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Wiping away tears of injustice

BIBLE EXPLORATIONS: PRACTICING RACIAL JUSTICE

May God’s will be done, and may we be part of it

by Chip Hardwick | Presbyterians Today

Hands of interracial couple with wedding rings

Désirée Fawn/Unsplash

A friend and I, who both lost our moms suddenly and tragically during seminary, recently had the chance to talk about it with one another for the first time. As we did, all the feelings of anguish, pain and hopelessness came back a little too easily. Perhaps it was that hopelessness that made me value the first words of Mom’s funeral so much. The pastor read several short passages of Scripture, including words from Isaiah 25 that I most longed to be true: He will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces.

As Isaiah composes his dream, Israel is under direct threat from Assyria, the combative superpower next door. They need hope that the destruction that awaits them will not be the last word — that despite their hardship, one day God will indeed swallow up death forever and wipe away the tears from all faces and that one day they will again “be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

The church calendar includes this passage on Nov. 1, which is All Saints’ Day — a day when we remember the faithful who have gone before us. As we grieve, we need Isaiah’s words of hope for the victory that will one day come. On All Saints’ Day, like all other days, we pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven.” We pray God will take away our tears, now, and not just one day at the end of history.

Even beyond our grief, we can look to the rest of this passage and pray for God to make all of Isaiah’s promises come true. We yearn for the disgrace of God’s people to be taken away. We hunger for the day all people will feast on amazing food and well-aged wines in an awe-inspiring celebration. We look forward to God’s destruction of “the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is over all nations.” Isaiah addresses Israel, but his dream gives hope to all peoples.

A wedding at a church I once served showed that we sometimes see glimpses of how Isaiah’s dream already comes true. The bride, from a wealthy, established white family, spent a season in Kenya, where she fell in love with the groom. He moved to the states to walk with her toward a marriage that was not welcome by her family. It caused confusion, hurt, disappointment and tension in the days leading up to the ceremony.

On the big day, the pastor looked at the wedding party and guests, and proclaimed that what he saw before him was a foretaste of Isaiah’s dream — a feast of all peoples. He pointed to the hope of the union, as it signaled a day when the shroud of racism that is cast over all peoples would one day be gone. He expressed gratitude for the gift of the couple, who helped him see the future that would one day come, on Earth as it is in heaven. The skeptics in her family joined Isaiah’s dream and began to celebrate their union.

Of course, God’s vision for all peoples includes interracial relationships, but it is so much broader than this. The feast the Scriptures describe is filled with both peace and justice. The amazing love celebrated between the wedding couple will not preclude, I suspect, their having “the talk” with their teenage boy about what to do to stay safe in interactions with police officers. Their daughters will probably still face what a Rutgers University 2020 study found: five acts of racial discrimination per day, on average.

One day, the prophetic tradition of our Scriptures tells us, there will be no more tears over racial injustice. One day, God will take away this disgrace from among us. Meanwhile, what can we do so that more of us see a glimpse of this coming day right now? Let’s join God’s work, so that Isaiah’s dream for all people comes true on earth, as it is in heaven.

Isaiah 25:6–9 is a lectionary text for Nov. 1, All Saints’ Day.

Chip Hardwick is the transitional synod executive of the Synod of the Covenant, which includes presbyteries in Michigan and Ohio.


Discussion questions

  • Which of Isaiah’s promises do you most hope will come true?
  • What can you do to join God in giving glimpses of those hopes even today?
  • What specific aspects of God’s will do you pray will happen on earth as they do in heaven?

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