Easter Sunday

April 5, 2015

Summary

Life worth living

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.
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.” (Isaiah 25:6-9 ESV)
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

The spiritual high-fives in church on Easter morning and indeed throughout the season of Easter are to be enjoyed. Generally people – even if they have personal doubts or questions about the resurrection – maybe more a longing and a ‘hope there is a resurrection’ rather than a faith and certainty that there is – still put on a smile and participate. After all, a resuscitation is good news – death is pushed back a bit longer – but a resurrection is good good news – death is pushed back – out of the picture – for ever. And so Christians have claimed and proclaimed – declared and defended – the message that Jesus’ grave is empty not through Christian skulduggery or conspiracy but because God raised Jesus from the dead. We dare the world to prove otherwise!

Of course the world can’t. It may splutter and sneer but categoric proof doesn’t exist and the weight of evidence is in our favour that the only explanation for the continued existence of the Church, the reason for the change in those eye-witnesses, and why people still believe today that makes sense of all the evidence is the message that Jesus Christ is alive, never to die again for death is defeated. This isn’t playing with words for we know full well that death still exists in this world but it is not the end we say – cut off from life, love, loved ones and God himself – for there is life after death and thus we grieve as those who have hope because death isn’t the full stop to our brief life on this planet.

The message of the resurrection ushers an age that is beyond our experience; we glimpse it with words; we imagine it as bigger and better than what we know now about life. The message is challenged because death is so strong and final here – brute force to snuff out life, it seems unstoppable when it has made up its mind. Of course this presupposes that we know what life and death are in the first place.

Today – if this message about Jesus is true – we realise we don’t understand life and death at all; we’re only aware of things biologically, not theologically. And it is dangerous to use one to understand the other.

The prophet Isaiah describes God rescuing his people – which he did on many occasions – and promising, in our first reading, that in Zion the people will live in abundance, a full life. The banquet is not for show – to impress but not sustain – for the benefit of the host to make him look good where even the guests are fodder for the host’s reputation – no, the banquet is real food to sustain and give joy to the guests. Whatever caused tears will end – eyes will be dried and shame and guilt fades into the past for salvation is now here – the past is ended, be glad and rejoice in the salvation which
heralds a new life with your God. And into this picture of banqueting and celebrating a new life, Isaiah says:
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 … (Isaiah 25:7,8a ESV)

And what we have here is death described as a covering and a veil and I’m thinking initially of cloth, fabric – after all, veils in the news are such things. But the Hebrew gives a different picture – two of them that give death a new meaning – remember the covering or veil is cast over all people, all nations. A covering is what occurs when something is poured – you have possibly a thin film, something that clings, matches identically the shape over which it is poured. It is the covering that happens when one casts metal – pouring molten metal over something – in fact it is the same word used here for covering that is used in association with a calf in the wilderness which we take to be golden where the word in Exodus is strictly ‘molten’ or ‘covering’. Covering, idols, death – that’s pretty blunt. When God first explained his commandments he told his people not to make a graven image but when he reissued the commandments he said that they were not to make molten images. What we have is a picture of death being poured over us – shaping us – covering us – so that while we are walking and breathing and living in this world, thinking we’re alive, we’re already dead. We’re idols to ourselves. Those who trust in molten images will be put to shame (Isaiah 42:17) – which gives a new perspective on the self made man.

The veil is what is used to wrap up loot. We think of ourselves as in control – masters of our own destiny sort of thing – not trapped in a bag – loot on someone’s shoulders.

God will swallow this death – the imagery makes for a pretty weird and probably mean looking god – so that we can live – for God peels away the metal prison and drags us out of the bag.

This means that being physically alive doesn’t make a person alive. For life is only with the author of life – for those who are the new creation in Christ are alive – whether they live or die. So Jesus meant it when he said: Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life (John 5:24 ESV). Did you notice when eternal life begins? ‘Has’ – present tense – now – when we hear and believe God’s Word about Jesus.

That is why Paul could write to the Ephesians: And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:1-5 ESV)

Paul encouraged the Corinthians: When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:54-57 ESV)

When does perishable put on the imperishable? Perhaps when we daily shower and dress in our baptismal identity and live ‘walking wet’? Perhaps when we take into our hands and mouths bread and wine and discover that Jesus is holding us – forgiving our sins, healing our bodies while we need them in this world, and strengthening our faith and our eternal life? Perhaps when we struggle with all sorts of things spiritually and cry out ‘Lord, I believe, help my unbelief’ and words, comfort, assurance, the Gospel do come to us for that moment and still the storm with his ‘Be still, and know that I am God’?

The resurrection of Jesus confirms what was hidden in the darkness of Jesus’ death – that death’s power is broken – and eternal life begins now before we physically die through Jesus – through words, water, bread and wine – and this life with the Triune God is the one worth living.

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Bible References

  • Isaiah 25:6 - 9