8 April 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Mark 16:1-8 (Gen 1:1-2:2; 7:1-5, 11-18; 8:6-18; 9:8-13; Ex 14:10-15:1; Ezek 36:24-28; 1 Cor 15:1-11)
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Today is a matter of life and death. Your presence here in this place is God’s will. He has brought you here to give you the most important gift you will ever receive: life.
The two most solemn, and yet most joyful, feasts of the Christian Church are Christmas and Easter. Both of these ancient commemorations are matters of life and death. For on Christmas, we celebrate the gift of the birth of God in the flesh. Birth is always a wondrous, even miraculous event. The birth of our Blessed Lord, the incarnation, the enfleshment of God as one of us, limited by space and time, surrounded by sinners, subject to pain, and even submitting to death – that most unique birth of all - is one of the two greatest triumphs of life over death, of good over evil, in all of history.
And of course, we celebrate the second of these two today, Easter Sunday, the festival of that same enfleshed God, whose life was taken violently by all of us poor miserable sinners, but who rose again from death to life.
In a way, Jesus has been born twice. Once from the womb, and again from the tomb. Though just as physical and fleshly as his birth from Mary, this second birth is a birth to immortality – to a literal, physical eternal life.
And we, dear Christians, are likewise born twice. Once, in the flesh, mortal and sinful, being conceived in guilt and subject to pain and death. But we are also born a second time, born again by water and the Spirit. This second birth, this spiritual birth, this birth into the Kingdom of God is what we celebrate this Easter Sunday.
This is why the Mother that gave us this second birth, the Christian Church, has for centuries celebrated and commemorated baptisms on this Holy Vigil of the Festival of the Resurrection of our Blessed Lord. Easter and Baptism are one and the same.
For Jesus was born a second time, in His bodily resurrection, in order that we too might be born again, just as we too will be bodily resurrected.
When God created the universe, with His Spirit hovering over the waters, He created everything and declared it all “good.” “Very good,” in fact. All creation was good, perfect, and holy – including human flesh.
But thanks to our rebellion and rejection of His will, our flesh became corrupt. It began to shrivel and age. It became subject to suffering and death. Our sins multiplied and became so great that the waters over which the Holy Spirit brooded became a cleansing agent, wiping out sinful men from the face of the earth – except Noah and His family.
Creation was, in a very real physical way, born again.
And even as the Children of Israel, the chosen people from whose loins the Christ would come to give the second birth, found themselves facing extinction at the hands of a wicked Pharaoh, those same spiritual waters gave the Israelites a fresh start, a rebirth as a nation.
The Old Testament people of God were, in a very real physical way, born again.
The prophet Ezekiel also looks forward to the coming Messiah, promising that the Lord God would sprinkle water on his mortal, dying people, and they would be cleansed. They are to receive new life through a new heart. And this new life comes with a new spirit – and yet this new heart is also “a heart of flesh.”
And on that first Easter, the Messiah, the New Adam, the New Moses, the Prophet of all prophets, the Giver of the second birth into whose name all Christians are baptized, walked out of His own grave, alive, demonstrating His mastery over creation, over death, and over Satan.
This morning, we have all borne witness to two births. Heather and Samantha have been born a second time, by water and the Spirit, walking away from death to life. These two daughters of Israel, by the holy water prophesied by Ezekiel combined with the same Word and Spirit proclaimed by the prophet, have received the gifts of new hearts, of the Spirit of God, and of everlasting life.
Their holy baptisms are the fulfillment of thousands of years of their ancestors’ participation in the covenant of the blood of the Lamb. For as their forefathers had the blood of the sacrifices sprinkled on them by priestly hands, they have now been covered by the blood of the once-for-all sacrifice of the priestly Lamb that the Lord Himself supplied.
These two daughters of Abraham have, in a very real physical way, been born again.
Of course, no two births are exactly the same. In our Epistle lesson, St. Paul calls himself “one born out of due time.” St. Paul, a pious Jew, came to faith by a special revelation from Jesus Himself – and Paul’s baptism sealed that conversion and rebirth.
Most Christians are born again shortly after their first birth. But some are “born out of due time,” being converted to the faith through the Word of God, through the preaching of the Gospel, through the miraculous forgiving work of the same Spirit that brooded over the waters and preserved Israel from all of her troubles. Some come to faith and are baptized as older children, while others are born anew in the waters as adults.
The result is the same. Rebirth. New life. Forgiveness of sins. A reclaiming of the goodness of creation. A Christ-won conquest over death. Baptism gives us a historic reality to which we can cling when doubts arise and Satan accuses. Whether we have the privilege of being able to remember our baptisms or not, we can all call them to mind as we make the sign of the cross.
For new Christians are not made, they are born. Born of water and the Spirit. Born of the will of God that all men receive life and salvation. Born of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, and born of His walk from the tomb.
This is why Christians take Easter so personally. For we are born again by name at the font. We are baptized in the name of the Triune God. We are given the name “Christian” at this birth. Having been baptized into the death of Jesus, being crucified with Christ, we rise with Him to a life that will never end.
Most people around the world mark their calendars to commemorate the date of their birth. We give gifts on this date to celebrate the gift of life. We eat a feast in honor of the person who has done nothing more than draw breath for another year. We celebrate life with joy, and even giddy silliness.
And we Christians also mark time. The Christian has several birthdays in time – even as we exist outside of time, in eternity. We too celebrate the day in which we passed from our mother’s womb to draw our own breath. And we also commemorate the date in which we are born anew of God our Father and the Church our Mother – the date of our holy baptism. And when we die in this flesh, we mark that date as a Christian’s spiritual birthday, enjoying paradise in expectation of the resurrection of the body. And finally, the Christian Church acknowledges another birthday – one that changes every year according to the phases of the moon that the Lord Himself set into motion in the heavens. That birthday, dear friends, is today. The day of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Firstborn of the dead, and the Giver of life.
On this day, we Christians celebrate the rebirth of our Lord’s body, having passed from the tomb, to give us breath. We celebrate with gifts – gifts which are given to us: reconciliation with the Father, forgiveness through the Son, and newness of life by the Holy Spirit. We eat a feast – the greatest banquet of all – the Body of the Passover Lamb and the Blood of the New Covenant.
Today is indeed a matter of life and death. His death has given you life. His resurrection has given you hope. His baptism has washed you clean and made you a Son of God. His Supper has brought you forgiveness, life, and salvation, enfleshed in the very creation He has pronounced “good.” “Very good,” in fact.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.