Tuesday of Pentecost 20 – Isaiah 25:6-9

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
    a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
    of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
And he will swallow up on this mountain
    the covering that is cast over all peoples,
    the veil that is spread over all nations.
    He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,
    and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
    for the Lord has spoken.
It will be said on that day,
    “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.
    This is the Lord; we have waited for him;
    let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

We met on a Saturday, some folks in a cemetery. Their mom/grandmother had died. It had been a full and long life. Now it was over, and she was to be buried beside her husband. It was the days of COVID, so things were different. Our health department was not as draconian as some. I spoke with a pastor who had to jump a cemetery fence after hours to meet a family at a graveside in the waning hours of the day in order to conduct a similar service. We did not have to do that. The group was small; although, many would have liked to have come. There were still restrictions. I have been a pastor for many years which means that I have frequently accompanied a casket from a hearse to a grave with a grieving family. Some of this felt normal. Some of it did not.

These words are frequently read at funerals. Isaiah speaks explicitly about the resurrection from the dead and the defeat of death by Christ. God swallows up the sheet that covers all the people. He swallows up death itself. Because our gathering happened in the days of COVID the cemetery staff was on hand. Because these gatherings are limited to immediate family, they never know if enough people will be there to serve as pall bearers to convey the casket to the grave. These men in overalls and blue jeans were standing by, just in case. As it turned out, we conscripted her sons, a nephew, along with a son-in-law, not young men anymore, so the cemetery staff were not needed. But they were there with us, incongruous in their working clothes beside our dark suits. In normal times the cemetery staff would have been at a distance, waiting until the last car drove away and only then lowered the body into the grave.

The family lingered and the funeral director nervously asked if they minded if the men set to their job. The family are strong Christians. Death does not intimidate them. Christ has defeated that foe and its terrors no longer cow them. That is not true for everyone. The director’s nervousness at the request was justifiable. The family consented and welcomed a few last moments at the grave. We all watched as her casket was lowered into the ground, the sheet that will cover all of us. It felt right to be there and to watch that happen. Now we wait. We wait for a day of resurrection and new life, for our lives are hidden with Christ’s life. It will be said on that day, “This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

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