Death Devoured

Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 20:50 mark.

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

Adam and Eve were in the Garden, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was in its midst. And God had told them, In the day you eat of it, you will surely die. When they ate the fruit and swallowed it they swallowed death along with it. And we have been swallowing death ever since. So death has been swallowing us. You are what you eat. Death is all around us, and we can’t go very long without being reminded of it. We try to avoid it, try to deny it, try to imagine that we can somehow keep death at bay. The coronavirus may be new, but it is only another in the innumerable ways that this creation tries to kill us. And we are reminded once again that we cannot avoid death. We take the precautions and do what we can, and we should. But none of that is going to help us avoid death in the end.

I can see why unbelievers would want to avoid talk of death, of being reminded of death. But for us, we should remind ourselves about death, consider it—not in a morbid or morose way, but because we have these promises about the one who has overcome death. Death swallows every one of us, and here God says that He will swallow up death. On this mountain, God will swallow up death. He will remove the woven covering that is spread over all people—the covering we have woven and put in place. He will remove the face-veil that hangs on us, in which we mourn. He will swallow up death forever and wipe tears from all faces. Jesus goes up on the mountain of Calvary to swallow down the cup of death completely, all the way to the dregs.

And it appears that death swallows Him up as it swallows all of us. But when death swallows the One who is Life itself, it is death that is devoured. Death is not stronger than life. It only appears to be. So on the third day, Life bursts death open and Jesus rises from the dead. And death no longer has any lordship over Him. Instead, He is the Lord of life and death.

It’s in the light of that event that we can look at Christ crucified and say, “Look! Here is our God. We have waited for Him, that He might save us. This is Yahweh, for whom we have waited. Let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation.

In the place of all that death, He spreads a feast. On this mountain, Yahweh will make a feast of good wine, aged and undisturbed, then refined. He will make a feast of the best and richest food. And this is a feast that will go on forever. This is, I think, the most common image and picture that God gives us of that day: a feast, a party, a celebration. We can’t quite imagine a feast that goes on forever. We have feasts, and if we eat or drink too much, we don’t feel very well in the morning. Sinners constantly take the good gifts of God and overuse and abuse them.

But more than that, Isaiah already talked about the feasts that people make. They have feasts with wine and musical instruments, and they “do not regard the works of Yahweh or consider His deeds” (Isaiah 5:11-12). They follow their own sinful desires, and take the gifts of God that He has given for their joy and celebration, and completely disconnect them from the Creator who has made them. They do not consider God or His works.

It would be easy, in the face of certain death, to be tempted to say, Eat, drink, be merry; for tomorrow you die. You only have one life. Enjoy it while you can. But those sorts of idols will eventually leave you empty and hungry and thirsty. They cannot, in the end, satisfy you. The only sufficient answer to what we long for and what we have lost is the One who makes right everything that has gone wrong, including death.

The feast that God makes, unlike our feasts, is pure joy and pure celebration because it is tied forever and completely to God and what He has done. It is only fulfilled and celebrated when there is only life and no death. It only happens when death is no more, when it has been swallowed up forever. And God Himself has done this in the flesh and blood of Jesus. He drinks down death, and it is gone forever, swallowed up in life.

This is our God! We have waited for Him to come and save us, and He has. To save or deliver contains the idea of opening up room or space. When the burden of living in this world, and the certainty of death, presses in on us, we can feel its restriction, its limits. It’s like when the smoke, or the bad air, settles here in the valley. We can’t see very well, it’s hard to breathe, it’s dark. We wait for a strong wind, or some rain, to come and push it all out of here. And when it finally does, we can take a breath. We have room to breathe and live. We can see clearly, and everything seems sharp and new.

While we wait here, under the death veil, God has not left us without His joy and life. This waiting is not like waiting in a line, shuffling forward, wondering if we will ever get to wherever we’re going. This is waiting with eager expectation, with longing for something that we know will happen, for someone whom we know is going to appear, and in whose presence we rejoice. While we wait for the revelation of everything we have believed, we have a feast. It doesn’t look much like a feast. In fact, to the world, it looks more like a fast than a feast, a little bread and wine.

But what God has attached to these small created gifts is much more than any feast in this world. We eat and drink, but we will still die. We swallow down death with every breath and every taste. But here is the opposite: here we eat and drink and swallow down Life itself, the body and blood of the crucified and resurrected Lord. Here is a feast while we wait, life in the midst of all this death. Here we have, as the proverb says, the gift of a cheerful heart. All the days of the afflicted are evil, but the cheerful of heart has a continual feast (Proverbs 15:15). A continual feast, while we wait for the eternal one.

This is a promise that God has made for all people and to all the earth. This is a universal promise. Notice how many times the word “all” is spoken through Isaiah: a feast for all peoples; remove the covering that is spread over all peoples; the veil that is spread over all nations; He will remove the reproach of all the earth; He will wipe away tears from all faces. This is for all people and for all creation. Those who don’t believe it, like the man in Jesus’ parable, do not get something else. There is nothing else. There is this celebration and that’s it. There is only emptiness and darkness and death, separated from the only Life there is.

But here is your God. He has gathered you in from that darkness and weeping and death, into the place of celebration and joy. You have been called. He has chosen you! Eat and drink and be merry, for tomorrow you live! And in that day, you will say with all the people of God, Look, this is our God. We have been waiting for Him, and now our waiting is over. And we will, finally and fully, rejoice and be glad in His salvation.

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, 10/9/20

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