O LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done marvelous things, things planned long ago. You have made the city a heap of rubble, the fortified town a ruin, the foreigners’ stronghold a city no more; it will never be rebuilt. Therefore strong peoples will honor you; cities of ruthless nations will revere you. You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat. For the breath of the ruthless is like a storm driving against a wall and like the heat of the desert. You silence the uproar of foreigners; as heat is reduced by the shadow of a cloud, so the song of the ruthless is stilled. On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine — the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The LORD has spoken. In that day they will say, “Surely 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.”
—Isaiah 25: 1-9 (NIV)
When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
—1 Corinthians 15: 54-57 (NIV)
Lent is a season where we Christians stop and reflect on our own mortality and all that this represents in terms of our attempts to live faithful lives. Yet we don’t live our lives in a vacuum. We live in a broken and hurting world, marred by our sin and the very real presence of Evil. For example, I have a friend whom I believe is dying from cancer. We have a parishioner who is dying from ALS. In my own life, I am dealing with a child who apparently sees nothing wrong with being associated with the filth of pornography and virulent racism. I wonder where this willingness to tolerate these evils comes from and lament the failure of the church universal to capture the hearts and minds of our young people. As Jesus warned, if the house swept clean is not filled with the right stuff, it becomes filled with something even worse than before it was cleaned (Luke 11:24-26). Then, of course, there is the ever present reality of death that separates us from our loved ones and leaves the survivors grief-stricken and forever changed, and not always for the better.
Yet there is hope.
This morning as I read Isaiah, I found it to be a wonderful passage. Christ has indeed abolished death and as we await our final redemption, for the time when Christ’s work is fully completed, we are given his promise to be with us and to be our refuge. As I struggle with the above (and other) issues in my life—my gluttony, my selfishness, my sloth, my apparent lack of bearing any fruit for the Kingdom, the carnage that I have left behind in my life, and my own mortality (I’m no spring chicken anymore)—I am reminded not to lose hope. The God who promises to “swallow up death,” who offered himself for us all on the cross, and then who abolished death by his mighty resurrection, is surely able to sustain us in our earthly troubles in the interim. To be sure, I lose sight of this way too often. But that does not change the reality of this great and wonderful Truth. God offers us the opportunity to choose life in Christ each day so that we might live abundantly and obtain the grace to meet the worst challenges that life has to offer. And so in the midst of brokenness and suffering, we Christians have this great Hope, this great Promise from the God who loves us and gave himself for us.
Will I be smart enough to choose correctly? What about you? In this season of Lent my prayer for you and me is that we are courageous enough, trusting enough, and blessed with the grace of faith that is sufficient for us to answer yes!