Between Death and Death

Audio here.

Bulletin here.


In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Caught between death and death, the Israelites were afraid and cried out to God and against Moses, His servant. Caught between death and death, what can you do? Helpless and looking for someone to blame, Israel blames Moses. Slavery in Egypt may not have been very good. We may have complained under the weight and burden of that slavery. But what’s the point, if we’re going to die anyway? What, Moses, there weren’t enough graves in Egypt to hold us? Which is ironic, since the Egyptians—from everything we know—were obsessed with death, and with crossing the line between this life and the next. Make sure you take care of the body; make sure you put enough treasure with the pharaohs; make sure they can get through to the next life. If any nation was prepared to deal with death, it was the Egyptians.

And are we in any better position than the Israelites? Consider what the Christian faith promises: that death is not the end; that Jesus has overcome death; that He Himself is the resurrection and the life; that this life isn’t really life: that He is the life and though we share that life by faith now, we still must wait to have it by sight. He says that whoever believes Him will live even if He dies; and that whomever is living and believing in Him when He appears will never die. That we will be raised from the dead because our Redeemer lives. That, in fact, the resurrection and the new creation are the fulfillment of the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and all Israel. What about it, then? Caught between death and death. What’s the point of such a so-called “salvation” and “life” if we still die, if those we love still die, if we are still as death-obsessed as Egypt? Is it all that different from escaping the Egyptian army only to find a dead end at the sea? The promised land is only a broken promise if you can’t actually get there. “Every ticket costs the same to where you can’t go” (Jeffrey Foucault).

The world really in which we live isn’t all that different from Israel’s slavery, which is perhaps why Egypt came to represent all of God’s enemies and the enemies of His people. We still do everything we can to avoid the fact of death for ourselves, while urging death on or for those who are inconvenient or those whom we judge to have outlived their usefulness or the quality we think life should have. Caught between death and death, we fear it more than anything else. We feel helpless and we’re looking for someone to blame. Maybe slavery to sin is better than death in this religious wilderness.

Do not be afraid. Stand firm. Hear the Word of the Lord through the mouth of Moses: See the salvation of Yahweh, which He will work for you today. For the enemies whom you see today, you will never see again. Yahweh will fight for you, and you have only to be silent. Still, weak, helpless, God fights for you. He sends someone to bear sin and death as His own—someone to blame. And in the flesh of Jesus, He hardens the heart of death so that it rages out of control, beyond all reason, and tries to close its deadly jaws on Jesus. The waves of death flow over Him, and in His own flesh sin and death and hell are drowned, never to rise again.

And when the morning comes—very early in the morning—we see the victory of our God, and we walk through the valley of the Red Sea of death on dry land. When the morning appeared, the sea returns to its course, and when you see death for yourself, it will nothing but an empty shell; nothing but the ghost of what you once feared; nothing but death itself dead on the shore of God’s baptismal sea. See the great power of Yahweh! See how He fights for you, by dying Himself! See how the victory is won, early in the morning, on the third day. Caught between death and death, you have only to be still. Your God has fought and won. And in the victory of His resurrection is your resurrection. In His life is your life. In the washing in the great sea of Holy Baptism is your deliverance. We sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider, death, He has thrown into the abyss, never to be seen by those who are found in Christ, the Life. He has triumphed gloriously! Alleluia! He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV).  Amen.

Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 4/6/17

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