Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Homily 42: The Boast of God (as preached by an orthodox rebel)

"He will swallow up death in victory...." Is. 25:8

Death has dominated the thoughts of Western man. From the ancient Greeks to post-modern existentialists, it is considered the final fate of all (including the gods). It is the one constant, the one absolute, the one hard, stubborn thing that no sophistry or private language can break or dispel. Consequently, the quest to escape death has also dominated the thoughts of Western man: from Gilgamesh searching for the immortal flower to modern science fiction theorizing over various modes of technological and evolutionary transcendence. The desire is insatiable: death must be outrun.

Such kind illusions never stick, though. The flower is lost by accident, and the technology or evolution only produces horrors rather than salvation. But the desire to escape this dread foe, our last enemy, remains burned into our souls and skulls. So we continue to lull ourselves to sleep with daydreams, only to waken once again with nightmares. If we stay awake long enough, then the best we can hope to do is face death with dignity, which is a hard ideal to reach. Death is the great darkness, and before it we are all children, all afraid of the dark.

The Bible says two radical things about death: it is the primary means that the Devil uses to torment humanity (Heb. 2:14-15), and it has been defeated by God in Christ (I Cor. 15:53-57; Heb. 2:8-15). The latter notion is of particular note for two reasons. The first is that it echoes all the desires and hopes encapsulated in the mythology of humanity; yet just like other things in Christianity (viz., the Incarnation), this myth is true. It is not just another echo; it is the voice of origin, the archetype to all the ectypes.

The second reason has to do with the scale of the defeat. In Isaiah, it is said that God will swallow up death in "victory" (some modern translations say "forever"). The Hebrew word for "victory" literally means "the goal," i.e., the furthermost point that you can reach. Inherent in this word is the idea of "going all the way" or "reaching completion". In other words, for God to swallow up death in "victory" means that God has swallowed up death completely, absolutely, and to the uttermost extent. The same sentiment (and language) is expressed in Heb. 7:25, where God is able to save "to the uttermost". It is total victory. There will not be one inch remaining that the dark can reclaim.

In short, the thing that we have desired to be done has been done and will be done, and that beyond our wildest dreams. The last enemy has not been defeated momentarily but utterly. Its impotence is paramount, for it could not hold Christ, and it will not hold those who are one with Christ. In Heaven's war room there are many trophies, chief amongst them being the very hide of death, which hangs nailed to the cross. That is the boast of God forever. Amen.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2012

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