VERBUM DOMINI

The Final Grace

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A visit to the Vietnam War Memorial feels like dying. Walking its length, you gradually descend, the world disappearing behind an imposing wall of obsidian.

Countless names wash over you as the black rock overtakes your vision. It is as though you yourself are entering the realm of the dead. The conflicts of nations seem like faint echoes of another world. The life you know, both its joys and anxieties, takes on the aspect of a dream as this raw, black and final reality stares you in the face. You feel camaraderie, a deeply human camaraderie with every one of those names, because you know someday you too will die. Your sympathies stretch beyond country and creed as you realize that all share this common enemy: death itself.

The Prophet Isaiah speaks of death as the “veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations.” He points to the pervasive presence of this enemy. None escape it. Yet, the prophet foresees an end, he foretells the victory of God. Foreshadowing Christ’s victory on Calvary, Isaiah tells us, “on this mountain...he will destroy death forever.” Unlike the Vietnam War Memorial, here there is a message of hope. We are powerless before our dark enemy Death, but God will act decisively in our favor. To express what God’s victory will look like, Isaiah chooses the image of the feast: “the LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines.” Food is a symbol of life and community. That is what God will put in place of death. Indeed, that is what we receive at every Eucharist: life and communion.

The image of the feast also appears in our Gospel, but it carries a note of warning. Jesus reminds us that it is possible to turn down God’s invitation: “some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business.” It is also possible to be ill-prepared for the feast: “how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?” Jesus offers a sobering reminder that “many are invited, but few are chosen.” While death is a guarantee, the banquet is not. While death is the result of sin committed, the banquet is the result of welcomed grace.

Leaving the Vietnam War Memorial is almost as powerful as entering it. As you ascend, the world comes back into sight. There is activity and growth. Everything is familiar, but somehow more dear. There is renewed empathy for others accompanied by a deeper delight in creation. In place of that black wall there is new life and communion. God invites us to enjoy that for eternity.