Sunday, April 04, 2010

Sermon: Easter Festival

4 April 2010 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!

“The sting of death is sin,” proclaims St. Paul, and the power of sin is the law.” Death stings us because it is unnatural. The empty chair is a grim reminder that we live in a world that has been corrupted by sin. And this corruption, this mortality, that which St. Paul calls “the perishable” is why death is so ugly and terrible.

In spite of all the world’s attempts to put a happy face on death, death is the ugliest thing in all the world. Death robs us of our loved ones: taking away from us their voice, their presence, their wisdom, their touch, and expressions of their love. It stings us because it separates us. And since death is the wages of sin, death will be required of all of us sinful men. We all, like Jesus, are headed to a tomb.

The disciples of Jesus knew this sting, this pain of separation – and it was intensified when their Lord was crucified, when His tortured and anguished body breathed one final breath, falling limp and lifeless, and placed into a cold, dark stone tomb. He was sealed inside with a large stone, so that they didn’t even know how they were going to anoint His body with spices according to Jewish custom.

The disciples felt the sting of death on that most awful of Friday evenings.

But there was to be no victory for death, as evidenced by the following Sunday morning. For indeed, it did begin to come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

For the Marys found an empty tomb. To their shock and their astonishment, they found death declawed and defanged. In fact, they found death utterly defeated by the One who died to destroy death, once and for all. Their lives would never be the same – and neither will ours, dear friends.

Instead of the lifeless body of Jesus, the Marys found a vibrant messenger with Good News: “He has risen. He is not here.” No greater words were ever uttered by man or angel – for with these words, all of the promises of God since the days of Eden were confirmed and vindicated, including the promise that the sting of death was to be no more, including the promise that our sins have been forgiven, including the promise that we have been given the gift of everlasting life, including the promise that we, like the Master we follow, will likewise leave behind an empty grave.

“O death where is your victory?”

The Marys took this Good News to the apostles, who in turn took this Good News to the ends of the earth: “He has risen.” Jesus, who died in our place, rose in anticipation of our own rising again. He who carried our sins to the cross and poured out His life in water and blood, now offers to the world life-giving baptismal water and death-destroying Eucharistic blood, given in tandem with the life-and-death proclamation of the Good News that death has truly lost its sting. He who laid down His life has taken it up again.

This is the message of Easter and this is the proclamation the Church has to give to a sinful, dying world: “Death is swallowed up in victory,” Christ’s victory on the cross and in the empty tomb.

And His victory is our victory!

This is how it is that we can join the Old Testament prophet Job in his own joyful confession of faith: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth.” Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, because He lives, we will also live. We likewise sing and confess with Job: “And 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.”

Our Lord’s resurrection is our resurrection. For His death paid the wages we have deserved. Death no longer holds sway over us. This is the Good News the angel gave the Church to proclaim. This is the Good News we hear again and again, week in and week out, comforting us, strengthening our faith, and fortifying us against the attacks and assaults of the devil.

For Satan wants us to fear death. Satan wants us to see death as final. Satan also wants us to embrace death and treat it as a beloved friend instead of a conquered foe.

This is why the words “He is risen” is utterly appalling to the forces of evil, to demons and devils, to those who love the darkness and hate the Church, and to those who despise the truth. And on this holiest of days, Christian churches all around the world ring out this truth in the face of a death-loving and hostile world that not only refuses to believe, but wants you not to believe as well.

But hear the words of the holy apostle anew:

“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.”

Like our Lord, we too will conquer death. We too will be imperishable. We too will stand upon the earth and see God with our own eyes.

We know that our Redeemer lives! Death is swallowed up in victory! “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” 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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