“The Eighth Day”
April 4, 2010 - Easter
You probably noticed the oak tree that fell just on the other side of the fence by the apartments next door. Our friend Jeff tells me those oaks along there, on both sides of the fence, are around a hundred years old, give or take twenty years. The big one that fell was likely over a century old, older than any of us here this morning. And there’s a large, old one on the church side with a major fork that’s dying. Oaks live a long time, but not forever.
Writing a vision of the coming kingdom of God, in verse 22 of our text Isaiah pictured increased human lifespan saying, “For as the days of a tree so will be the days of my people.” The olive trees of Israel or the cedars of Lebanon mentioned in Scriptur make our oaks seem like babies, so Isaiah may have envisioned hundreds of years of life in that new world.
In verse 20, he describes a world where no infant will “live but a few days” and “those who die at a hundred will be thought mere youths.” It’s a world we would all like to see. As a pastor it is one thing to preside over the funeral of a person who has reached a ripe old age, celebrating a full and rich life as we did for Colleen this past week. It’s another thing to stand and try to find any words that make sense to say on a cold winter day over a tiny grave which will be marked with a stone whose date spans less than a year.
Who would not wish for the world Isaiah foresaw, when verse 19 comes true and “the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more”? Even those of us who live to ripe years know tears as time takes away from us the homes and places we’ve cherished, even the trees and flowers we’ve planted. The prophet pictured a time in verse 21 when God’s people would build houses they would continue to live in and plant vineyards from which they would continue to eat fruit. “No longer,” he says, “will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat.”
It’s not just trees falling down. We know deeper pain and sorrow, don’t we? For all kinds of reasons, old age, loss of work, divorce and death, we have built houses and planted gardens and vineyards and trees and then left them behind for others. When we came here sixteen years ago we left behind in Nebraska a home and yard where we had planted three beautiful trees, a redbud, a blue spruce, and a lovely tall pin oak. We were so proud of what we had done to beautify a large empty lawn. Yet almost the last thing the family which bought our home said to us was, “It’s all right if we cut those trees down, right? We like to see out our windows.” I’ve never had any desire to go back and see if they followed through. We plant and then somebody else does what they like with what we’ve planted.
Oh for Isaiah’s vision to become reality! Wouldn’t we all like to live out full days and stay where we’ve built, stay where we’ve planted, remain where our own lives have been planted? Wouldn’t we like a new world where as verse 17 says, “the former things”—all those sad things, lost things, painful things, hurtful things, wrong things, dying things, all that kind of thing—where “the former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.” But a world instead where God says, “be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.”
Through the mouth of Isaiah, God promised a new creation, a new world. We are here this morning to celebrate the heart, the root of that new creation. In answer to all our world’s death and loss and weeping, God began an absolutely new and changed creation on a Sunday morning nearly two thousand years ago.
Up until that Sunday morning it might seem that the life of Jesus of Nazareth fit what we’ve been saying about the old creation. Here was a man who lost His roots roots. He once said, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” His family and hometown rejected Him. He died, brutally executed in the prime of life, at about age 33, younger than many of you that I would still call young. Here was a man who did not get to “live out his years,” as Isaiah put it.
Yet that all changed on the Sunday morning after. The men and women who followed Jesus thought He now finally had someplace to lay His head, even if it was only a borrowed stone niche in someone else’s garden. As we read from Luke’s Gospel this morning, the women went to care for and anoint His lifeless body and settle Him peacefully to rest there. What they found, what they learned, changed everything, changed the world, began the new creation.
They came weeping and crying in the old creation, expecting to find the dead body of a man who died too soon. But Jesus was not there in that tomb. Instead they met two “men in clothes that gleamed like lightning,” angels, who wondered what they were doing there. “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here. He has risen!”
We came in this morning greeting each other in those words, “Christ is risen!” and answering back, “He is risen indeed!” Those salutations are the equivalent of the first words of the Bible in Genesis 1, “In the beginning…,” because the rising of Jesus Christ from the dead is a new beginning, a new creation.
Which explains why Christians worship on Sunday. The Old Testament commands God’s people to observe the Sabbath, Saturday, the seventh day as the day to keep holy and honor God. But from the very beginning Christians began to shift that to the first day of the week, to meet together on Sunday rather than Saturday. And that shift happened in part because they did not so much see Sunday, the day Jesus rose from the dead, as the first day anymore, but as the eighth day.
Most of you know the old creation in Genesis 1 took seven days, six days of work for God and one day of rest. Our calendar has been ordered to a seven-day week ever since. Whether those days of creation were literal, twenty-four hour periods or whether they were an inspired poetry to teach that God is the creator of all things (however long He took) is a matter for another time. What we want to see today is that early in Christian history, around the end of the first century, at least one Christian writer was calling Sunday, the day Jesus rose, the “eighth day of creation,” the day a new creation began. Others said the same. Sunday, the day of Resurrection, was the eighth day, a new beginning.
By the fourth century, the great theologian Athanasius wrote this,
The Sabbath was the end of the first creation, the Lord’s day was the beginning of the second, in which he renewed and restored the old in the same way as he prescribed that they should formerly observe the Sabbath as a memorial of the end of the first things, so we honor the Lord’s day as being the memorial of the new creation.
Easter is not a Christian appropriation of a pagan holiday celebrating the sun rising on the first day of the week. It is a festival of thanks and praise for the fulfillment of Isaiah’s promise of a new heavens and a new earth, a new, changed and redeemed creation. We are here to celebrate the “eighth day,” the day on which the world started over as Jesus Christ walked out of His tomb to begin it all fresh.
As glorious as Isaiah’s new earth is, with wolf and lamb feeding together and the savage lion eating straw as tame as any horse or cow, he doesn’t quite get to Easter. Isaiah was talking about long life, hundreds of years, but that’s as far as he could see. Easter takes us further, gives us something really new. It’s a radically transformed creation, a totally changed kind of life. When Jesus rose again the promise was not merely long life, but eternal life.
The text we read from I Corinthians 15 compares Jesus to Adam, compares the first man of the old creation with the first Man of the new creation. “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ will all be made alive.” The resurrection of Jesus is not just His resurrection, it’s the resurrection of the human race, a new beginning, a fresh start for everyone of us who believes in Him. As you put your faith in Him, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is your resurrection, your new beginning.
I’ve been listening to old Garrison Keillor stories. In one he talks about the bane of every computer user. He imagines writing your great novel and you’ve just completed the best chapter yet when your computer shuts down, and you haven’t saved any of it. Auto-save didn’t work. It’s all gone. The only thing you can do is start over and recreate it from memory. And he asks, “Isn’t it really a good thing? Won’t what you’ve written be that much better once you’re forced to leave out all the forgettable parts? Won’t it be a leaner, stronger, more beautiful story without all those bits that were so poor you couldn’t even remember them?”
So it is with our lives as God remakes them in Christ. He wants to raise us into a new life that leaves out all the forgettable parts, all the failures, all the stupid mistakes, all the ugly, deliberate, mean stuff, all the hurt and loss and grief. Let’s forget all that, says Isaiah, “The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.” God is giving us a fresh beginning, an opportunity to live a new, rich, beautiful story of wonder and glory.
Of course we’re not there yet. Just like for those women at the tomb, it’s all a little overwhelming, a little hard to believe just as it was for Peter and the other disciples. We haven’t yet come to the moment they experienced, when they saw Jesus with their eyes, in the flesh, talking and walking and eating with them. The eighth day has begun, the new creation is underway, but it’s not finished. But it will be. It will be. It definitely, certainly, absolutely will be. In the risen life of Jesus Christ, God will make this world new, and make us new as well.
Imagining people living as long as trees, Isaiah might have thought of one more variety of tree, the date palm. The Judean date palm was the characteristic tree of Israel. Last Sunday we remembered the crowd cutting palms to line Jesus’ road into Jerusalem. Their fruit was the sweet candy of the ancient world. It was an emblem of the Jewish nation. When Rome invaded there were thick forests of date palms eighty feet high. They minted a coin commemorating their conquest of Judea which showed the Jewish people as a weeping woman under a palm tree. Those palm trees grew large and lived a long time, but not forever. When Jerusalem was finally destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D., the cultivation of palms stopped. Somewhere around 150 A.D. the Judean date palm became extinct. That might have been the end of the story.
But not so long ago in the 1970s, while excavating Masada, the ancient site of the Jew’s last stand against Rome, archaeologists found a jar of date palm seeds, exquisitely preserved by the dry climate. Carbon 14 testing dated them to the first century. They sat for thirty years in storage at a university in Israel. In 2005 a researcher took them out, treated several with a hormone rich solution and planted three of the seeds. One sprouted. In June 2008 it had a dozen fronds and was four feet tall. I haven’t discovered what’s happened since then, but after 2,000 years the Judean date palm was restored to life.
Our hope in Jesus Christ is for something even more incredible than that horticultural resurrection. The first believers have waited 2,000 years for their raising from the dead. Friends and family we’ve loved are waiting too. You and I are waiting for that resurrected life, for that new and changed and better world. It began on the eighth day, when Jesus rose and it will be complete when He comes again. May you feel and live that new beginning now, and look forward today in hope and joy. Christ is risen… and He will raise you.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2010 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj