The Perfect Day
Rev. Nicholas Paul Johnson
Easter Sunday 2009
New Covenant Church, Winter Springs, Florida
Imagine for a moment if you would your perfect day. Maybe it’s a special place that you like to be, or with some special people that are very dear to you, some sort of activity. Everything on this day is right and good and satisfying.
Having a day like that or even thinking about a day like that can really lift your spirits can’t it? It can lift your head just to be thinking about it. Perfect days, I think, sometimes help us to get through just the mundane average days that so often seem to happen. And they certainly help us I think when we have those days that just pummel us with some hard knocks, and we need to keep hope that a perfect day is coming.
But even a perfect day is often tinged with a sort of inevitability that it can’t last. Something is going to come along with its demands or its disappointments or its drudgery or dysfunction generally to ruin my perfect day. And life can often seem that way, can’t it? Vacations come to an end, don’t they? Economic booms seem to end in busts. Things that we buy that we think are going to make us so happy soon lose their luster or they break or they just wear out. Sometimes friendships fizzle away. Gradually our health, our vitality, seem to ebb away from us. We put a lot of effort into something and it just doesn’t seem to bear any fruit and the dreams that we have can begin to fade away.
I think the older that we get the more that inevitability seems to impinge even on the present. It seems to sap life even out of those, what would otherwise be perfect moments, and the expectation that it’s not going to last seems to take the enjoyment away, and life can lose its sense of hopefulness. Maybe we even stop longing for perfect days and think they’ll never come back.
There’s a book that Joseph Conrad wrote, a short book called “Youth” and it’s a study on a middle aged man looking back on a moment in his youth. He’s recounting his first voyage at sea in the early 1900’s as an officer, a second mate. He’s 20 years old and he puts out to sea into the Indian Ocean heading for Jarva, but the ship is carrying a cargo of coal, and the coal begins to start smoldering and eventually they have to abandon the ship and it goes down. Now Marlo, our 20 year old hero, is set adrift in a 14 foot boat with a couple of men on the oars, and this is how he remembers it. “I remember the heat, the deluge of rain squalls that kept us bailing for dear life, and I remember 16 hours on end with a mouth dry as a cinder and a steering oar over the stern to keep the first command head on to a breaking sea. I did not know how good a man I was ‘til then. I remember the drawn faces, the dejected figures of my two men, and I remember my youth, and the feeling that will never come back anymore. The feeling that I could last forever, outlast the sea, the earth and all men. The deceitful feeling that lures us on to joy, to perils, to love, to vain effort, to death. The triumphant conviction of strength, the heat of life in the handful of dust, the glow in the heart that with every year grows dim, grows cold, grows small, and expires, and expires too soon, too soon, before life itself.”
Maybe some of us are lucky enough to still know that feeling of youth, that bravado of youth, the feeling that I could last forever, the feeling that life is to be lived with joy, and perils, and love, and effort. I was just the other day sitting in Starbucks and a young couple came in, probably about 17, maybe 18 years old. It was the beginning of the day, a beautiful day, they were obviously going to enjoy it together, coming in for their coffee, and this young girl was so full of life she could not stop dancing. She was just dancing around Starbucks with the energy fizzling out of her and I thought, ‘How nice, how good that would be!’
But maybe some of us know that feeling of the glow in the heart that every year grows dim, grows cold, and grows small and expiries. The glow that expires before life itself. We all need hope, don’t we, especially as that glow in the heart grows dim. We all need hope that the difficulties we face, economic problems, repeated failures, frustrations, health issues, even death itself, that all these things won’t make our lives futile; won’t make who we try to be and what we try to do just a vain effort.
The last few weeks I’ve been hanging out at the cancer clinic for radiation treatment. There’s a slogan that is all over which is ‘giving hope to people with cancer’. Well that’s nice. When I first read it I thought, that’s good, I want that. It sort of makes you feel positive, I’m sure it helps people. But if it’s just hope of a few more years, or a bit less pain, or delayed suffering, that’s not enough. Sooner or later I’m going to die. So I think to myself, is this hope thing just a mind game? Is it a way of trying to cope with our present disappointments and difficulties, a bit of wishful thinking? Like Conrad’s deceit of youth, is hope ultimately just futile and vain, or does hope spring from something, something that’s reliable, and something that can be trusted? Is our intuition that hope is good really true?
I was reading a book this week that talks about how evil loves to attack that hope. Evil attacks hope by creating in us a sense of powerlessness. Nothing I can do will alter my future. I lose the capacity to imagine a future in which good may occur to me. I feel powerless. I will keep on failing. I will never get any better. Things will only get worse, and I can’t change them. Maybe some of you today identify with that. You feel powerless, you don’t have any hope, it’s been taken from you. Does it seem that whatever is grinding away at you won’t ever get better? So what do we think? Is hope just fanciful thoughts to make a meaningless futile existence more bearable for us? Is Marlo right that hope just lures us on to vain effort and death, or is hope grounded in something reliable. Is our hope for a perfect day something we can trust in?
In the Old Testament reading today from Isaiah chapter 25 vs. 6 we read this: “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all people a feast
of rich food, a feast of well aged wine, a rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined, and He will swallow up on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all people, the veil that is spread over all nations, He will swallow up death forever and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces and the reproach of His people He will take away from the earth for the Lord has spoken.”
Here is a perfect day. Here is a perfect day to which all other perfect days point. A day on which there’s feasting and festivity. A day on which all shame and guilt is put away. They don’t cling to us anymore. A day on which all pain, and grief and sorrows and hurts and disappointments and injustices and poverty and everything else that would cause another tear to spring from our eyes has been eradicated. Here is a perfect day that can never be spoiled because God himself has come down between us. The Lord God will wipe away tears from every face because God himself has destroyed our final enemy. He will swallow up death forever.
It is interesting in Canaanite mythology, which is the sort of mythology in this part of the world at this time; it pictured death as a hungry tyrant that swallows its enemy with an insatiable appetite. But in this picture we see that God swallows the swallower.
Now why do we read this passage today, Easter Sunday? Well Isaiah spoke of ‘a mountain where that death would be swallowed up’ and that mountain was Jerusalem. That day on which death would be swallowed up came on Easter Sunday when our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ burst through that shroud of death and rose to new life. Death tried to swallow him on Good Friday but today He is risen and He has swallowed up death forever! Now, yes, until Christ returns and he comes to reign in glory in the creation that belongs to Him, until that day we still hurt, we still die, but his resurrection has guaranteed a future, a salvation, a new and unending life of a perfect day. That future certain hope makes the now worthwhile. Not vain effort, not being lured on in deceit. All we are now and do now counts because we are made for resurrection too. All we do for our King and His kingdom now will endure into His everlasting kingdom, when His kingdom comes and His will is done on earth as it is in heaven. We are not powerless now. Our lives are not a vain effort because death is not the final word – resurrection is! Death is not the final word - resurrection is! Death is not the final word - resurrection is! This Easter Sunday why don’t you recapture that feeling of youth, that feeling that you could last forever because you will. And let it lure you on to joys, to perils, to love, to effort, to loyalty to your risen Saviour. In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.