Sunday, October 12, 2008

Isaiah.25.6-9; Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost, October 12, 2008

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)

Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

It will happened again. Sooner or later we’ll have to deal with it. Death will visit Trinity, Creston, sticking its bony fingers into our business. Members of this congregation will have to gather, with friends, and family around a loved one who has died. Death will come, and we will be left, sad, afraid and lonely. We don’t like the intrusion. We would just as soon be left to go about our regular business without having that visitor. We don’t want to suffer the separation from our loved ones; we don’t want to have to deal with the pain, and the loneliness. Most of all we don’t want to take the time to deal with our own mortality. Sooner or later, and we all hope later, that ugly visitor will be knocking on my door. And sooner or later, he’ll be at your door too. It doesn’t console us at all to know that death only comes to those who deserve it. We only need to look at ourselves to see that each and every one of us deserves it. “The wages of sin is death.” The bible shouts at us. The more we look at ourselves the more sin we see. From that little white lie that we told last week to the selfish lustful desires that come and invade our thoughts. The sin is present, unavoidably, unmistakably present. Yes, we see it and we know that when death comes we deserve it.

But, hey, we each come from a long line of deserving people. Deserving parents give birth to deserving children. When those cute little babies are born, we press our noses to the nursery glass, hoping to see ourselves in their features. We hope our best traits have been past on. “Oh, look at that adorable little baby, she has her father’s eyes. Oh look; she has her mother’s nose...” The comment we never hear or say is “Eck, she has her parent’s sin.” But parents deserving death always pass on their least attractive trait. She has her parent’s sin. She deserves death too. She will live her whole life in that dark shadow. The dark shadow of death cast by her unavoidable inheritance. She takes her place in a very long line of deserving people.

“Oh, Pastor.” You are saying, “I thought today’s theme was party, party, party. You sure know how to kill a party. What happened to the party?” Well, the truth is this, Death has crashed the party, and he’s out there, rattling around in our lives, stalking us at work and lurking about in our house. Death is a real part of our everyday lives and that’s exactly why we are here today. It’s exactly because God had done something about death’s shadowy intrusion that we have a reason to have a party. In a sense, all the things we do here are a party. Worship is a party. Each time we gather here on Sunday we have a victory celebration. We revel in Christ’s victory over death on Easter Sunday. We sing joyful songs of praise, and gather around party food, a feast of bread and wine at the Lord’s Table. Today is a party to remind us, that even when Death seems to have the victory, Jesus Christ is the true victor. Death doesn’t stand a chance before the one who faced death, a brutal, horrible, bloody death, but broke through death and rose again to live again.

Isaiah is a true artist; he paints us a picture of a party. He calls it a “feast of fat things.” He didn’t worry about cholesterol. Isaiah knew the best parts of the meat were the fatty parts and the marrow, where all the flavor is. “… the stakes were this thick!” He might say today. “and the wine…” Isaiah says rolling his eyes for effect, “it’s the best wine that there is. It’s the oldest and clearest; it’s the stuff that’s left on the dregs (the stuff in the fermenting vat), extra long. It’s the wine that has the most flavor. Every drop was to be savored. The feast, the party that Isaiah is describing is the kind that was reserved for only the most special occasions: Marriage and other very important events in a family or victory over enemies. “This party,” Isaiah says, “is because the LORD has done something about death! There is a mountain,” Isaiah says still painting a picture for us, “and on it he is going to destroy the thing that we all live in fear of; the burial shroud that covers us, death itself, is going to be destroyed. The Lord will remove it tear it to pieces and it will not bother us any longer! Then on that mountain we are all going to have a party!”

Where is the mountain that Isaiah was talking about? It’s a mountain that we all know about, is a “green hill far away.” It’s the mountain where Jesus Christ destroyed the shroud of death that covered us. He took that shroud from our sin burdened shoulders and placed it upon his own sinless body. He wore it for us, wrapped up in it as he bled and died on the cross. It clung to him for three days, tying to hold him. But, Jesus Christ is the master of that shroud, he his more powerful than death, and he broke free from its power removing it from us forever. That is the victory celebrated that Isaiah was celebrating, that is the victory that we are celebrating today again. It’s Jesus victory that removes the curse and the power that death holds over us. “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin… Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Sin causes death, death is out there but the resurrection of Jesus Christ proves his victory over it… proves it’s powerlessness in our lives as well, because God has promised us that same victory when he called us his own, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” That’s our promise that we too will be raised. Death will take us, but just like Jesus, it cannot and will not hold us, because our Savior has proven that he is stronger than death.

And some day soon, our strong Savior will return, he has promised that, too. When he does, death won’t even be able to stalk us any longer. It has now already lost its power. It is now already nothing to fear. On that great day, it will be no more. There will be no death to bring separation from our loved ones. There will be no death to cause pain and loneliness. There will be no more death, period… its cold dark shadow will be obliterated by the Light of the Living Son of God.

Now picture the party again, the feast on that day. There are long tables as far as the eye can see. They are stacked with food. There are huge dark crusty loafs of hot bread. The steam rises off each one, fresh from the oven. The smell is more than you can stand. The tables are so crowed with serving dishes, the plates hang off the edge… if you try to push them so they don’t; everything else moves. There are giant goblets, full of dark red wine; the tablecloth has pink spots from the great red drops that have fallen from each and every one. You are sitting there, elbow to elbow, with your family and friends; your plate has never been empty. And is seems as if there are children everywhere… well you all feel like children anyway. That pain in your back doesn’t bother you any more; you don’t even remember what it felt like. It is noisy and happy. There is singing… you join in from time to time, because you know each and every word, they just come flowing out of you as natural as breath. And the center of it all is Jesus. Standing, arms open wide. You’ve already been with him, leaned upon his breast and cried tears of joy. You saw the marks in his hands and feet and side. He is the reason you are there. His love lights the whole feast. It will never end… the joy, the singing, and the feasting… with the resurrected Savior.

That is what our worship is all about. It is a little party to remind us that the great party, the mother-of-all parties that is coming. Today we sing praises to the host of the party; at the great party there will be unending songs of praise. Today we feast on bread and wine, Christ’s own body and blood; these are the seal of the promise of the great feast to come. Look around you and see your brothers and sisters in Christ, they’ll be seated around you at that party, too. I can’t wait!

Yes, death is still out there. It still claims its victims, one by one, and it will claim each of us. Today’s feast… this great party… is a reminder that death’s visit is not a cause for fear. Death’s sting is gone. Jesus, our Savior, has swallowed up death and destroyed it forever. Today, at our little party, we repeat the wonderful words of Isaiah, and we will say them again at the great feast, “This is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the LORD, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation." Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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