Monday, March 24, 2008

Sermon: Easter Festival

23 March 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Mark 16:1-8 (Job 19:23-27, 1 Cor 5:6-8)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

After his monumental struggle with abandonment, with tragedy, with pain, with being tormented by Satan, and with death, he remains faithful to God. This faithful one is Job. And though he isn’t Christ, we see a preview of our Lord Jesus Christ in Job. And it is revealed to him that the coming Christ will be a Redeemer: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth.”

Job’s prophecy is fulfilled on Easter morning, when Job’s Redeemer, when our Redeemer, when the Redeemer of all creation plants his blood-stained foot upon the dirt floor of the grave, pushes His once-lifeless body off of the stone-cold slab, and stands at last on the earth, the earth He called into being with His Word, the earth He redeemed by His blood, the earth He sanctified by His Spirit.

The Redeemer indeed stands at last on the earth. He walks victoriously out of His own tomb, and awaits the coming of His faithful followers to lovingly tend to the body they still believe is dead.

It was “very early in the morning, on the first day of the week,” writes the holy evangelist, “when the Sabbath was past.” The Marys have come to the tomb – out of devotion to their Lord, out of love for their friend, out of duty to their obligations to the community. Even in their sadness, they know what they must do. Even with their hopes crushed, like Job centuries before them, they still cling to hope against all hope. They still know what they are bound to do. And so they make the sad journey to the dark, cold grave. There, they expect to find a corpse. Instead, they find an angel.

“Do not be alarmed,” this holy messenger tells them. “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him.”

And notice the angel is not merely giving information. He is preaching. He is telling them not to be alarmed. He is giving them pastoral care. Notice he tells them that they are seeking Jesus “who was crucified.” As St. Paul identifies true Christian preaching: “We preach Christ crucified” – and this is what the holy angel is doing. He then preaches to the women to, in turn, confess the truth of what they have seen and the preaching they have heard, and bear witness to the Eleven. For these apostles will, like the angel, preach Christ crucified and risen, unto the salvation of the world.

For now, everything has changed. Jesus has conquered death by death, and He has risen in victory over the grave and the devil. In the blink of an eye, death became a paper tiger, and the faith of our Lord’s earliest disciples has been vindicated. The unbelieving world has been thrown into confusion, and the demons now have an eternity to howl and mourn. Every moment of our lives ought to be defined by this Easter reality. Everything else pales in comparison.

It is precisely because Jesus has risen that Paul preaches: “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” For we have the truth. We have the risen Christ. We have been baptized into His death, and we shall be resurrected in the flesh like Him unto eternal life – all as a free gift of the Crucified One. Everything has changed. We have been remade and reborn. Since the tomb could not hold the flesh of Jesus, the grave has lost its power, death has lost its sting, and our bodies are exalted into holy temples, eternal vessels of the glory of God. And so, how can we coexist with evil any longer? How can we tolerate and excuse wickedness within ourselves as a result of this first Easter? How can we abide false doctrine and scandalous living?

“Therefore purge out the old leaven,” says St. Paul, “that you may be a new lump…. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.” St. Paul is preaching Christ crucified just as the angel was. And he continues: “Therefore, let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”

The Old Adam was placed into the tomb with our Lord, even as our sins were crucified with Him. We keep the feast by repentance. How can we celebrate the joy of the Easter feast if we cling to “malice and wickedness?” How can we glory in the risen Lord when we glory in petty infighting, holding of grudges, gossip, and jealousy? Our Lord Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, dear brothers and sisters, so what does anything else matter?

This call to repentance is part and parcel of our Lord’s resurrection as well as the angelic and apostolic preaching of Christ, “who was crucified” and who “is risen.”

We know that our Redeemer lives. The Angel told us so. The Marys witnessed it. The Apostles preached it. The Scriptures proclaim it. The Church has confessed it since 30 AD. And we believe it 1,978 Easters later.

And that belief, that faith isn’t merely the acknowledgment of past history. The fact that the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is a historical fact, that it happened at a specific time and place, was witness, recorded, and discussed by contemporary historians, is useless to us if that is all that it is.

For the tomb is still empty, and we are still called to repentance. Our altar, however, is not empty, and we are still called to receive His holy gifts.

And notice how Job takes the historical reality and draws a spiritual conclusion: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another, how my heart yearns within me.”

The resurrection of Jesus is a pointer to Job’s resurrection to come. Just as Jesus was raised in the flesh, Job confesses that he too will be raised incorruptible. His flesh and bones will be renewed, he will stand on his feet, and his eyes, once closed in death, will open to gaze upon the very face of God – the merciful face of His Redeemer, the Almighty face of Him who was crucified, and yet lives.

This “resurrection of the body and the life everlasting” is what it means to be redeemed, to be bought back, ransomed from the devil, reeled in from the clutches of death, and rescued from the pit of hell. And to be redeemed, we must have a Redeemer. Which is how it is we can join our song with Holy St. Job:

I know that my Redeemer lives;
What comfort this sweet sentence gives!
He lives, He lives who once was dead;
He lives my ever-living head.

He lives, all glory to His name!
He lives, my Jesus, still the same.
Oh, the sweet joy this sentence gives;
I know that my Redeemer lives. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

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