Sunday, March 30, 2008

Sermon: Quasimodo Geniti (Easter 2)

30 March 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: John 20:19-31 (Ezek 37:1-14, 1 John 5:4-10)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

The ancient Christian document known as the Didache speaks of the Christian life in terms of two ways or roads: One of life, and the other of death. People today really resist such simple talk of only two paths that lead in only two directions – preferring to speak of many paths that all lead to the same place.

But there is great wisdom in the early church fathers. For even the mightiest computer only works because there is a difference between a zero and a one, because a switch can either be on or off. Even the data encoded in your MP3s and DVDs are all comprised of digitized zeroes and ones.

Similarly, we are either alive or dead. We are either in the church or out of it. We are either redeemed by Christ or not. There is no middle ground. There really are two roads, and only two roads. And they lead to opposing places.

We fallen sinners can’t seem to help ourselves. We make stupid choices. Left to ourselves, we head on down the road of death, knowing full well that our sins condemn us, that this path leads to misery and pain, and at the end of the road is an open grave. But we choose this road anyway.

We would all gladly jog along the broad road that leads to destruction were it not for our Lord Jesus Christ choosing the road of life for us. He trod the road of death in order to defeat death. And His resurrection is the path of life.

Life, victory, communion with God, peace, love, and joy are found on the trail blazed by our Lord Jesus Christ. Death, defeat, separation from God, disharmony, hatred, and distressed are found on the choice made by Adam and Eve at the behest of Satan.

The prophet Ezekiel stood at the intersection of these two roads when he watched dead, dry bones act utterly contrary to their nature and connect themselves into ordered beings. He further watched life triumph over the grave as the Spirit, the breath of life was breathed into these bones. He was told by God to preach this vision of life to his listeners, and that through this preaching, God’s people would find their graves opened, and they would suddenly be bumped from the road of death to the road of life.

We who are “by nature sinful and unclean” have been likewise brought to life by the Holy Spirit, breathed on us through preaching and sacraments. We have been plucked from the way of death and safely returned to the way of life from which we wandered.

What Ezekiel saw was a preview of a Greater Resurrection, the one we proclaim and celebrate this Easter season.

For the disciples had seen Jesus dead. They placed his corpse in the tomb. They even brought embalming supplies to the grave, thinking that the body of Jesus would decay and rot like the bodies of sinners. But Jesus was not to remain on the road of death. He twisted that highway like a cloverleaf and inserted an exit. “I am the way and the truth and the life” He proclaimed. And he backed up His preaching by rising from the dead. And suddenly, the way of life was open to fellow travelers with our Lord.

The fearful disciples were huddling like “dead men walking.” They thought death had won, that the road that leads to life was nowhere to be found. But something happened on the “first day of the week,” that is, a Sunday, the Lord’s Day. The Lord Himself appeared physically and stood in the midst of his deathly-frightened disciples. “Peace be with you” He blessed them, as he offered proofs of His triumph over death and the grave: His holy wounds, His leftover mortal scars, the physical vestiges of the holes where His lifeblood was drained unto death.

“Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” One has to wonder if John is almost comically understating the exhilarating joy of the Eleven. For consider that their friend, their master, their Messiah who died, has now risen. And think of what this means for all of us who walk the way of death! We are liberated. We are put on a new road, a road of life that has no end.

And how does our Lord do this? He breathes on them, just as God breathed life into the dry bones in the valley. Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit and the authority to forgive sins into his ministers. Just as Ezekiel was authorized to proclaim God’s Word for the purpose of freeing travelers from the way of death, bringing them once more to the way of life – so now are these New Testament preachers given authority, and the command, to breathe life and forgiveness into the dry bones of sinners.

By the grace of God, St. Thomas missed the first appearance of our Lord. And his reluctance to believe is of great comfort to us. For even Thomas, one of the Eleven, was not immune to doubts, not exempt from the weariness that treading along the path of death brings. Heartbroken Thomas would not believe unless he received sacramental evidence, the physical touch of our Lord’s risen, glorious body – in such a way that Thomas would come into fleshly contact with the body and blood of the once-dead Lord Jesus Christ.

Thanks be to God that our Lord is patient with Doubting Thomas! He appears to Thomas and presents His holy wounds, “those dear tokens of His passion.” And along with millions of Christians throughout the centuries who prayed Thomas’s prayer as the pastor elevates the consecrated host at the Eucharistic celebration, Thomas prays, praises, and confesses: “My Lord and my God!”

No-one but God alone can bring life from death. No-one but Jesus has ever walked out of His own grave under His own power after having been dead. No-one other than the Triune God creates us, saves us, and makes us holy through the Holy Spirit’s breath upon our dry bones.

For as our Lord’s Beloved Apostle, the same Apostle whose testimony about Thomas has been given to us under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, teaches us in our epistle lesson: “whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.” This verse is inscribed over the door of our church to be read as you walk out to the road that leads to your home.

Jesus has placed us, by faith, onto the road of life. His victory over death isn’t just a check mark in the win column, it is the ultimate victory of life over death.

For He has overcome by water and blood – which poured from those same wounds touched by Thomas, water which pours over our heads at baptism and blood which pours into our mouths in the Holy Supper. And the Spirit, the live-giving breath of God, bears witness.

The Father, the Word, and the Spirit bear witness in heaven. And yet this is not enough for Thomas, or for us. In His mercy, God gives us earthly witnesses, fleshly manifestations of the Triune God in space and in time, coming to us as we traipse across death’s road. For as we march toward death, God bears witness on earth, in the form of the Spirit, the water, and the blood. God’s physical manifestation in our midst not only allows us to join Thomas by saying: “My Lord and my God,” but also brings us to the way of life, carried along with our Lord unto an eternal resurrection of the body.

Easter is about our Lord’s conquest of life over death, of a physical, historical, literal resurrection from the dead as well as a physical, historical, and literal resurrection for us who believe the witness of Thomas, of Ezekiel, of our Lord and the apostles; of the Spirit, the water, and the blood. “For there are three that bear witness in heaven.” “My Lord and my God.” Life brought forth from dry bones.

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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