Sunday, June 23

And God Swallowed Up Death: Requiem Sermon

Sermon Preached by Pastor Larry Kamphausen at our Requiem Eucharist on Sunday June 23rd.
Scripture texts:
Isaiah 25:6-9
Psalm 116   
1 Corinthians 15:50-58
John 6:37-58    

Isaiah speaks to our longings, with an image of the good life, a banquette, a party, with amazing food and astounding wine.   But this image of the good life admits something that humanity often attempts to ignore in seeking the good life – pain, tears, and the disgrace of death.   For reasons that this short passage in Isaiah doesn’t address, Isaiah acknowledges pain, of grief, and that things should be otherwise.
Tonight we remember those whom we have lost, some recently others longer ago.  No matter what we achieve, how many parties’ we celebrate, the world will always be tinged by this loss, this grief.  Here is a promise that God knows and doesn’t forget our pain.  God knows that we need more than comfort; we need the good life without loss and grief.
Here is the beginning of our hope: that God knows our predicament, God knows what this life is, what has been called the veil of tears.  Tonight we let ourselves in the presence of God, remember our grief our loss, we do so in trust that God knows and hasn’t ignored us.
Isaiah tells us God is at work bringing us to a great party, as Tony Campolo has preached for years.  In so doing God swallows up death, destroying the veil of tears.
God swallowed up death by entering death, by entering this veil of tears.  God in Jesus Christ, God the word, the son the second person of the trinity came under the shroud, not only experienced death, but experienced the loss of loved ones: Joseph his earthly father, and Lazarus.  Jesus wept at Lazarus’ tomb.  God in Jesus Christ became acquainted with grief.  So, that God might lead us to that great party, the banquet of the Kingdom of God.
We here and now are being made imperishable, even as we still die.  In Jesus Christ God removes the sting, for in Christ God took upon God’s self, into God’s self that which leads to death, that which leads to separation, division, and destruction.
As the icon of the Resurrection, or the descent into hades, depicts, we, that is Adam and Eve, our humanity, are raised up by Christ, and freed from death.  God has entered death, broken its bonds.  We are no longer separated from those who die, for we are in Christ, who descended to hell and restores Adam and Eve that is all humanity.  We are freed from the grip of death, of hell. 
We then must admit we live in a strange moment, a time that is askew. People still die, we still die, we still grieve, we still experience the loss that our very bodies and souls know shouldn’t be. 
In John we hear Jesus speak of being the one who is gathering in those who belong to him, into the party of God, that banquette where we will know what is true food and true drink.  We will know the good life in Christ without loss, without death.
Even as we know loss and death, and grief, we also have a taste, and know true food and Drink, which is God flesh.  This God flesh is the human Jesus Christ, the one who descended to the dead, who swallowed up death first being swallowed by death.  How can this be?  It can only be because this one, who died, was Life itself.   Oh death where now is your victory, where is your sting, if we already know life, truly know life. In death we meet God, not because God is by nature in death, but because God chose to become part of creation and matter and entered death, taking Death into God’s self.
God so loved the world, that God came to bring it life, which is Life itself.  So that Life may hold us even in grief, loss and death.  We gather here in hope, knowing that if the very one who is life not only entered into this veil of tears and death, but also died, that death no longer separates.  Death ceases to be our enemy, not because it is our friend, but because in death God in Jesus Christ awaits us.  After the incarnation, death, Resurrection, and ascension of Christ, what we find in death, is our life, God’s own true self.
We may have many questions about this, about what it is like for those who reject all that I have said above, or what it might be like to meet God and Jesus Christ in Death.  We may wonder how our loved ones met God in Death.   I will not attempt to address the debates that surround these questions.  I don’t know about hell and purgatory.  I don’t know what it is like to be between the world as we know it and that great party when we will fully experience God’s having swallowed up death, when the shroud of tears will be completely removed.  Here in this place we must admit that we don’t have all the answers.  I don’t know what it was like for my brother to meet Christ in his death.
What I do know is Isaiah’s promise, as God’s word to us, who grieve.  What I know is the very life of the world came to gather all that belongs to her. What of God’s creation doesn’t belong to God?  What human being isn’t most properly God’s?  Yet, Scriptures mention the potential of a complete rejection of the very life of the World, and the torment of this rejection.  What I don’t know is who has made such a rejection.  I know that we all need the true life of the world to truly live. What I also observe is that there do seem to be some in history and our time have and do reject life.  Others unwittingly embrace true life; others are truly ambivalent about life.  I also, know that our hope isn’t based in human things, or what other people do or believe.  Our hope comes from beyond what we know.
God so loved us, God in Jesus came under the shroud to bring us life.  Not some extension of our life in the veil of tears, not life as we know it.  No God gathers into life itself.  God gathers all who belong to God.  God gathers us into this life and we are also those whom we love.  We who are in Christ are Christ, gathered into life, eating God flesh, the very life of the world.  As such we are already at this banquette, what separates us is just a veil, one we will all pass through, but we are already there in Christ.   We already have life, the very life of the world.  We have the promised Resurrection for Christ is raised from the dead. 

Indeed if this is the world we live in, a world in which God entered death to meet us in death that we may know life, then where is death’s victory and sting?  Our loved ones who have passed through the shroud of death have met their very life Jesus Christ; they are already in God’s embrace.  We, who live in this shroud of loss and grief, are also embraced by this one.   We are already at the banquet. Come taste drink and eat life, be comforted that the very life of the world holds us and all whom we love, and will raise us up on the last day, for we have the very life of the world in us, the true food and drink, the good life itself.  Amen.