4 April 2021††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† †††††† ††Saint Athanasius Lutheran Church
The Resurrection of Our Lord††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† †††††††††††† Vienna, VA
ďDeath Is Swallowed UpĒ
Text: Isaiah 25:6-9; Mark 16:1-8; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
lleluia! Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed! Alleluia!] Alleluia.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
I have to tell you that I plan on doing a lot of swallowing later today! Swallowing a lot of Easter goodies, swallowing the Easter feast my wife is making, and swallowing some good wine. A day of great joy and feasting after the fasting of Lent.
But as great as our joy, and as much as we might swallow today, our feasting is nothing compared to our Lordís. For on this day, Isaiah says, he swallowed up death forever. The death that swallows us, that devours us, ever since that fateful day when Adam and Eve ate the only thing in the Garden God asked them not to - is now itself devoured and swallowed up by our Saviour. The life of our Lordís resurrection has completely engulfed and eclipsed it. Deathís power now lies dead.
God had promised it. Isaiah prophesied it. Now Jesus had done it. And the angels announced it to the women who went to the tomb to finish His burial. Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him.
Well, this was too much for the women to swallow! No, really, where is He? They didnít take Him and throw Him in the trash with the others, did they? Just tell us. And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
Trembling and fear. That pretty much describes our world today. Our world for this past year. The women trembled and feared because of a body they could not find, the world trembled and feared over a virus it could not see. A virus swallowing up people by the thousands. And so panic, fear, doom. The women went to the tomb. Today people stay home. Hiding. Hiding from death, lest they be swallowed up. Because thatís what death does - it swallows us up. Bodies swallowed up by earth or flames. Friends, family, neighbors, taken from us suddenly. It has been said that the virus brought the world to its knees.
But that is where we already were. The church, that is. On our knees in prayer. On our knees in worship. On our knees before our King to whom we owe everything, including not only our lives, but our every breath. We already know all about death, and that we are all going to die because the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). So this virus was new, but really not new at all.
But to a world that stands tall and proud, boastful of human achievement and defiant of death, and for whom this is all there is . . . this was as frightening a year as that Easter morning was to the women. Never before in our lifetimes - although certainly before in the history of the world - but never before in our lifetimes had death seemed so large and powerful. There were wars, yes, but always someplace far away, in some other country. Natural disasters, yes, and terrible, but localized, not worldwide. There was terrorism, yes, but only in certain places. But this . . . was everywhere. And unpredictable. And seemingly so arbitrary. Swallowing up people everywhere. The world saw death . . . and trembled. And no amount of sweet-smelling flowers or pious sayings could make it better.
But there was one who could. And did. Not a researcher or a scientist, but a Saviour, come to swallow up death forever.
So when this virus emerged and starting saturating the world, it is the Church that was uniquely ready for it. Oh, death? Yes. Weíre ready. We know of death. But even more, we know of our Saviour who swallowed up death! And in Baptism, weíve already died and risen with Him. So weíre good. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lordís (Romans 14:8). Thatís how Paul put it. Whether we live or die, we are the Lordís.
Thatís the confidence we need, that can get us through this world and life so fraught with danger and death. Because as bad as this last year was and so prevalent this virus, it wasnít what most people died from last year. It was only the third-leading cause of death. And when it goes away or is rendered moot by weakening itself, herd immunity, vaccinations, or whatever, there will still be death. t will still have to be dealt with.
But it was! It was! Thatís the good news that is proclaimed this day. This is the feast of victory for our God! Yes, as we just sang, it was a strange and dreadful strife, when life and death contended. But the victory remained with life, the reign of death was ended (LSB #458 v. 4). And over 500 people saw the victorious one, Paul told us today. Saw the Jesus who once hung dead, swallowed up by death on the cross, alive again. And some of them soon faced a horrible death - by sword, by fire, by beast, those early Christian martyrs. But in Christ, they were ready. Oh, death? Yes. Weíre ready. We know of death. But we have a Saviour who swallowed up death! So death can do its worst. Weíre good.
And so are you. For on the same mountain where Jesus swallowed up death forever, He also prepared for you a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. Isaiah describes it as a rich and sumptuous feast that brings joy and gladness to the heart. You know it better by its other name: the Lordís Supper. For there is no food or drink richer than what we receive here. The bread of life, the cup of blessing, the Body and Blood of the Lord, the medicine of immortality. Food that gives forgiveness, life, and salvation. Food that gives us Christís victory over death.
Yet this food also points us to the feast that awaits us in the future, the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom. Where there are no tears, no sadness, no death, only joy, and gladness, and life. That is yours already now, even as we know the best is yet to come.
The women eventually got it, even though at first they left the tomb trembling and in fear. Maybe your reaction was the same, at first, when news of this virus and its spread first started to cover all peoples, like a veil over spread over all nations. Thatís okay. Jesus doesnít expect perfect Christians. He comes to imperfect ones with His perfection and forgiveness. He comes to the weak with His strength. He comes to those in fear with His peace. When we are bowed down He lifts us up. When we donít know what to think, He gives us His Word, that we know the truth. When faced with uncertainty, He gives us His promises, that we be certain and sure and confident in Him.
The angel who spoke to the women at the tomb that morning did that. He pointed them to Jesusí words and promises. This is just as He told you. Now go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. They who received this good news would also now give this good news. That death is defeated, the tomb is empty, and Jesus lives. Death got swallowed up!
And thatís our message, too, to a trembling, fearful, world. Now, and whenever, however, death rears its ugly head and roars with it foul breath again. Yes, death. We know of death. Weíre ready. Weíre good. You can be, too. Jesusí victory is for all people. And maybe, just maybe, as the women were transformed by such news, and as the disciples were transformed at that news, so will those we tell. The Word and Spirit of God working in their hearts as He has worked in ours.
So when youíre feasting today, swallowing down lots of good and rich food, remembering who feasted first on this day, and what He feasted on! That He swallowed up your death forever. To give you life forever.
For Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed! Alleluia!] Alleluia.
In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.