Vision of a New Heaven and New Earth -- Sermon for Easter Sunday (Isaiah 65; Luke 24)

Isaiah 65:17-25, Luke 24:1-12

“Christ is risen! Shout Hosanna! Celebrate this day of days.” [Brian Wren, Glory to God, 248].  Death had its say on Friday, but death’s victory was short-lived. We gather this morning to celebrate the good news that life has triumphed over death. We shout “Christ is risen!” because death has lost its sting.   

The word we heard from Isaiah 65 was spoken to exiles returning from Babylon. The prophet speaks to their grief at the devastation they found in Jerusalem by telling them that God “is about to create new heavens and a new earth.” So forget about the past and embrace the future. Yes, “be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating.” This is a good word, especially the promise that no one will be hurt or destroyed on God’s holy mountain (Is. 65:25).

We hear this word from Isaiah, this Easter morning, knowing that there is war in Ukraine that is destroying lives and communities. There is the continued threat of COVID, which doesn’t want to go away. We might not yet be convinced that new heavens and a new earth await us, but that is the promise given to us this Easter morning.

Like the returning exiles, when Jesus’ followers gathered that first Easter morning they also had reason to grieve. They assumed their teacher and leader lay dead in a tomb, having been executed just a few days earlier by the governing authorities. I imagine they spent the Sabbath reflecting on their hopes and dreams that had been dashed by Jesus’ execution. 

Then news came that raised the possibility that death had met its match. Perhaps this would be a day of new creation. If so, then we can “be glad and rejoice forever in what [God is] creating” through the risen Christ. Yes, Jesus is the one whom Paul declares to be the first fruit of the resurrection.  

When the women went to the tomb that Easter morning to finish preparing Jesus’ body, they were puzzled by what they found. The tomb was empty and two men with dazzling clothes stood in the tomb. These men asked the women: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Don’t you remember what Jesus shared back in Galilee? 

Then when they reported back to the rest of the community what they found at the tomb, no one believed their story. Apparently, they had also forgotten what Jesus spoke concerning his death and resurrection. Only Peter went to the tomb to check things out. When he got there, he looked around the tomb and returned wondering about what had happened. Luke isn’t clear about whether Peter returned convinced that Mary Magdalen and Joanna told the truth or not.  

It’s been two thousand years, give or take a few, since that first Easter Sunday, and we’re still puzzled by this story. Yet this story is the foundation of the Christian faith. Paul told the Corinthians that this is of first importance that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4). 

We’ve heard the message delivered by Isaiah that God has promised to “create new heavens and a new earth” so that “former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.”  We’ve heard the message given to the women: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” So, what does Jesus’ resurrection mean to us this morning?

The men asked the women if they remembered what Jesus had shared with them about his future. Apparently, they should have remembered that word, but they hadn’t. While there are some things that need to be remembered, Isaiah tells us that when God creates the new heavens and new earth, the former things will no longer be remembered. Yes, Isaiah tells the people to let go of the past and focus on God’s future. That is the message of Easter as well. Jesus’ death and resurrection mark the point at which the new age, the new creation, breaks into the present. To be in the risen Christ is to enter the new creation. We mark this transition in our baptisms. 

As we gather this morning to celebrate the resurrection, we’re faced with this message. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5, “so if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). We may not see the fulness of this new creation quite yet. The guardians of the old age won’t give up easily. Nevertheless, Jesus laid the foundation for the new age in his death and resurrection. So, we are faced with the question: why do we look for the living among the dead? In other words, why do we continue to live as if the old age still reigns? Why do we continue to give room to fear and hate and anger? It takes a bit of faith to step out and embrace the new creation, but the promise is there. 

As Isaiah reveals, in this new creation “no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress.” Indeed, “the wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent—its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord” (Is. 65:19, 25).  This is the promise of the resurrection, that we too can share in God’s new creation. Therefore, as we share in the promise of the resurrection, we can embody the values of God’s new creation. 

As we gather here on Easter morning, we do so with God’s promise to create new heavens and a new earth in mind. We come with the question posed to Mary Magdalen and Joanna when they went to the tomb: “why do you look for the living among the dead?” It’s easy to get discouraged when we look around at our world. People are discouraged. We see this discouragement present in the increasingly polarized world around us. It’s easy to get sucked in so that fear and anger and hatred come to dominate our lives. But these are markers of the old age, and to be in Christ means letting go of the old age and embracing the way of the living.

So, as we go forth into this day, let us look for signs of what God is creating in our midst. Sometimes you have to look really carefully because it’s a bit like spring in Michigan. You know it’s supposed to be spring, but sometimes it’s difficult to see the signs. Nevertheless, there are signs out there that spring is dawning. It might be the first daffodil blossoms, but you know something is up.

So where do you see signs of the resurrection springing up around you? Where do you see signs that God is at work in the world? Remember, just like spring, it takes time for the new creation to unfold. 

Walter Brueggemann speaks to our concerns about our world in his reflection on Isaiah 65:

The news is that God has not quit or been defeated. In the very depth of misery, the power and fidelity of God persist. Both the new city of Isaiah and the risen Christ of the evangelists attest that God is not a prisoner or victim of circumstance. God is free and faithful beyond every disability of death, chaos, or injustice. [Connections: 2 (Kindle Locations 5711-5713)]. 

Yes, the word we hear this morning is that “God has not quit or been defeated.” That doesn’t mean everything around us is perfect, but it does mean God is at work in our midst, and that we can join with God in embodying this new creation in the way live in the world. 

As we ponder this invitation to live into the new creation that Jesus inaugurates in his resurrection, let us consider these ancient words from St. John of Damascus as our response to that invitation: 

Now let the heavens be joyful! 

Let earth its song begin!

The world resound in triumph, 

and all that is therein;

let all things seen and unseen 

their notes of gladness blend;

for Christ the Lord has risen, 

our joy that has no end. 

— “The Day of Resurrection,” (Chalice Hymnal, 228, vs. 3)

Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Supply Pastor
First Presbyterian Church 
Troy, Michigan
Easter Sunday

April 17, 2022

Image Attribution: Wesley, Frank, 1923-2002. As it Began to Dawn, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved April 16, 2022]. Original source: Contact the Vanderbilt Divinity Library for further information..


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