Sunday, April 04, 2010

Sermon: Easter Vigil

4 April 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 20:1-18 (Gen 1:1-2:2; Gen 7:1-5, 11-18; Gen 8:6-18; Gen 9:8-13; Ex 14:10-51:1, Ezek 36:24-28; 1 Cor 15:1-11)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

If you look at a very large clock, you can see the minute hand moving. It is slow, and you have to watch carefully, but you can actually see its determined and steady motion down from the twelve and up from the six. But the hour hand seems to be motionless.

We know it is moving. Our mind understands this very well. But our eyes cannot perceive its motion.

All of us creatures of the Creator on this side of the grave live in time. Our history is continually unfolding. The seconds go by obvious to us, and even days and years, but centuries and millennia seem not to move. We don’t even notice the long changes of history – except maybe when the numbers change in just the right way.

We mark our years according to how long Jesus has been in the flesh, according to how long in human history it has been since God took the form of a man. For history has never been the same – though from our perspective, maybe it doesn’t seem that all that much has changed.

We still live trapped in a mortal body that aches and ages, that gets sick and betrays us, that is tempted to sin and lives and moves in the midst of a violent and hateful world. Even though it has been nearly two millennia since the coming of Jesus, it seems that little has changed in our fallen world. We watch the hour hand, and it seems stuck.

But this is only from our small perspective, dear friends.

Holy Scripture lays out the overview of history. We have taken in a sweep of it this morning. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Everything was good, everything was perfect, everything was made to last. We lived in time but without death. Time was truly on our side. In fact, the weekly marker of time included a day of rest to enjoy creation – which ran like a perfectly calibrated clock.

But we rebelled against this perfect order. Our shared human history took a disastrous turn. We yielded to temptation and sin. We broke communion with God. We believed the lies of the devil. We invited death into our history.

We destroyed the creation to the point where the only redeemable part of humanity was a single historical family. Noah and his seven relatives were preserved from sin and death by an ark, by God’s protection, and by cleansing water that destroyed the evil around them. The God of history gave us a chance to start over – though not without sin.

God chose the children of Abraham to lead history into a new era, one of redemption. And God raised up a son of Abraham, Moses by name, to once again lead the new creation through water to freedom and new birth, to a land of promise, to a fullness of time.

God promised Ezekiel that He would turn back the clock on sin and death, while moving the clock forward to a new and greater age. Eventually, the clocks will all be useless, as time slips into an eternal new era: “I will cleanse you” God promises, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you…. You shall be My people, and I will be your God.”

Our God who created the universe in six days, our God who caused a historic worldwide flood to happen in real time, our God who called Abraham and Moses to lead a people over thousands of years of history, takes on human flesh, breaks into a real time and real place, joins fallen man in our mutual wretchedness, suffering even death itself – the consequence of all human history – and did something remarkable and unique: He rose bodily and physically, literally and historically – from the grave!

It may appear to us that the hour hand does not move, but on the night when Jesus was raised from the dead, mankind was brought into eternity. Now we are in the last days, and time is counting down instead of up. With each passing day, week, month, year, decade, century, and millennium, we are closer and closer to our own resurrection from the dead, and a life once more in paradise, without sin, sickness, death, and the devil.

Jesus died on the cross as a sacrifice to pay for our sins, to pay back the wages we deserve, to redeem us by a divine ransom, and to sanctify our flesh by taking our flesh. All of this was accomplished on Good Friday, 30 AD. And yet, God was not done acting in human history. On the third day, on the first Easter vigil, in the middle of the still night that stands as the border between the Past and Eternity, the crossroads between death and life, the passing away of the temporally old and the ushering in of the eternally new, our Lord came back to life. His flesh was reanimated with a blast of creative divine energy. He rose again and turned history upside down. And contrary to appearances, nothing has ever been the same.

The days of mourning and slavery are over. “Woman, why are you weeping?” the risen Jesus asks Mary Magdalene. Mankind’s long and desolate history of imprisonment to sin and captivity to the devil are now over. The frightfulness of the tomb is a thing of the past and of the passing away. For Jesus called her by name: “Mary.” And he sent her to tell the Good News.

The risen Lord also appeared to the disciples, ordaining them as apostolic ministers and preachers of the Good News, commanding them to make disciples by baptizing and teaching. And through them, He continues to ask a sin-laden and death-weary world: “Why are you weeping?” Jesus continues to use ministers of the apostolic Church to call us by name, baptizing us in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, baptizing and teaching, proclaiming the Good News, and wiping away tears from every eye.

And in these last days, the Lord offers His grace to all men, bidding them to come, to be baptized, to hear the Good News, to have their sins forgiven, to eat and drink His body and blood and to join His conquest of death. And yet, the hour hand yet looks still. We are waiting for the fullness of time when the Risen Lord will indeed return, consummating a new heaven and a new earth in eternity. We still live in an imperfect and sinful body in a fallen and mortal world – and yet we have the promise, the down-payment of the treasure yet to come at the end of time.

We Christians will indeed follow our Lord in walking out of our own tombs.

We confess with St. Paul to a world looking for hope: “I delivered to you 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.”

The fact of Jesus’s resurrection changes history forever. By His rising from the dead and conquering of the devil, Jesus turns us poor miserable sinners into saints. He liberates us from the bondage to sin. He opens up our own tombs. He calls us by name, He bids us to cease our mourning, and He invites us to the feast that will have no end.

In light of the resurrection, how fast or how slow the hands on a clock move make no difference. For we have better hands to look to, the nail-pierced hands of the Word of God made flesh, hands that knew death and hands that defeated the enemy. And now those resurrected hands are raised to the Father in prayer for you, dear brothers and sisters, holy hands raised in blessing and benediction upon you, now in time, and even for eternity.

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: