“This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” We read or quote that verse from Psalm 118 with regularity, as well we should. At various points in life it becomes something we feel inclined to say on a daily basis, again as well we should. But today is the day we should never fail to say it. That’s why it’s the Psalm for Easter Sunday in all three years of the lectionary cycle, guaranteeing that there never will be any Easter when we do not say it together. “This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” It’s an “Alleluia”-filled day, and we’re delighted to be able to say “Alleluia” today for the first time since Lent began. Of course “Alleluia” simply means “God be praised,” something we should be saying daily whether we’re in or out of Lent.
Today is the day of the victory lap. We’ve walked the Via Crucis, the Way of the Cross, and the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Sorrows. We have done our best to confront the unimaginable cost of our redemption, the pain our Savior suffered for each one of us. But no matter how well we do at walking that path with our Lord, its horrors are always ameliorated by our knowing the ending from the beginning. It’s not that we cheated by reading the back of the book first. It’s just that our faith rests in its entirety on the certainty of the Resurrection, the best attested event in all of antiquity.
And that’s what today’s Scriptures are about: the end of the book. And again, in all three years of the cycle, we read the 3 passages that attest most clearly to the Resurrection. We have the Apostle John’s eyewitness report of Easter morning when he went to the empty tomb with Peter. Then, in his preaching in Acts, we have Peter’s own eyewitness affirmation of the Resurrection. Finally we have Paul’s account of more than 500 persons who personally saw the risen Christ, including himself who, because his encounter on the Damascus Road was later on, refers to himself as “one untimely born.” Unlike the other Apostles, Paul had missed out on the blessing of experiencing Jesus during His earthly ministry; yet “by the grace of God” he was privileged to be included among those “witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God,” to use Peter’s words.
The cumulative impact of these three juxtaposed passages is undeniably powerful. Those of you who shared our recent Alpha classes and viewed with us the movie, “The Case for Christ,” have heard how irrefutable the evidence is for the Resurrection, both historically and medically. Our faith does not rest on human invention, but on divine intervention. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is a singular event without parallel in the whole of human history. It’s so astonishingly contrary to nature that unbelievers find it easy to scoff at those who not only accept its truth but who dedicate their entire lives of faith to living out all that it means, even to the point of martyrdom. As the foundation of Christian faith, it provides the greatest possible promise of what remains ahead for each of us.
But importantly, those Scriptures are NOT the end of the book. The end is contained most clearly and poignantly in the reading from Isaiah, written over 700 years before the birth of Christ and 800 years before John penned the Book of Revelation. Yet Isaiah presents a clear-eyed picture of the end times, in some ways a picture that’s even clearer than that of John. Isaiah affirms the words of the author of Hebrews, who wrote, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, Whom He appointed the heir of all things, through Whom also He created the world” (Hebrews 1:1, 2).
Listen again to Isaiah 25 in the New International Version:
6 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. 7 On this mountain He will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; 8 He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; He will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken. 9 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.”
Can you hear these words in terms of what God has accomplished for us in His Son and what He yet has in store for us in the age to come? This is among the finest examples of a prophecy that has multiple levels of fulfilment, both nearer and future. God has indeed saved us and has shredded in two the veil that had kept us outside the Holy of Holies. God sent His only Son to dwell among us, literally to make His tabernacle among us, and, being full of grace and truth, He reveals to us the shekinah glory of the Father.
Easter day is the victory lap that ensures us that God will “swallow up death forever.” The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the guarantee, what Paul calls the firstfruits, of that promise. That’s what we celebrate today. Now we not only say with the Psalmist that we will rejoice and be glad in the day that the Lord has given us, but we add with Isaiah, “Let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.” “This is the Lord, we trusted in Him.”
But not even all of that is the end of the story for Isaiah. Isaiah writes three more amazing things, three incomparable promises, from God Himself: first is that we will be seated at a great table for the Marriage Feast of the Lamb, a feast that will have more stars than Michelin can offer and will present rich food that outclasses Les Grandes Table du Monde. Isaiah says that we will have “the best of meats and the finest of wines.”
The second promise is that God “will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations.” This is what Paul meant when he wrote to the Corinthians, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (I Corinthians 13:12). In the great Day of the Lord there will be no veils, no shrouds, no sheets, no opaque glasses or cloudy mirrors. God will be fully revealed to us in all His great glory, and we will not die at the sight of Him.
And the third thing is this: as Isaiah foretold, “the Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces.”
I think it’s really hard to rank in importance the promises in these verses: a great banquet feast, the revealing of all mysteries, the swallowing up of death and the wiping away of all tears. But for those who in this life suffer from pain, illness, weakness, loss, hardship, failure and disappointment, the very thought that the Sovereign Lord Himself will wipe away tears from all faces well may be the promise that stands at the head of the list. And if God has promised it, we know it will be true, because God always keeps His promises. His Word is unfailing. Isaiah wrote simply, “The Lord has spoken,” and “we trusted in Him.” That was good enough for Isaiah.
How could Isaiah have known all these things? Truthfully, it’s not humanly possible. But the Apostle Peter gives us the answer: “No prophecy was ever made by an act of human will; but men, moved by the Holy Spirit, spoke from God” (II Peter 1:21). Isaiah was called of God and had his lips anointed with fire so that he could speak the words of God, the prophetic truths that were rejected in his time but that help to sustain us nearly 3,000 years later. That’s the Holy Spirit of God at work. No book other than the Holy Scriptures brings to us the vision of God in all His eternal glory. No other book brings us the assurances of God’s salvation through His Son. No other book brings us consolation, comfort, faith, hope and full assurance that God is in control, that His plan for us is good, that His will is pleasing and perfect and that His lovingkindness is from everlasting to everlasting on all who fear Him.
Today we remember what Isaiah wrote and we reflect on what John, Peter and Paul said about our risen Savior. Perhaps the most powerful statement in our readings for today is Peter’s conclusion about Jesus in his sermon to the Gentiles: “Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His Name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins” (Acts 10:43). Believing in His name is the key. Earlier, when Peter had been brought before the Jewish council in Jerusalem, Luke tells us that he was filled with the Holy Spirit and said, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:8, 12). John wrote, “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become the children of God, even to those who believe in His Name” (John 1:12). Paul wrote, “God highly exalted Him and gave Him the Name that is above every name, that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9, 10). And Isaiah, seeing His day, wrote “This is our God for whom we have waited that He might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation” (Isaiah 25:9).
It’s in His Holy Name that we’re gathered here this morning. He’s waiting patiently with outstretched arms to see whether you will come to Him. In the giving of His Body and the shedding of His Blood He has redeemed you, He has bought you back from the power of death and hell. He desires to meet you at this His Holy Table to commune with you in the sacred mystery of the Word made flesh. And He wishes to receive you at His heavenly banquet feast of rich food and finest wine in that place where death is vanquished and all tears are wiped away. He is waiting. Come to Him. Come now while it is still day and while the tree is green.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen