7And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
8he will swallow up death forever.
Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the LORD has spoken.
4he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.
John 11:32, 43-44
32When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." [Jesus] cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" 44The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go."
Death itself will be destroyed. This is the light and life of God, that at the end of the ages, death itself would be swallowed up, and mourning and grief would be no more. All tears will be wiped away.
Death hangs around us these days, doesn't it? In the waning daylight of autumn days, darkness creeps into the sky earlier and earlier in the evening, and mornings also grow dimmer with each passing day. The joyous and vibrant colors of the leaves in the trees are nearly past their prime, falling to the ground and dissolving into the grass with every gray and chilly October rain. Trees become lifeless skeletons, sunlight seems distant, and we become more fully aware of ourselves - our humanity, our mortality - as we shiver in these damp days, reaching for sweaters and blankets to warm our fragile bodies.
Helicopter crashes and suicide bombings remind us of the real death that exists in our world; news coverage of the newly-dubbed "national emergency" of the H1N1 virus warns us and threatens us with the fragility of life and the fear of death. In our congregation, in our families, in our circles of friendship, we live with the daily realities of pain and disease - the uncertainty of surgeries and procedures, the dark cloud of cancer and terminal illness, the inevitable (yet no less painful) slowings-down and failings of human bodies advanced in age.
It's startling, really, to think about how close to the surface this stark knowledge of mortality and death resides. It is so simple to find examples of death in our daily lives. And if not death proper, all those things that feel like death: hunger, hopelessness, brokenness, fear, loneliness, depression, sin, and sorrow. And even as these images of life passing away flow so close to the surface, we yet cling to God's promise of life: that in the end of all the ages, death itself will pass away. Far from being the final world, death itself will perish.
Life - new life, God's life, God's new creation - will put death in its place. God will lift the shroud and wipe our tears away. These everyday things - the limited and fragile artifacts of our mortal existence - will crumble and fade, and God will go on to restore all things to life. We will be called out and unbound, freed and refreshed, enlivened by the Creator to live as new creations in a new world, where death no longer has any power.