Death: Denied or Devoured?

Text: Isaiah 25:6-9
Date: Easter Day + 4/8/12

Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! With St. Paul we confess the truth that “we know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom 6:9-11). This is Easter, the great and victorious and happy day of days. But why, then, ruin it with all this talk about death?

People normally don’t like to talk about death, especially the prospect of their own. People try to avoid the subject whether because of superstition or fear. People even try to deny death—deny it, that is, only as long and until they can deny it no longer. I had a parishioner once who told me they just cannot sing the Easter hymn “I Know That My Redeemer Lives” (ever!) because it was sung at their father’s funeral and it always brings back such bad memories, even on Easter Day! But Christ did not die and rise again merely so that we might be able to pretty up life a little like buying a new dress or hat, or placing a few sprays of flowers around or putting on a cosmetic smile for a day only to avoid the reality of our dreary life where nothing has changed from the frustrating irritations of the day before. Christ did not die and rise again so that we might avoid or deny death. Rather, he died and rose again from the dead so that we might conquer death through Him.
I know that my Redeemer lives….
He lives and grants me daily breath;
He lives, and I shall conquer death. (LSB 461:7)

This victory over death is a unique victory because it has a past, present and a future reality. It has always been the vision and goal of God’s plan of salvation. It is a victory promised of old, from the beginning in the words, “he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen 3:15). It is the meaning and accomplishment of Easter of which we sing,
Jesus lives! The vict’ry’s won!
Death no longer can appall me;
Jesus lives! Death’s reign is done! (LSB 490)
It is the compelling force of a victorious faith by which the Christian finds new strength to “keep on keeping on” even in the face of challenge or opposing forces; even if that challenge or force is death itself. And that’s because it is a victory that also yet remains to be realized in its fullness.

Of that final, ultimate victory promised, early on the prophet Isaiah wrote, “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food and well-aged wine.” “This mountain” is not a single place that can be pin-pointed by a Global Positioning Satellite. It is Zion, the seat of God’s presence, the place of His Church’s worship. It is here now, already amid the glowing candles and white robes of faith’s hope. And it will be wherever the Church has gathered in all the earth and, finally, at the feet of our Lord when He comes again as victorious Lord of all. It is a spiritual feast born and delivered through the agony of the cross of Christ who there was forsaken by God, dying alone so that we could be reconciled to God. The Psalm He uttered from the cross that day begins, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” but then it ends in hope, saying, “The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied…. All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you” (Ps 22:1, 26-27).

Wine takes time to ferment. It must be kept a long time for the process to complete. The “well-aged wine” of which Isaiah speaks suggests that we, now, are only yet “getting in line” waiting to be ushered in to that great and final feast of salvation won and done. The feast of victory we celebrate here is the feast celebrated on an earth and in a place that has been transformed into heaven; for here that which has separated us from God is torn down, here death is no more, for here its cause is taken away, namely, sin. Here we are united most intimately with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, many of whom we know their names, many who were very close to us.

Our Old Testament forebears looked forward and were saved by the promise that the LORD of hosts “will swallow up death forever.” And we are saved because that very thing has happened already at a place a GPS unit can pinpoint, namely, Jerusalem during the time of the Roman Empire almost 2,000 years ago. “In, with, and under” the drama of the execution of One called “the Christ,” and as a matter of legal record “the King of the Jews,” what seemed as nothing more than the final, predictable outcome of every life lived by every descendant of Adam and Eve was actually the historic moment—
When life and death contended;
The victory remained with life,
The reign of death was ended.
Holy Scripture plainly saith
That death is swallowed up by death,
Its sting is lost forever. Alleluia! (LSB 458:4)

Death has a voracious hunger that apparently can never be satisfied. Yet when it claimed this Victim, the Lamb of God, He was so full of life itself that, though He experienced our common death, He destroyed death’s hunger bursting forth in conquering might that first Easter day. “And the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces;” “all faces” because this victory is for all. This victory is for you. No more tears because so sure and so complete is the victory that the song once sung through eyes wet with the tears of sorrow, mourning and fragile hope—
I know that my Redeemer lives….
Lord, Thee I love with all my heart—
will then be sung like a victory march with the pure joy of praise to and confidence in God:
And then from death awaken me,
That these mine eyes with joy may see,
O Son of God, Thy glorious face,
My Savior and my fount of grace.
Lord Jesus Christ, my prayer attend, my prayer attend,
And I will praise Thee without end.

Without end is the life Christ came to bring you. Without end is His kingdom. Without end is the marriage feast of heaven. Without end is the joy of this day because you have been given your wedding garment and are prepared to be ushered in to your place.

Then let us feast this Easter Day
On Christ, the bread of heaven;
The Word of grace has purged away
The old and evil leaven. (LSB 458:7)

The Lord is risen! He is risen, indeed! And we too shall rise. Alleluia!