? Perhaps we can think of the way sin exiles us from the love of God, and from communion with one another. God invites us to return to a feast. The Scripture scholar John Collins thinks this passage similar to Proverbs 9, in which Wisdom sets a feast. In the liturgical context, I think a fine pairing would be with the parable of the two sons, Luke 15:11-32.
Thus says the Lord:
All you who are thirsty,
come to the water!
You who have no money,
come, receive grain and eat;
come, without paying and without cost,
drink wine and milk!
Why spend your money for what is not bread,
your wages for what fails to satisfy?
Heed me, and you shall eat well,
you shall delight in rich fare.
The feasting is a metaphor, of course. But the tone shifts to what truly gives life to a believer: God’s covenant love and willingness to fulfill promises made to people. For the Christian, what are those promises? Forgiveness and reconciliation in the context of the Rite of Penance.
We are invited to fill ourselves, but on the Word that will give us eternal life with God:
Come to me heedfully,
listen, that you may have life.
I will renew with you the everlasting covenant,
the benefits assured to David.
As I made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander of nations,
so shall you summon a nation you knew not,
and nations that knew you not shall run to you,
because of the Lord, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, who has glorified you.
David is mentioned as a memory and tradition of the returning exiles. And the restoration will swell beyond our wildest expectations. We know in hindsight that many people indeed turned to the tradition of Judaism as preached by Jesus, and a vector of universal salvation was begun.
Maybe this passage suggests that unexpected penitents will return to God. If so, all the more to make merry at the feast of Christ, and to receive the divine nourishment of his person.