Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sermon: Easter 2014

20 April 2014

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!

There is a theme we see in the movies in which there is to be a wedding, and the bride or the groom is stood up at the altar.  Often such films are romantic comedies, even though when such things happen in real life, as they rarely, but sometimes do, they are a source of great pain and hurt to those left standing at the altar.

And so maybe we turn such darkness into comedy as a way of sort-of whistling in the graveyard.  It is a common human fear to be left alone, to be deserted by our loved ones, to be abandoned.  And so by making a bit of fun, maybe that is our way of dealing with our deepest, darkest fears.

But there is a fear that is even worse than abandonment: the fear of death.  For we can recover from all sorts of physical and psychological pain, but death is not something we can heal from and get up and just walk away from.

Or is it?

For the events of the first Easter morning are a comedy of a sort, a joyful turn of events that makes us cheer and sing for joy!  It is something that is even more out of place and remarkable than being left standing at the altar.  For at the first Easter, “very early on the first day of the week,” people came to a tomb to ceremonially anoint a body, a funeral service of sorts, but the guest of honor was not there.  He didn’t show up.  In the ultimate comedic twist in the plot, the one to be embalmed had gotten up and walked away from His own funeral.  He stood up His own funeral guests.  He left them standing at the grave.

Jesus has done more than whistle in the graveyard – He got up and went for a walk, exiting the tomb that was unable to contain Him.  He overcame man’s greatest fear and overpowered man’s greatest enemy.  The victorious Jesus openly mocked sin, death, and the devil by destroying them at the cross, and then by triumphing over them at the tomb, the very location that Satan hoped would become a monument to the power of evil.  Satan’s hopes are all in vain, dear friends.  Instead, the empty tomb is a monument of love, a real physical place where Christians visit every day, it is today a church where the risen Christ is proclaimed to the entire world, a holy altar where the guest of honor has caused the whole Church on earth and in heaven to join His feast of victory, saying with St. Paul:  “Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?” 

And though our Lord was abandoned by nearly everyone during the most horrific week in the life of anyone: being betrayed by Judas, being denied by Peter, being left standing by the other disciples – as well as being beaten, scourged, mocked, and crucified by the very people He came to save – He did not abandon us.  No, dear friends.  He died for us, He rose for us, He comes back to us to rescue us, and He forgives us.  He has promised never to forsake us.

“For I know that my Redeemer lives!”

And as part and parcel of dying to forgive us, and rising for our justification, He has also disarmed death, so that we shall “put on the imperishable” and “put on immortality.”  Jesus has taken away the sting by suffering the pain for us.  Jesus has taken away our guilt by bearing the punishment for us.  Jesus has taken away death by dying for us.  And He has done so out of love for us poor, miserable sinners who have been redeemed, though we most certainly do not deserve it.

That is the message of hope the Church has for the world.  It is a message of rebirth and restoration, of rejuvenation and renewal.  It is the triumph of peace over war, of life over death, of joy over sadness, and good over evil.  It is the victory given to us as a gift, and it has been signed, sealed, and delivered by the cross, received by baptism, and made our very own by faith. 

And maybe the world’s current fascination with stories of the walking dead, with zombies, and other comical depictions of death is just another way of whistling in the graveyard.  But the Church of the risen Lord Jesus Christ, especially on this day, celebrates the only one to truly walk out of His tomb by His own power, not as a grotesque dead man walking, but as a gloriously living man who is God, graciously forgiving sins and gloriously giving life.

And unlike the poor bride who has been stood up at the altar, the Church is the Bride of Christ, whose Bridegroom has instead stood up death at the tomb, who stands up and appears to the world arisen and glorified, and who promises that nothing shall ever separate Bride and Groom at His holy altar.  He will never leave nor abandon His people.  Death no more has dominion over Him, and death can frighten us no more.

And what’s more, He is here with His Bride at the altar week in and week out, in His Word, in the Gospel, in His body, and in His blood.  He continues to live not merely at the right hand of God in heaven, but wherever two or three are gathered in His name.  He lives not in some kind of figurative way of speaking, not in some kind of fuzzy spiritual way, and not as a warm memory in our hearts, but, dear brothers and sisters, He lives literally, in the flesh, gathering with us in a glorious and victorious bodily way in Holy Communion, in a way that confounds the devil and declares victory every time the Church gathers in His name.  “And He will come again to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.”

And like the story of a bride left standing at the altar causes us to cringe with awkwardness, so too does the Lord Jesus perplex His followers when He left behind an empty tomb.  “Do not be alarmed,” says the mysterious young man in the white robe.  “He has risen.”  Against all expectation, and in defiance of any script that anyone would ever write, the angel invites the stunned women to look around the empty tomb.  And then he gives them a job: “But go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee.  There you will see Him, just as He told you.”

The situation of being stood up at the funeral is awkward, joyful, frightening, and surreal for these women, these unlikely first messengers of the resurrection, who had come for a funeral, but who left with remarkable and world-changing good news to tell.  “Trembling and astonishment had seized them…. For they were afraid.”

But their shock was soon to yield to unspeakable happiness, and the awkwardness of being left at the tomb is to be replaced by the joy that has filled the Church with faith and hope for nearly twenty centuries.  The soon-to-be-apostles, who received word of this good news from the women, would themselves see the risen Lord many times, and would fan out around the known world, bearing witness to the resurrection, baptizing and preaching in His name and by His command, making disciples and spreading this good news that death is done for, that sin has been forgiven, that Satan has been conquered, and that the fallen world as we know it has been turned upside down by our Lord who has redeemed us.

“I know that my redeemer lives!”  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!


on the sickness of sinto the next - and d w liars and sons of the devil, tament, a bloodye people on In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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