In the 53rd chapter of Isaiah we find the most powerful and dramatic prophecy about the Lord’s Suffering Servant.
“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.”
Then the prophet foretells the resurrection of this Suffering Servant from the dead:
“And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.”
I want to remind us of the prophecy we heard on Good Friday, from the sixth chapter of the book of Hosea:
“Come, and let us return unto the LORD: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up. After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight. Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the LORD: his going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth.”
Here what the prophet Hosea gives us is complementary to the prophecy of Isaiah concerning the Suffering Servant.
Whereas Isaiah tells us that this individual, this one man, bore the sins of the whole world (as St. Paul would later develop it, the one for the many) Hosea tells us that we ourselves went through this death. The Lord has “torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up. After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight.” We are told that it is we who have died and that we have risen the third day. The answer to this mystery is expressed best in that oft repeated and simple phrase of St. Paul the Apostle, who constantly tells us that we are “in Christ.” Christ’s death was our death. And his resurrection was our resurrection.
We are given this gift and pledge in the sacrament of baptism. In baptism, St. Paul tells us, we died to sin and we rose with Christ to new life (Romans 6:1 f). Hosea foretold that after the Lord would raise us on the third day, he would come to us in the Person of the Holy Spirit. This is the meaning of these words: “Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the LORD: his going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth.” Following the Lord’s Passover victory, that which we call Easter, and his ascension after forty days to the Father’s right hand, the disciples did continue on to follow the Lord by their obedience in staying together and coming together in prayer. And so, on Pentecost God the Holy Spirit poured down on them as the former and latter rain; he came also as fire and as a rushing mighty wind. They were given power from on high to proclaim the Gospel, and the Church was born.
After baptism, we receive the Holy Spirit in the sacrament we call Confirmation. That same power of the Holy Spirit is present, and we need only to dare believe it. This means also that we are empowered to live out that new life of our baptism, having died to sin and risen with Christ. The Holy Spirit brings not only exciting gifts that people find sensational; He brings to all Christians the power to live in that resurrection power in this present time, the present that is for us both past and future as well. It is from the past because of the accomplished fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead the third day. It is future, because his resurrection is also our resurrection, because his victory over death is also our victory over death, because his immortality is also our immortality. St John wrote about this present and future, rooted in the past of his resurrection, by saying: “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.” (I John 3:1-3) This is why Hosea said that we were the ones who were risen up on the third day; we are in Christ, and so his resurrection that we celebrate now is our own resurrection.
He accomplished our salvation by his Passover. He carried us out of our slavery to sin and death, just as our Hebrew fathers in the Faith were carried out of slavery in Egypt to go into the land of promise. As on that miraculous night when the Red Sea destroyed the armies of enslavement under Pharaoh, Christ’s true Passover destroys our enemies of sin and death, and also the world, the flesh and the devil, because we are in Christ who shall come again in glory on the last day to raise all who belong to Him, and therefore to His Father. Yes, his resurrection on the third day is our resurrection in him, both now as a power to transform us after his own purity, and as our sure and certain hope of the resurrection on the last day- if we are found in him.
Another prophecy of Christ’s triumph over death is in the 25th chapter of the Book of Isaiah:
“And in this mountain shall the LORD of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined. And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the LORD hath spoken it.”
Christ’s resurrection, in that time and place almost 2,000 years ago, was the death of death itself, for death has been dealt a mortal wound and will not recover. It is the last enemy, and St. Paul tells us that it will be destroyed when Christ appears in glory. One TV channel, the National Geographic channel, keeps airing programs about how the world will end, or how things will be after the human race has become extinct. It is enough to make an unbeliever depressed if not suicidal. The human race will never become extinct, because Christ’s resurrection is our resurrection. In fact, you, if you belong to Christ by faith, will never yourself become extinct. You will not become a dinosaur, a fossil of a vanished species. You will live forever as a child of God, and, as St. Peter wrote, “a partaker of the divine nature.” (II Pet. 1:4)
In the past, I think I used too much the phrase “the empty tomb.” It is popular to speak of the resurrection this way. But, to speak too much about the empty tomb is to speak about a puzzle, a story that ends with a question mark. The story does not end with a question mark about an empty tomb, but with an exclamation point about a certainty, a certified fact documented by the evidence of many a triumphant martyr’s blood. The curtain does not come down on Mary Magdalene weeping outside the empty tomb and saying, "They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.” The curtain stays up as she says “Rabboni!” The curtain does not come down on the weary and frightened band of apostles as they hide sorrowing. Because the curtain is yet up, we hear the words: “Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord.” (John 20:11-23)
And, the curtain has never come down. For Christ is alive even now, and through us he continues his ministry here in this fallen world. So, let us not speak of the empty tomb unless we speak also of the risen Christ, seen by eyewitnesses, most of whom died as martyrs in order to give us the certainty of their faith. Consider well the faith of those eyewitnesses; that is, eyewitnesses to the fact that Jesus rose from the dead.
What in this world strikes fear into your heart? Of what is there to be afraid in this life? Death has been overcome. On the third day God rose us up in Christ, and he will raise us up fully at Christ’s coming. "We know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is."
I will close with the words we use all this next week as the first canticle in Morning Prayer.
CHRIST our passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast; Not with the old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness: but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. 1 Cor. v. 7
Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more: death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin: but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Rom. vi. 9
Christ is risen from the dead: and become the first-fruits of them that slept. For since by man came death: by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die: even so in Christ shall all be made alive. 1 Cor. xv. 20.Glory be to the Father, and to the Son: and to the Holy Ghost; As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.