Sunday, April 12, 2020

Sermon for the Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord - Isa 25:6-9

                                                                                    Isa 25:6-9

            The schools are closed.  The restaurants can only serve carry out and delivery.  Many businesses are closed, or are only having employees work from home.  People have been furloughed and now find themselves unemployed.  The state of Illinois has told the population to shelter in place, and so churches can’t meet for services.
            It’s nothing like anything we have seen in our lifetime. We may call it “social distancing.”  We may say it has been caused by the Covid 19 pandemic.  But really, it has been caused by death.  That’s what is at work here. No one wants to get a really bad case of the flu. But that’s not why people are fearful of getting Covid 19.  They are fearful because the virus has the potential to put you on a ventilator in the ICU, and kill you. And while there are groups of people who are more at risk than others, even if you are not in those groups you don’t really know how things are going to turn out if you get the virus.
            It is the fear of death that is driving this convulsion that has upended normal daily life.  And remember, from the perspective of world history, Covid 19 is nothing.  The bubonic plague of Justinian in the sixth century killed an estimated 25 million people.  The Spanish flu of 1918 killed around 50 million people – more than all the military and civilian deaths of World War I combined. And the grand daddy of them all, the bubonic plague of the fourteenth century, killed around 50 million people in Europe – some 60% of the population.  It killed up to 200 million total in Europe, Africa and Asia.
            These pandemic events of death stand out in history. But death does its thing year in and year out in ways that we consider “normal”: In the US each year 647,000 people die from heart disease; 600,000 die from cancer; 169,000 in accidents; 160,000 from chronic respiratory conditions; 146,000 from strokes and 121,000 from Alzheimers. And I haven’t yet mentioned the number one killer: 860,000 babies are killed by abortion each year. Yes indeed, as Isaiah says in our text today, death is the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations.
            However, in our Old Testament lesson for the Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord, Isaiah speaks of a time when God will swallow up death forever.  Instead of death, the celebration of a great feast will occur. On this Easter Sunday, as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we rejoice in the knowledge that this day has already begun.
            In the previous chapters of Isaiah, the prophet has been speaking about judgment that God is going to bring upon the foreign nations who threaten and harm Israel and Judah.  The book of Isaiah never lets us forget that while Yahweh had called the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to be his people, he is still the almighty God who is the Creator of all things.  His attention is also directed toward all other people both in the hope of salvation and in the judgment of their sin.  God’s intentions include, as well, the welfare of creation itself.
            While the earlier chapters had spoken about God’s judgment against individual nations, chapter 24 had summed this up by talking about Yahweh’s judgment on the whole earth. The prophet says, “Behold, the LORD will empty the earth and make it desolate, and he will twist its surface and scatter its inhabitants.” The reason he will do this is clear.  Isaiah writes, “The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant.”
            Now remember, the prophet is speaking about all people, not just Israel and Judah.  And this is a reminder that as the Creator, God has ordered his creation to work in certain ways.  He has determined what is right and what is wrong. The truth of this determination is not relative.  It is absolute, because the Creator has established them. And when the creature – when man violates this ordering – this is sin against the holy God.
            It is this sin that brings death. God commanded Adam in the Garden of Eden, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Adam and Eve disobeyed – they sinned – and found out that God was deadly serious about what he had said.  As the apostle Paul told the Romans, “The wages of sin is death.”
            Unless Christ returns first, you will die because you are sinners.  We don’t know when it will happen. We don’t know what the cause will be. But it will happen because you are sinners in thought, word, and deed.
            However, in chapter 25 Isaiah shifts to praising God for the salvation that he is going to bring.   He says, “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.”  We are reminded that God’s plan of salvation was not done on a whim.  Instead it was his plan worked out according to his timing.
            And then Isaiah declares, “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. 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.”
            Yahweh promises a sumptuous feast of celebration on this mountain – on Mt. Zion where Jerusalem and the temple were located.  Isaiah had spoken about this at the beginning of his prophecy when he wrote, “It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it.” This would be the time when, “He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
            In the Old Testament, Zion and the temple that stood on it were about the located presence of God with his people. Israel knew where God was present for them. This was a type that pointed forward to the way God would bring salvation.  Indeed, God’s plans formed of old were faithful and sure.  In the fullness of time God sent forth his Son, as Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.  In the Christmas Gospel lesson John says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”  He uses language from the Old Testament to tell us that all which had been true of the temple and tabernacle was fulfilled in the incarnation of the Son of God.
            And so, when Jesus opponents asked for a sign he answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  The Jews were confused. John tells us, “But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.”
            On Good Friday we heard Isaiah speak about how God would work through the suffering of the Servant to win forgiveness for us.  Jesus Christ died on the cross as the atoning sacrifice, and then they buried his dead body in a tomb.
            But on the morning of Easter when the women went to the tomb they did not find the body of Jesus.  Instead, as the banner behind me declares, they found angels who said to them: “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”
            Jesus Christ died, and then by his resurrection he defeated death.  Where Adam’s sin brought death into the world, Jesus Christ’s resurrection has begun the bodily life that cannot die.  Paul told the Corinthians, For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.”
            The resurrection of Jesus Christ means that death has been defeated.  Yes, people die. But for those who are in Christ, death cannot separate them from him.  They already have eternal life with God, and death cannot change this fact.  Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”  We have been born again of water and Spirit to a life that will never end, and not even physical death can change this.
            And while death may claim our bodies for a time, it does not have permanent possession.  It cannot because Jesus Christ has already risen from the dead.  In him the resurrection of the Last Day has already started. And so the Scriptures often describe the death of a Christian as sleep.  For after all, people who fall asleep, wake up. And because of Jesus, bodies that have died will live again. They will “wake up” when the risen and ascended Lord returns in glory on the Last Day and transforms our mortal bodies to be like his eternal, resurrection body.
            On that day, as Isaiah says in our text, he will swallow “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.”  Instead of tears there will be joy. With Isaiah we will say, 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.”
            Make no mistake, until that day, death is still the enemy.  Death was not God’s intention for his creation. Death has been produced by sin, and so it continues to be the source of grief due to the loss it causes.  But death is a defeated enemy. It was defeated on Easter when Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Because of Jesus, our life with God continues after death – we already have eternal life now. And when the Lord Jesus returns in glory he will swallow up death forever when he raises us from the dead with bodies like his that can never die again.  On that day we will say: “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." 



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