Keeping Vigil On This Mountain
First in a series, “Keeping Vigil”
Isaiah 25:6–9 // 1 Cor. 15:1–11 // John 20:11–18
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text for today is Isaiah 25, these words in verse 6, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine.”
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Today, we are beginning our sermon series, Keeping Vigil. What does that mean, keeping vigil? It’s the word we use when a friend dies in a car crash or a national disaster strikes. We stay up all night. We pray. We keep vigil. It’s the word that we use for Easter Saturday service, Easter Vigil service, as we remember the whole narrative of Scripture on that strange day of silence between the crucifixion of Good Friday and the joy of Easter Sunday. We keep vigil.
That’s the title of our sermons series in these days, Keeping Vigil. We are waiting and watching. We are praying in sure and certain hope of the resurrection even in unsure and uncertain times.
Today, we are Keeping Vigil On This Mountain.
On this mountain. I get that language from our Old Testament Reading, Isaiah 25. On This Mountain the Lord of Hosts is making a feast, and he’s talking in superlatives. The best feast ever. The best food. The best drink. And he will swallow up death forever. But let’s back up.
I’m going to do some literary work here, so saddle up cowboys. Since chapter 13, Isaiah has been calling out nations around Judah, and all of Judah is saying, “Yeah! God, you get’m!” They’ve been seeing judgment come down on all the nations that have oppressed them, but then, but then, in chapter 22, God says, “Judah I’ve got to tell you about another people. This one is worse than all the rest. They knew the truth but they didn’t act on it. (Does that sound like us sometimes?) They were set apart but still they failed.” And then God says, “That people, Judah, is you.” Then, all of chapter 24 is about how God’s judgment is universal, how no one escapes, no one gets out of it, it is inevitable, and it is universal. And then we get to chapter 25.
Usually, we read this passage Isaiah 25:6–9 during funerals, because it’s beautiful; it gives so much hope. Isaiah is on top of a mountain where God dwells in all of his fullness with all of humanity, having a feast that never ends. The final enemy defeated, the final judgment judged. All tears wiped away, All reproach gone. The only thing left is life, life to the full, with no room for anything that’s not gladness and joy, the deep belly laugh kind of joy.
Can you imagine Isaiah turning toward this passage? Can you imagine him seeing this glimpse of the future? Can you imagine him absolutely busting at the seams to right this down, to tell this bit of good news to the people? Can you imagine him longing this longing, wishing for this dream to never end, hoping never to wake up from his vision?
But then ... he does. He wakes up. And “On this mountain” becomes “On That Mountain.” The thing that was near for a moment is now far. The perfection that was at his fingertips is now a glimpse ended.
Has that ever happened to you? Leave it in the comments.
It’s like you’re having a really good dream, but right before you get to the best part, you wake up.
It’s like being a kid, going to Grandma and Grandpa’s house, hearing your mom and dad turn the car off, and thinking that you’re finally there but your mom says, “It’s only a bathroom break, we’ve got five minutes to get out, and we’ve got three more hours in the car.”
It’s like the first run that I ever took in Janesville, a run out to the lake, and I’m huffing, and I’m puffing, and I think I can see the lake over the hill. I get to the top of the hill, thinking that I’m there, and there’s.... another hill.
What does that do to you? How does that affect you?
Two thoughts as we consider its effect in Isaiah. Two thoughts as we keep vigil on this mountain even as we long for that mountain. Thought #1 is that it makes this mountain harder. Thought #2 is that it gives this mountain meaning.
Thought #1, Seeing that mountain can make this mountain harder. How does it do that? By reminding you how far away you are.
Consider this thought about John 20, the story of Mary Magdalene weeping in the garden. Jesus comes up to her and reveals himself to her in a word. Mary. And she glimpses what she thought was impossible, her Savior right before her eyes, but then Jesus says (did you wonder about this?), he says, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father.”
Mingled in with all the joy, all the astonishment, I would imagine her thought, “You want me to leave you again?” Seeing you now It’s the same thought you can imagine Mary and Martha having as they watched Lazarus age and decline for a second time.
Here's a quote via a friend, on why Zoom and other virtual gatherings end up being so exhausting: "Our minds [are] tricked into the idea of being together when our bodies feel we’re not. [And that] Dissonance is exhausting. It’s easier [either] being in each other’s presence, or in each other’s absence [rather] than in the constant presence of each other’s absence." Constantly reminded that we are not together. You seeing me through the video screen, but me not being able to see you. Constantly able to do something but not the things that we want to do. Seeing that mountain can make this mountain harder, because it gives us a glimpse of something we do not yet have.
C. S. Lewis said it like this in his essay, The Weight of Glory, (and he’s not just talking about stay-at-home orders in a pandemic, he’s talking about life before eternal life), “At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Someday, God willing, we shall get in.” The pages of our Bible are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so.
The kingdom of heaven is like a man in the last chapter of life, but that chapter is longer than he ever wished it would be. His wife died 10 years before him. His children put him into a nursing home two years ago. Twenty years ago, he would’ve told you that he was the luckiest man alive. But these days, those memories are a distant past, a glimpse of what life will be, but not what life is now.
Thought #2, Seeing that mountain gives this mountain meaning. How does it do that? I’ll tell you, the language I’m using is from an author, David Brooks who has a book called The Second Mountain.
The thought that he has is that when he was in the prime of life, in his career, doing all the things, he got to a point where he could be considered successful, but he didn’t feel happy. He had everything you’d think you need to be happy but he wasn’t. So, in this book, he talks about how he climbed to the top of one mountain only to see a second one, a new ambition. What was that new ambition? A rich and fulfilled life.
He goes on to say that for some this call to the second mountain calls them to leave their homes and live on the beach of Florida, or to sell all they have and do something entirely different, but that’s not what he was most fascinated by.
The thing he was most fascinated by is that for some, discovering this second mountain transformed them exactly where they were at. Or in other words, it gave new meaning to what they already did. How seeing that mountain gives this mountain new meaning.
Now this is a fine thought, but St. Paul says it better when he says it like this: “For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain.” But by the grace of God I am what I am.
Notice what he doesn’t do. He doesn’t deny the reality of what he has been. He doesn’t forget what he did or where he went.
But then notice what Paul does do. This is the next verse. “On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” He says that the glimpse of God’s grace upon the cross changes everything. He says that in Jesus Christ, all of the tears, all the hardship, even the covering cast over all peoples is swallowed up. They are covered in the blood of Jesus, they die with Jesus on the cross, and then Jesus does something more: he walks out of the open tomb.
For Paul, God’s grace transforms even our sin to be a part of the story of God’s redemption. God’s grace transforms all of our circumstances so that his name might be proclaimed in them. For Paul, he can say, “Even what I did for evil, God used for good.”
What does that statement do to your day, in these days of uncertainty? How does that thought change what you say on Facebook, to or about your neighbor? Because it should change what you are doing today.
The kingdom of heaven is like a large church in a small town keeping vigil whose lives are not what they were. Today was supposed to be Confirmation Day, and yet the Sanctuary is bare, the pews are empty, and the young people must wait to declare their faith to their congregation and to be welcomed to their Lord’s Supper. This is not the glimpse of heaven they were hoping for... and yet the grace of God covers all. Their story is held in the hand of their father. They are covered in the blood of Jesus. And because of the day that will come, because of that mountain, every thing, every day, in the meantime has meaning.
Amen and am
 C. S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory.”
Worship Sermons & Letters