He Will Swallow Up Death Forever
He will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken.
It all started in a grave… and a borrowed one at that. Usually, it was the women who bathed the lifeless body, rubbed the skin with rich perfumes and lovingly, carefully wrapped their loved one in strips of linen.
This grave was different. It held a king. A king from a foreign land. Messengers from that foreign land, angels, watched silently from the shadows. All was quiet. They had no songs to sing, no words to say as they watched the two men at their work.
The sun was dropping and the shadows grew deeper. Light from the one lamp flickered, shifting patterns along the cold stone walls. It would be the Sabbath soon.
Joseph had gone to Pilate and asked for permission to bury the body in his own grave. Nicodemus brought the perfumes of aloe and myrrh and they worked beside each other, wrapping the soft linen around the body; the white turning a rusty red as it absorbed the blood still oozing from his back, from his head where the crown had been, from his hands and from his feet.
The last rays of sunlight slowly dropped lower on the horizon.
Outside the tomb, the women stood in despair, keeping their distance. Arms wrapped tightly around each other, they were too heartbroken to enter in. Speechless, their words had been stolen. Motionless, they couldn’t bear to turn away.
It was only days ago the crowds had cried “Hosanna!” and laid palm branches at his feet. Now there was only this deathly silence. The two men emerged from the cave, rolled the heavy stone across the grave’s opening and started the twilight walk back toward the city.
Nicodemus paused to look into the eyes of Mary Magdalene for just a moment. He nodded as if to affirm his friend’s last words, “It is finished.”
It is finished. These were the only words that were left. It is finished.
Oh, how the darkness had fallen.
Those who were left behind were sure the sun would never shine again. How could it? How could the moon possibly rise and the stars continue to move across their midnight sky when death had fallen so hard and full pulling them deep into its velvet abyss?
How could their heart go on beating? How could their breath continue to fill their lungs in and out and in again? All life, all hope, all joy had drained out of them and soaked onto the ground at their feet – never to be gathered back up again.
Death laid its heavy weight against them. The one who had loved them was lost. All that was left was darkness. And silence.
I am the man who has seen affliction
under the rod of his wrath;
he has driven and brought me
into darkness without any light;
surely against me he turns his hand
again and again the whole day long.
He has made my flesh and my skin waste away;
he has broken my bones;
he has besieged and enveloped me
with bitterness and tribulation;
he has made me dwell in darkness
like the dead of long ago.
He has walled me about so that I cannot escape;
he has made my chains heavy;
though I call and cry for help,
he shuts out my prayer;
he has blocked my ways with blocks of stones;
he has made my paths crooked.
He is a bear lying in wait for me,
a lion in hiding;
he turned aside my steps and tore me to pieces;
he has made me desolate;
he bent his bow and set me
as a target for his arrow.
…so I say, “My endurance has perished;
so has my hope from the Lord.”
Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall!
My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.” Lamentations 3:1-12, 18-24
There is a song we sing;
‘The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
His mercies never come to an end;
They are new every morning, new every morning,
Great is your faithfulness O Lord,
Great is your faithfulness.’
And God offers us this glimpse of abundant grace in the sorrow of Lamentations:
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in Him.”
This is what makes all the difference. All the difference. Our hope is not in ourselves. Our hope is not in this world or the things or the people in it. Our hope is in our Lord. Our life, our future, our salvation, our eternity is in Him.
The sun did rise again. Because God’s son did not remain in the darkness of death; he rose from the cold of the grave. The blood-soaked linens, heavy with the perfume of death, were neatly folded and set aside. The stone had been rolled away and the grave was empty. Empty except for the angels who watched for the women to return.
We are the women who return. We are the men who race there to see if it is true. We know all we cared about is lost, but yet, deep inside of us, our soul still hopes. Because we know the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.
The Lord is my portion. The Lord is mine. Therefore I will hope in Him.
The Lord entered into the darkness of death – not to stay there – but to defeat it – to bring light where before there was only darkness. New life. Gloriously full and eternal. Never-ending. Life that reflected the light and the abundance of its Creator.
Jesus came – that we may have life. Life. How incredible is that?
Still Rolling Stones
Photo by lalesh.aldarwish