So what are you having for Easter dinner today? Like the other major holidays Christmas and Thanksgiving, Easter is associated with a large family meal. If I had to guess, I would say that the most common main dish will be ham. There may be some out there who will have lamb – one of my favorites. Ham and lamb are the two meats that I most associate with Easter dinner. I poked around on the internet a little and what I found there seemed to confirm that this is the way that others see it as well.
You know what people don’t say when I ask this question? They don’t say, “Well, pastor, this year we are going to have tofu.” Now I am sure that somewhere there are vegetarians and vegans who eat tofu at Easter. But the vast majority of people – even those who like tofu – are not going to eat coagulated soy milk curds that have been pressed into blocks for Easter dinner. They are going to eat meat. We eat meat at almost every meal. We assume that it is going to be there. And we certainly assume that a holiday meal we will have meat as the main course.
The ancient Mediterranean world also assumed that a holiday meal – a feast – would include meat. But they did so for a very different reason. For them, a holiday meal was the exception to their normal diet. The normal diet of ordinary people was grain based. They received much of the fat their body needed from olives. The diet was supplemented with fish. But meat from animals like cows and goats was far too expensive to eat on a regular basis. It was only on special occasions – like a feast – when they would get to eat it.
This background helps us to understand the first verse of the Old Testament lesson for Easter in which Isaiah writes: “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.” What is translated here as a “feast of rich food” is literally the phrase “a feast of fat.” In a world where people weren’t worried about cholesterol, fatty meat was the richest and best – do we really feel any different? Great meat and great wine – that is the feast described by the prophet.
And why the feast? It is because Isaiah is describing God’s final salvation. In the previous chapter the prophet has summarized the judgment that God is going to bring. He writes, “The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant.”
Though our culture does not want to recognize it, God has ordered his creation to work in certain ways. The creature doesn’t get to rewrite the rules that have been established by the Creator. When people choose to do so, the Scriptures a very simple word for it: sin. And those who sin, those who transgress his laws will receive God’s judgment.
Now as we saw during the last two weeks in the national reaction to Indiana’s religious freedom law, this is clearly not a popular way to talk about things with many people. And you know what? God doesn’t care. He is the Creator. He is the King. He is the Judge. And he gets the last word. That’s what Isaiah has just described before our text when he writes: “ On that day the LORD will punish the host of heaven, in heaven, and the kings of the earth, on the earth. They will be gathered together as prisoners in a pit; they will be shut up in a prison, and after many days they will be punished. Then the moon will be confounded and the sun ashamed, for the LORD of hosts reigns on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and his glory will be before his elders.”
This is the result for the unfaithful - for those who have disobeyed God’s law and acted like they are god. But the outcome is very different for God’s people. Isaiah begins our chapter by saying, “O LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you; I will praise your name, for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure.” God’s people rejoice that those who oppressed them – those who promoted evil – have been overcome and destroyed.
And so in celebration of God’s victory there is a feast that God himself provides. We hear in our text, “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.”
Yet in order for this victory to be complete - in order for this joy to be without end – there is one other enemy that must be done away with: death. The prophet writes, “And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.”
Isaiah speaks of the final victory of God when death will be have been swallowed up and destroyed. And in fact, that is why we have gathered this morning. We have come to church in the morning on the first day of the week to celebrate that fact that on that first Easter the tomb was empty.
Oh, Jesus’ body had been placed in the tomb because he was dead. Of that there was no doubt. The Romans didn’t invent crucifixion, but they were certainly the masters of it. A person who went up on a Roman cross was going to come down only one way – as a lifeless corpse.
Jesus died on the cross because even people like you who do know that God’s law orders his creation, are not able live that way all the time. There are many times you do things that God forbids. There are many times you fail to do things God commands. And even when you do keep the law, sometimes you do the right action for sinful reasons. You do the right thing so that others will see you do it, and you will get the credit. You do the right thing so that you can feel superior to someone else.
The difference between God’s people and the unbeliever is often not a matter of what we do. We are all plagued by sin since the Fall. Instead, it is a matter of how we choose to view that sin. The unbeliever embraces sin as his or her own. There is no real regret, apart from the fact that sin often has consequences they wish they had not experienced. There certainly is no admission that it was wrong.
How very different are things with the Christian. We know that sin is always committed against God. We know that sin violates God’s will – it transgresses his divine law and ordering. And we are sorry. We confess this sin. We repent. We do not want to continue in sin.
In our epistle lesson the apostle Paul says, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.” Jesus Christ died on the cross in order to win forgiveness for all sins. Because he did this, forgiveness is available to all who repent and believe in him.
Christ died. He was buried. And on the third day in his resurrection he swallowed up death. He destroyed it by beginning the resurrection of the Last Day. What Isaiah describes in our text has begun. It began in the risen Lord, Jesus Christ.
It has begun, but it is also not yet fully arrived. In our text Isaiah says, “and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.” This past week there were many tears on the faces of God’s people as Christians were killed on a university campus in Kenya. There were tears as Christians were killed in Nigeria, Syria, Iraq and Pakistan. There were tears as Christians were imprisoned in China.
And in this country Christians bore reproach from our culture because of what God’s word says about homosexuality. This past week our culture said that anyone who rejects homosexuality because of what Scriptures says is on the same moral level as racist segregationists. It said that you and I are hateful bigots who deserve only scorn. For now they want to limit your belief to the walls of this building. But don’t think they will be satisfied to stop there….
This angers and frustrates us. And so we also need to listen to the last verse of our text where Isaiah writes, “It will be said on that day, ’Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.’”
Right now we do wait. We wait for the return of our Lord and the final vindication of his people. We wait for the tears to be wiped away for good and the reproach to be removed forever. But because Jesus rose from the dead, we wait with confidence. Because Jesus rose from the dead, his Spirit gives us strength to believe and trust in him. Because Jesus rose from the dead we have the living hope that will continue to sustain us.
We wait for our Lord’s return in glory when he will raise us up and give us resurrected bodies like his own. We wait, but that doesn’t mean the risen Lord has left us alone. We have not yet arrived at the feast described by Isaiah, but that doesn’t mean we have no food. For the Lord who rose from the dead on Easter continues to come to us in the Sacrament of the Altar. He gives us a foretaste of the feast to come in the Sacrament of his true body and blood. It is this food that nourishes the new man in us so that we can trust, and believe, and persevere in the face of world’s reproach. It is this food that assures us that the tears will be wiped away for good and that God will give victory and vindication to his people.
And so now let us come to this altar where the risen Lord Jesus meets us. Let us draw near, for this is the feast of victory for our God. Indeed, the Lamb who was slain has begun his reign. He has defeated sin. He has defeated death. He has defeated the devil. And because he has risen from the dead, you know that on the Last Day he will wipe away tears from all faces and will remove the reproach of his people forever.