Orthodox Mission – Hyde Park, Chicago

4th Thursday of Lent, Isaiah 28,14-22

Thus says the Lord: Hear the word of the Lord, you afflicted24 men and you rulers ofthis people which is in Jerusalem. Because you said, “We have made a covenant with Hell and agreements with Death. If a raging storm passes by, it will not come upon us. We have made falsehood our hope, and we will be sheltered by falsehood”, therefore Thus says the Lord: the Lord. See, I am laying for the foundations of Sion a costly Stone, chosen, a corner-stone, precious for its foundations. And one who believes in it will not be put to shame. And I will set judgement for hope, but my compassion for balances. 25 And those that trust vainly in falsehood, because the storm will not pass you by. And will it not remove your covenant of death? And hope you have in Hell will in no way remain. If a raging storm comes against you, you will be like a pavement for it. When it passes by, it will take you, because morning by morning it will pass by day, and in the night there will be an evil hope. Learn to hear, you the distressed; we cannot fight, while we are too weak for us to be gathered. The will raise you up like a mountain of the ungodly, and he will be in the valley of Gabaon. With fury he will do his works, a work of bitterness. While his wrath will do what is unheard of, and its bitterness will be unheard of. And do rejoice nor let your bonds be strong, because I have heard from the Lord Sabaoth things accomplished and cut short, which he will do over the whole earth.

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What is the covenant with Death? Isaiah says it is “afflicted men and you rulers of this people which is in Jerusalem” that make this covenant. In other words, it is in reaction to affliction and in the vanity of rule and power.  This “covenant with Hell and agreements with Death” is a modus vivendi, a compromise with the evil of this world to exist easily, a deluding fantasy of the optimist: “if a raging storm passes by, it will not come upon us. We have made falsehood our hope, and we will be sheltered by falsehood.” But God prefers a firm foundation not false hopes: “See, I am laying for the foundations of Sion.” In Christ, through his cross.  Also he does not want cheap hopes, but a precious and “costly Stone, chosen, a corner-stone, precious for its foundations.” Of course this is what we see in Christ and his cross: a costly and precious sacrifice and foundation for hope, real hope, “and one who believes in it will not be put to shame.”  He judges as one who really understands our case as humans, suffering under the weight of death; and so gives his “judgement for hope, but my compassion for balances.” Judgment tempered by mercy.  We cannot say that trials and difficulties will not touch us. God is not giving us a crutch for our weakness, but a real sense of the depth of his help and salvation that he gives to us; we have to expect the worst and hope for God as the best: to not be “those that trust vainly in falsehood, because the storm will not pass you by.” We have to leave the “covenant of death.” That is really a “hope… in Hell,” an “evil hope.” Instead we have to listen to the one who speaks to us in the midst of noise and confusion and trouble: “learn to hear, you the distressed; we cannot fight, while we are too weak for us to be gathered.” We need a Savior, not our own seeming strength that deludes us while compromising with the evil of this world. If we covenant with death this way, God will “with fury… do his works, a work of bitterness. While his wrath will do what is unheard of, and its bitterness will be unheard of.” We cannot rejoice in the ease which we purchase with our compromise with this world: neither “rejoice nor let your bonds be strong, because I have heard from the Lord Sabaoth things accomplished and cut short, which he will do over the whole earth.” He will cut down our compromises and our contract with the evil and death of this world, he will come and save those who desire him and who leave aside the “covenant with death:” he will destroy “death by death” through his cross and resurrection. He can bring to our saddest and weakest state as humans his divine power which destroys the one who wished to enslave us through his false power and evil covenant.