Download or listen to the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost: “A Feast” (Isaiah 25:6-9)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
When the wolf invites the lamb to supper, nothing good can come of it. When Death invites the living to come and eat, it cannot be good news. And death has been inviting the living to come and eat for a very long time, ever since the dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the devil and satan, told Adam and Eve to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The closer Adam and Eve got to the fruit, the more Death salivated. When they took their first bites, Death took its first bites. “In the day you eat of it,” God said, “you shall surely die.” Ever since that day, every single person has been born into the banquet hall of Death. You and I were marked for death from birth.
So was Israel at the time of the prophet Isaiah. They were marked for death, marked for exile, marked for judgment for their sin. In Isaiah 24, Isaiah tells them that the celebration is over: the celebration of sin for a season. Though they had enjoyed their sin for a short time, thinking God would overlook it; though it appeared as if sinners prospered; sin always ends in disaster and death. The celebration is over, Isaiah says. The singing is over, the eating and drinking is over, the feasting is over. The old songs catch in their throats and the wine they used to drink is bitter on their tongues. Death is the covering spread over all people; death is the veil that has been woven out of the strands of every person’s sin. Death stands in the road, mouth open wide to consume everything and everyone in its path. It is no surprise that the ancient Canaanites, who lived in the Land of Promise before the Israelites pictured the death-god Mot with jaws wide open, ready to consume everything living.
But we don’t have to look to Adam and Eve or to ancient Israel to find evidence that death is everywhere. No, you know perfectly well that death is spread over all the earth, the veil that covers all people, woven from the strands of your sin and mine. Death takes the ones you love, and Death will take you. Whether quickly or slowly, Death comes for each of us in the end. Worse than that, it reaches back into life and eats what it can now. The shame and reproach of death is seen in both body and mind. Bodies fade and fail. Bodies disintegrate. Bodies become shells of what they used to be. Minds cannot remember. Minds cannot recognize their loved ones. Minds see things that happened in other places and at other times. And so we see death, jaws opened wide, standing in the road to consume us.
It is for precisely that reason that Life, the Lord of Life, who breathed breath into Adam’s lungs, took on flesh and entered this death-enshrouded world. He approached Death with arms wide open; He walked right into the jaws of Death. And Death consumed Him. He was actually and really dead. But when Death consumes Life itself, whose body and soul are not tainted by sin and who is not poisoned by the death that runs through our veins, Death must lose. And so, on the third day, Life walked back out of the tomb, past the broken jaws of Death, never to die again. He completed on that day what He had been doing His entire life on earth: every sickness, every disease He healed; every blind, deaf, lame man He healed; every person He raised from the dead: it was all to the same end: beating back death. And He finished it on that Sunday. This Lord, this Jesus, who was crucified, raised on the third day, ascended into heaven, and who sits in the full glory of His Father, this one now approaches dying sinners with His unending life. Now the Lamb has a Supper, to which He invites all manner of wolf. Now the Life invites all the dying to come and eat, and it is all good news. He gives Himself to you, and you eat His Body and Blood, but you do not consume Him. He consumes you: He consumes your sin, and your old, sinful nature; He swallows up your death. “As a plague consumes the body little by little, so Christ is the pestilence of our death and our old Adam” (Luther, AE 16:197). And on the Day of the Lord, on the mountain of the New Jerusalem, He will swallow up the covering that is spread over all peoples, and the veil that is spread over the whole earth; He will take away the reproach of His people from all the earth; He will wipe the tears from all faces. There will be no more mourning, or crying, or pain anymore. The old has gone, the new has come. On that day, when the perishable is clothed with the imperishable and your mortal body with immortality, on that day the saying will come to pass that is written: Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting? (1 Corinthians 15:54-55). On that day, when Death, the final enemy, is put under Christ’s feet, when it is thrown into the eternal lake of fire, on that day you will say: this is our God, we have waited for Him and He saved us; this is Yahweh, we have waited for Him; let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation, in His Yeshua, in His Jesus. You have nothing to fear from Death anymore, and even if you have to pass by him at some point, you pass by him as a defeated enemy; you may spit on him and mock him because your King has defeated him. You will go to death then like you go to the Altar now; because you go to the Altar now like you’re going to death: to meet your Lord in the bread and the wine. You will go to your death like St. Ignatius of Antioch, who said, “Come fire, battling with wild beasts, wrenching of bones, mangling of limbs, crushing of my whole body, cruel tortures of the devil—only let me get to Jesus Christ!” (Letter to the Romans 5)
But you don’t have to wait for the Day of the Lord to rejoice in His salvation. You are here today. Here you see His salvation; here He preaches it into your ears; here He puts it on your tongue. Here is the song restored and the feast remade. Here He gives you a taste of the Supper which the Father has prepared for His Son. Let us rejoice and be glad in His Jesus! I was glad when they said to me, let us go to the House of Yahweh! (Psalm 122:1). What greater witness can we give than to rejoice in His salvation here in His House! What greater witness can we give than to rejoice in His Word and His Supper week by week! “Praise we Him, whose love divine,/Gives His sacred blood for wine,/Gives His body for the feast—/Christ the victim, Christ the priest/Alleluia!” (LSB 633:2) 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, 10/8/11