Sermon Commentary for Sunday, March 31, 2024

Isaiah 25:6-9 Commentary

I wonder if there are many preachers who will choose to take the Old Testament Lection as their primary text on Easter Sunday morning? It seems to me that the greater gift and opportunity presented by this text is the way that it sings harmony on the song of resurrection.  So I will offer my comments and observations on this text in a way that, hopefully, enhances its connection with the other texts and the greater theme of the day — Alleluia!

“He Will Remove His People’s Disgrace”

The entire backdrop of resurrection is disgrace.  There’s something disgraceful about God  the squalling infant in a feedbag. Fast forward through all the indignities of life in a human body, from which Jesus was not immune. On Thursday night, we find him doubled over in heaving sobs of terror.  Disgrace. He dries his eyes just in time to see his friend-turned-betrayer lean in for a kiss. Disgrace. Sham trial, lies told about him. A criminal set free instead. Disgrace. His physical pain, spat upon. Disgrace. And all along the way, his disciples slink off one-by-one, he is alone save John and the woman when he screams his last pain and dies. Disgrace.

Then the disciples, shame faced show up in that upper room. Disgraced for leaving their friend’s side in his hour of greatest need. Disgraced that they bet everything on the fact that he was the one. Disgraced and hiding out.  The women creeping out while it was still dark. Because of the disgrace.

Isaiah 25 helps us tell the story this way.  Those who received Isaiah’s prophecy were likewise disgraced.  According to John Goldingay, “Their disgrace is their humiliation before the world when they have been exposed for their false trust and scattered among the scoffing nations.” But all of that is swallowed up in the rich imagery of rejoicing: “a feast of rich foods,” “Aged wine,” the best and the finest, we are told. Death is swallowed up forever (which will sound familiar to those rooting their sermon in I Corinthians 15.)

“On this Mountain”

For all those awaiting salvation, “this mountain” is Mount Zion and they are very likely to do what the poet describes in Psalm 121. “I lift my eyes up to the mountains. Where does my help come from?” Mount Zion is, for the people of God, the visage of hope quite literally on the horizon.  The people have been promised that one day their Messiah will reign from this mountain. When that happens, not even death — all that diminishes, ails, disorients us and causes us to despair — will be able to resist God’s reign.

The work of hope, says Walter Brueggemann, is “an act of yielding in the present (as this poet does) to the assurances given for God’s future.” This promise is that the absolute, seemingly resolute disgrace of death will be swallowed up.  “The disgrace of being helpless, powerless, and exploited; the shame of being stepped on and not being able to resist the powers of death. It is the humiliation of being, tot he bottom of our lives, ultimately inadequate. Now all of that will be overcome.”

Creeping out into the pre-dawn darkness, the women must have felt the disgrace acutely.  But the very action of getting on with anointing the body, doing right by their deceased beloved, was a tremendous act of this kind of hope.  Again from Brueggemann, “Those who have believed have waited a long time, seemingly without justification.” This was easily a “without justification” moment in the lives of the women, bearing spices, descending toward the tomb.  And yet, you can almost hear it.  Through gritted teeth almost certainly. A woman’s voice — broken and resolved — cutting through the murky grey dawn.  “I lift my eyes up to the mountains. Where does my help come from?”

Illustration: “Let Us Rejoice and Be Glad”

Gary Schmidt’s young adult novel, The Wednesday Wars, is set against the backdrop of the early 1970s. The realities of the Vietnam War are close at hand for the students at Camillo Junior High, especially as 7th grade teacher, Mrs. Baker’s husband has been identified as a prisoner of war.  On one fateful Wednesday afternoon, thirteen-year-old Holling Hoodhood is alone in his classroom with his teacher Mrs. Baker when a fellow teacher delivers a telegram with shaking hands. Unable to read it herself, Mrs. Baker asks her friend to read it aloud:  and, inside is the news that Mr. Baker was free and coming home.  Holling reflects:

“Think of the sound you make when you let go after holding your breath for a very, very long time. Think of the gladdest sounds you know: the sound of dawn on the first day of spring break, the sound of a bottle of Coke opening, the sound of a crowd cheering in your ears because you’re coming down to the last part of a race — and you’re ahead. Think of the sound of water over stones in a cold stream, and the sound of wind through green trees on a late May afternoon in Central Park. Think of the sound of a bus coming into the station carrying someone you love. Then put all those together. And they would be nothing compared to the sound that Mrs. Baker made that day from somewhere deep inside that had almost given up.”

By way of an email, a social media post or maybe a prompt during the Children’s Message, solicit a list of “the gladdest sounds you know” from the congregation. After reading the paragraph above, with context, take the answers you’ve received and string them together as a parallel paragraph, ending: “And they would be nothing compared to the sound that Mary Magdalene made that day from somewhere deep inside that had almost given up.” And/or, “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.”


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