Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sermon: Easter – 2011

23 April 2011 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!

“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

The reason St. Paul can taunt death with these words is because of our Lord’s victory over death and the grave on that Easter morning that Christians around the world remember joyfully on this great and glorious day. But make no mistake – the Lord was the victor on Good Friday, at the cross. For in dying, He defeated death and outwitted the craftiest of all God’s creatures – the devil. This was clear from His victory cry from the cross just before He surrendered His Spirit: “It is finished!” This is a curious thing for a man dying by execution for a supposed crime to say: a military term for “Mission accomplished!” Even though the world saw the image of a humiliated man being conquered by death, what really happened is that the exalted God defeated the death intended for us men by dying Himself as a Man. Even the centurion at the foot of the cross recognized the Lord’s victory when he realized that what Jesus accomplished was in fact a classic ambush.

Jesus defeated both sin and the death at the cross. For “behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.”

In response to these clear signs of divine intervention, the centurion, himself a military officer, declared: “Truly this was the Son of God.”

Death itself was to be routed. The “saints who had fallen asleep” walking around Jerusalem were the preview of the resurrection to come. But the real declaration of victory came in Jesus’ own rising from the dead. For in His Easter resurrection, our Lord swept away the final enemy of mankind, one that seemed so immune from defeat.

Death is our common ancient and most cruel enemy. It nips at our heels our whole lives long. It eventually catches up with everyone, people of every tribe and tongue, rich and poor, believers and unbelievers alike. Death is the wages of sin, and indeed, “the sting of death is sin.” Dear friends, one way or another, our lives will end in this world. It is very likely that a preacher somewhere in this fallen world and at some point in time will recite this very passage of Scripture as your body lies in a casket: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

And the reason Christian preachers of the Word and Christian hearers of the Word can join St. Paul in his taunt of death – even at the sad time of a funeral – is the same reason St. Paul invites us to offer thanks to God: “who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”


This is what the centurion recognized when he confessed the Crucified One to be the Son of God. This is what St. Paul reveals to us, that which was revealed to him. For it is indeed a mystery: “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.” For “the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.” And it is “when the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.”


Dear friends, Easter is about victory: our Risen Lord’s triumph over sin, death and the devil, His victory over the grave and guilt, His conquest over everything that impedes full communion between sinful men and the righteous God. Jesus has defeated them all, and moreover, He hands this victory over to us as a free gift, giving us a full share in His victory through being baptized into His death and resurrection, being given the gift of faith that can look death in its cold and cruel eyes and reply with a taunt: “Where is your victory?”

In the resurrection of Jesus, the words of Job came to pass. Job: the man who suffered the most horrible things a person can experience in this life, all the while clinging, even if barely, against all hope and against all odds, to the promise that he has engraved forever in the inscribed and inspired Word of God: “I know that my Redeemer lives…. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.”

The cross is a victory for life over death, and it is also a victory for faith over unbelief. Job held on to the promise for dear life, and without seeing evidence for it, was able to confess and write the words: “I know….”

And we know as well, dear friends, because the tomb is empty! The Marys found the stone rolled away! The angels announced it! Jesus appeared to hundreds of people! The Church has borne witness and confessed this reality for two millennia! And we continue to sing with Job – whose faith was vindicated, whose life was restored, whose sins were forgiven, and who will indeed join us at our own resurrection: “I know that my Redeemer lives.”

And like the Marys, the Church continues to bear witness, to tell the truth, often with trembling, always with astonishment, at times even while afraid: the truth, the life-changing truth, the history-altering-truth, the death-defying truth, that Jesus has died for us sinners to give us His righteousness, and He has risen from the dead to give us life. His victory is our victory. And we join ourselves to Him, proclaiming His death in a holy communion with Him in His body and blood, until He comes, saying, singing, confessing, and proclaiming: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

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: