v. 7 And [the LORD of hosts] 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.
This is a passage well worth reading in its entirety, particularly verses 6-9. I believe it is about as full a picture of the kingdom of God as we get in the Bible. It should ring a bell for many of you. This passage is often read at funerals.
Christmas can be a hard time for many of us because of the people we have lost, who are not here to share in its joy as they once were. This can be especially difficult if the loss is recent, but for many of us the sting never goes entirely away. I miss the two grandmothers and one great-grandmother with whom I grew up. They all loved Christmas and presided over family Christmas celebrations as if, in the words of Isaiah, they were gathering "on this mountain" a feast "for all peoples." I say this especially because at almost every Christmas I remember there was someone's boyfriend or girlfriend or even just friend present who was treated as family, including getting presents like everyone else, even if their attendance had been known at the last minute.
I still miss them terribly. Christmas isn't the same without them. I've come to accept that at a certain level, of course, and my memory is "enough" these days (it has to be). It is enough to acknowledge their presence still.
Some of you may have noticed the habit I have of closing my eyes when, in the Eucharistic Prayer, I get to the place of saying "and with all the company of heaven." I do this not to block you out, but to enable myself for this moment to see the bigger picture, the communion of saints in which we profess belief. I often see one of my grandmothers or grandfathers, but just as frequently someone from either of my parishes who has gone before, a friend, mentor or colleague, occasionally even some historic figure with whom I identify. I've done this ever since my ordination to the priesthood, when I "happened" to close my eyes as the Bishop was praying this portion of the prayer and I knew in a powerful way that my grandmother Leah was there with us.
God will swallow up death for ever. This is our faith at bedrock. But I believe this is not just a future sentiment. God is swallowing up death for ever. That is what we are saying when we say that we believe in "the communion of saints." That is what we experience in those times when we know someone who has gone before is with us still.