Easter: Death has been Swallowed up in Victory

Easter: Death has been Swallowed up in Victory
Art by Sok Liy, 11, Cambodia Light Children Association, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. From the 2021 Prayer Calendar.

Isaiah 25:6-9

“Death has been swallowed up in victory,” Paul exults as he is teaching the church at Corinth about the meaning of Christ’s resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:54). The image of death being “swallowed up” draws on Isaiah 25 in which the prophet uses a cascade of images to talk about the coming of the new creation — the fulfillment of God’s plan for all creation. 

According to the prophet, God will “swallow up” the veil and shroud surrounding all people from all nations and will “swallow up” death forever. What does this language suggest to you?  As I have been reflecting on this passage, I hear that death and the signs of mourning are simply overwhelmed by God’s gracious work; they are rendered obsolete by God’s saving action, they simply no longer signify in God’s economy of abundance. Certainly, this is a “victory,” as Paul asserts, but in this passage, the prophet doesn’t seem to refer to a cosmic battle, but to the independent, gracious, creative action of God. An act of salvation, of which Jesus’ death and resurrection is the “first fruits.”

This passage in Isaiah begins with another image—God preparing a heavenly banquet, a feast, for all peoples. Choice wines, select and flavorful foods! Perhaps while the people feast, God swallows death and mourning — these things are not toxic or threatening to God, just as they do not have the final say over Jesus. They are overwhelmed.

No Veil Separating Us From God

Perhaps we also might connect the prophet’s “veil, veiling all peoples” with the veil in the temple that was torn open while the earth quaked and went dark as Jesus was crucified. We look forward to a time when there is no veil separating us from God, and no veil separating us from each other.

But wait. Isn’t the work of Christ completed? Isn’t the veil already torn so that the Holy Spirit is at work in each of us, even before we have believed? Haven’t we already received the promise that death does not have the final word?

Yes, the good news is that God is already loving us, is already working in the world for good, is already preparing a banquet for all people. Death and mourning no more threaten God today than they will in the final days. No matter how much we are grieving the passing of people we love, and the conflict in our denomination, God is not prevented from acting. What would it take for us to give up the veils that block our view — veils of fear, of self-protection, of erecting and enforcing barriers between people, of worry that God will mete out harsh judgment rather than feed us, save us, and wipe every tear from our eyes? Could focusing on God, with unveiled faces, take us to deeper and bolder commitments of faith, to new ways of engaging neighbors who are hungry, ill and in need, new boldness to uproot racism and take action for the world that God loves?

May this Easter season be a time to remember and reground ourselves in the good news. God is at work in the world and calls us to abundant life. Death, mourning and veils of separation will be swallowed up and there is a great banquet ahead of us. May we act in the freedom and power of the resurrection.

Harriett Jane Olson is the general secretary/CEO of United Methodist Women.

Posted or updated: 4/2/2021 12:00:00 AM