Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sermon: Easter Festival

12 April 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Mark 16:1-8 (Job 19:23-27, 1 Cor 15:51-57)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

An empty tomb. Think about it: a Man was placed inside on Friday, and on Sunday morning, the detachment of soldiers guarding the grave is lying comatose, the big stone sealing the tomb has been mysteriously rolled away, and an angel is saying that the dead Jesus is risen.

Is it any wonder the Marys are afraid? This was the last thing they expected to find that Sunday morning in April in the year 30 AD.

But their fear would soon give way to joy, as the Lord would not only appear to St. Mary Magdalene, but to St. Peter and all the apostles as well. The risen Jesus made one thing perfectly clear – he was not a ghost. He was not a disembodied spirit. He is the very flesh and blood Jesus, still bearing the holes made by the nails of His cross. He rose, not merely “living on” in spirit, not just in the hearts of those who remember him, not in the remembrance of His words and deeds. No, indeed, He rose: physically, bodily, and historically. For forty days, He was seen by many real historical people on numerous occasions. Contemporary historians recorded these events, but have no explanation for them.

But we do!

While unbelievers come up with increasingly ridiculous stories that the Romans botched Jesus’s execution; or that his disciples broke into the tomb and stole the body in order to create a new religion that they would all die for; or that Jesus recovered from crucifixion, got married, and became the grandfather of kings and founded secret societies – we see through all the absurdity to the simple truth – Jesus of Nazareth was, is, and ever shall be, a unique Person in history, the Son of God and the Son of Man, the One who died to pay for our sins, but also the one who defeated death by death and rose again.

Thousands of years before Christ, Job, the man who lost everything and who gained it all back – prophesied about the bodily resurrection. While all other religions of the world either teach that the body is discarded at death, or believe in reincarnation again and again, only Christianity teaches this message of hope: “After my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold and not another” – a hope vindicated by the empty tomb of Jesus.

The empty tomb is still there. Today, it is a Christian church. Your eyes can indeed behold it – even as you can visit the tombs of dead religious leaders and false messiahs by the thousand. Only their tombs are not empty.

Job’s hope in having his own flesh resurrected, keeping his own consciousness, being restored to perfect health after death, is rooted in the fact that God created His world good. Matter is good. Flesh is good. Creation is very good – according to Genesis. Our sinfulness, which corrupts God’s creation and introduced death, has made it necessary for that corrupted creation to be redeemed and made new. And this is what God has done. This is how Job could proclaim: “I know that my Redeemer lives.” Job “knows” – he does not merely imagine, hope, guess, or request it to be. Job has faith, faith given him by God, just as Job’s life and redemption came from God.

Unlike what many people – including many Christians – believe about their bodies, our Lord Jesus Christ proves that the resurrection is not a spiritual matter, but a flesh-and-blood reality. In the Apostles’ Creed we confess: “I believe in the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”

That’s why Jesus had a tomb. The Scriptures speak of resurrection. The pagan Greeks and Romans treated the bodies of their loved ones like garbage, and rejoiced that those bodies were no longer needed. The Jews, however, having prophets like Job who proclaimed the resurrection, buried bodies in tombs.

And Jesus’s tomb is the best kind of tomb of all – one with no-one in it. The tombs of all Christians will be filled, like our Lord’s was on Good Friday, but those same tombs will also become empty, like our Lord’s was on Easter Sunday. For that is what it means to confess a resurrection. That is why Christianity is unique among all the religions of the world.

You will not hear this historically-grounded message of hope except in Christian churches, dear friends: “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.”

And because of this perishable becoming imperishable, this is how Christians can rejoice even at funerals of loved ones, for we can indeed shout: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

We mourn the loss of our loved ones, to be sure. Not because we believe they are gone, but because they are temporarily separated from us. This is why St. Paul says that we grieve, but not like the unbelievers.

Dear friends, do you want to be unafraid of death? For that is really the only way to live, isn’t it? Do you want to be free from worry about your own death and of the deaths of your loved ones? Then keep the image of Christ before your eyes, keep the Words of Scripture in your ears, keep the sign of the cross over your hearts, and keep the body and blood of Christ on your lips.

This church, and churches like it all over the world, are the only places where you will behold with your own eyes life defeating death, joy overcoming grief, and hope destroying fear. For the Church is the bride of Christ, and where she is, there He is as well – protecting her, comforting her, dying for her, and rising again for her.

St. Paul tells us yet again that “the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

We are all sinners who deserve death. Indeed, death will come to all of us. But Jesus has risen, dear friends! He has risen, and He calls you to Himself, to hear His Word, to commune with Him, to be forgiven of your sins that lead to death – week in and week out. He invites you here every week, to strengthen you and your families, to unite you with your Christian brothers and sisters not only here, but around the world, in every time and place where the Gospel has been proclaimed and where the sting of death has been crushed like the head of the serpent by the heel of the Lord Jesus, who defeated him on the cross, and walked out of His own tomb to preach the victory to every mortal human being.

Dear redeemed brothers and sisters, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen.” He is not in the tomb, but is here in this sanctuary, physically present in His Word and in His body and blood. And because He has risen for us, we can sing with Job, with Mary Magdalene, with Peter and with all the saints, with angels and archangels and with all the hosts of heaven: “I know that my Redeemer lives!” world without end. 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.

1 comment:

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