Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sermon: Easter Vigil

12 April 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 20:1-18 (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)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

This is the one thousand nine hundred and eightieth consecutive year we Christians have observed the Festival of the Resurrection of our Lord. The world would have you believe that this is a celebration of some old myth. But it isn’t. It is a fact of history that since the year 30 AD, we have been doing this. And that first Easter changed the world forever.

Every few years politicians trot out the phrase “New World Order.” And they all make the same wild claims: a new age of world peace, of no strife, of no hunger, of no poverty, and a new golden age of mankind. In 1959, the United Nations was given a statue with the slogan “Let us beat swords into plowshares.” There are two remarkable things about this sculpture in New York City: first, it is a quote from the Word of God, from three prophets in fact: Isaiah, Joel, and Micah. Second, it was presented to the UN by the Soviet Union, a brutal atheistic regime that persecuted people for reading Scripture, a nation that is now in the dustbin of history.

In spite of the continued promises of world leaders and bureaucrats, wars continue to rage. Poverty and death still abound. Politicians are impotent to implement any new Garden of Eden. They can’t do it through Socialism. They can’t do it through Capitalism. But God can do it, is doing it, and will do it, the only way it could ever be done – by the undoing of the curse of sin.

The New World Order that every human ideology promises to deliver is found nowhere other than in the Garden of Eden. And they cannot bring it back – not with diplomats, not with missiles, not with money, and not with government. The answer is in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The solution sought by the United Nations lies in an empty tomb in Jerusalem.

But how can that be? In spite of the death and resurrection of Jesus, the world is still beset with problems. Indeed, this is true. We still wage war against the temptations of sin, the decay of death, and the lies of the devil. The nations continue to rage, and the love of many has waxed cold. And yet, the empty tomb shows us that death has not won. The problems that seem so insoluble, which everyone from politicians to rock stars claim to have the answer to, can only be fixed by God.

And they are being fixed on His schedule, according to His plan, and by His will.

It was God who created this world “in the beginning” by His divine creative breath. His Word said: “Let there be,” and there was. Not only that, it was all “good.” Not only “good,” but “very good.” That was the Old World Order that our ancestors traded away for the lie that they could be like God. When Adam and Eve fell into sin, that, dear friends, became the New World Order, an order of suffering, temptation, violence, death, and decay.

Things corrupted to the point where God condemned the entire world in a flood – except for eight righteous souls – Noah, his wife, their three sons, and their wives. And as much of a cleansing as this flood was, it did not restore the Old World Order. But it was a start.

When the children of Israel were led out of Egyptian slavery, the Lord again used water to drown the evil and deliver the blessed. The Lord swept the armies of Egypt into oblivion, allowing the children of Israel to walk across the sea “with unmoistened foot.” Again, this cleansing flood did not restore the Garden of Eden, but it did move us toward a New Testament between God and mankind.

The promise of the New Testament is indeed found in the Old, as we heard the testimony of the prophet Ezekiel: “I will take you from the nations…. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean…. I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.” For the promise of the restoration of Eden doesn’t begin with a government program, rather it begins within each person, in his heart, as he converts and as the Lord gives Him a new spirit. For God promises: “You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.”

Dear friends, that is the turning of swords into plowshares. That is the restoration of the Good World Order, of Eden, of Paradise, of the way we were meant to be, and shall be, according to the promise of God. That is the road-map to peace, true peace, peace between God and man, between Creator and creature.

For this is a gift, dear brothers and sisters. It is not the work of any group of people, no matter how well-intentioned. This “peace that passes all understanding” will not be accomplished by the Marine Corps, nor the Peace Corps, but rather by the Corpus Christi, the body of Christ! For that body died and has risen, and now sits at the right hand of the Father. That body will “come again with glory… whose kingdom will have no end.” And even as we await this promised consummation of the Perfect World Order, we have His risen body with us in the mystical communion of the Holy Supper He gave us.

The sepulcher is empty, but our altar is not. The body of Christ is not entombed in Jerusalem, because it is manifest all over the entire world. The Body of Christ is not only Holy Communion, but by virtue of that communion, also exists in the corpus of the Church.

All of this is because of the passion, death, and resurrection of our Lord. God made the promise to restore Eden, to defeat the devil, to roll back the ravages of death, and to once more make the world “very good.” That promise is unfolding before the very eyes of man, and it has been unfolding since 30 AD.

Mary Magdalene saw the empty tomb and the risen body of Christ with her own eyes. She spoke to Him. She touched Him. She brought the message to the apostles. The apostles themselves would later see Him, touch Him, hear Him, speak to Him, and be ordained to preach by Him. These witnesses gave their lives rather than renounce what they saw, heard, and touched.

And as St. Paul testifies: “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, than to the twelve.” This is the gospel, the good news by which St. Paul declares “you are being saved.”

Indeed, the world has been changed forever. Each passing Easter we find ourselves one year closer to the fullness of the kingdom and the restoration of our once and future Eden. And while we await the final coming of our Lord to make a new heaven and a new earth, we know how the story ends, just as it was proven at the tomb, and as we have believed, gathering at altars since the truly New World Order began one thousand nine hundred and seventy nine years ago.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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

No comments: