Sunday, April 05, 2015

Sermon: Easter – 2015

5 April 2015

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!

In her autobiography, the great Christian philosopher Alice von Hildebrand recalls one of her very earliest memories.  When she was about three years old, she saw a nest that contained a dead baby bird.  And even as a little girl, it shocked and horrified her.  She ran to her mother for comfort.  Even today, as a woman in her nineties, that image remains etched in her mind.
Most of us experience death in some way while still children.  It might be the death of a pet, or the passing away of a grandparent.  For some children, the experience is one that affects one or both parents as a result of violence, maybe a home invasion, a natural disaster, or an act of war.

One way or another, we are all confronted with the horrible reality of death.  To those who believe the universe is spontaneous and without design or purpose, death appears to be final, and life appears to be only temporary. 

But, dear brothers and sisters, because of Easter and the Lord’s revelation to us as God, as the Word Made Flesh who dwelt among us, because of His resurrection from the dead, we know the very opposite to be true: death is only temporary, and life is final.

St. Paul describes it as a “mystery.”  He describes death as “sleep.”  He likens our own future resurrection to being awakened by a trumpet.  He describes what happens in a way that seems rather understated, as a “change.”  “For this perishable body,” says the holy apostle, “must put on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality.”  And when this happens, dear friends, this will be the complete undoing of the fall in Eden, for the saying quoted by Paul will be reality:

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

Indeed, thanks to our Lord’s death on the cross that defeated death, and thanks to His resurrection from the tomb, which  drove the final nail in death’s coffin, we understand death as temporary.  It is very much like the schoolyard bully who terrorizes the other children.  He does so because he is bigger and stronger, and because he is ruthless and lacks compassion.  But all it takes to stop the bullying is for one courageous child to stand up, to look the bully in the eye, and say, “Never again!”  And when he punches the bully in the nose, the bully is seen for what he truly is, a coward, a paper tiger, “all show and no go.”  And once this happens, all of the children are liberated by the champion.

Jesus is our champion, dear friends.  After millennia of being terrorized by sin, death, and the devil, our Lord looked all three of these menaces in the eye, said, “Never again!” He knocked them out for all time.  And we Christians repeat the words of St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians: “O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?”  Death is the schoolyard bully who has been beaten down.  Death is a temporary annoyance in the life of the Christian.  This, dear friends, is the meaning of Easter.  Death has indeed been swallowed up in victory, Christ’s victory, and it is our victory!

To be sure, we still live in this fallen world, as we await our Lord’s return, as we await the resurrection, as we await the new heaven and the new earth.  We will die, and we will still experience the death of our loved ones.  And we will mourn their loss, for love hates separation.  But know this, dear brothers and sisters, as painful as death is, it has lost its ultimate sting.  For in the grand scheme of things, from the perspective of eternity, death is a temporary annoyance, much like a runny nose.  It is uncomfortable, but it goes away.  It is life that abides forever, and it is a gift of God in Christ Jesus.

Even Job, who experienced suffering of extraordinary proportions, and yet who clung to the Word and promise of God, looked forward to that time when death is swallowed up in victory.  It was Job himself who wrote the stirring confession that is the church’s song: “I know that my Redeemer lives.”  Job confessed: “at the last He will stand on the earth.”  Job understood that this was not hyperbole or myth or some kind of spiritual experience, but a flesh and blood reality, saying, “in my flesh I shall see God… and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”

Indeed, this is what St. Paul wrote about: “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality.”

This, dear friends, is why we Christians make such a fuss at Easter.  This is not a holiday, but rather The Holy Day.  This is not a day off work, but rather, it is the day of liberation from death!  It’s not just a glorious day, it is the Lord’s Day.  It is eternity itself!

For we call to mind that Jesus not only shed His blood on the cross as atonement, as the “one all-availing sacrifice” for the forgiveness of our sins, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life, but we also confess that He proved the point by rising from the dead.  He perplexed the Jews and the Romans. He gave His followers the Holy Spirit. And by their preaching, they conquered the Roman Empire and proclaimed the Good News in all the world.  

It is truly good news that we preach, dear friends, that our Lord has given us new life in the forgiveness of sins, and in the promise of the resurrection.  He has given you this free gift wrapped in baptism and tied up in the bow of His very body and blood.  He continues to appear to us bodily in the Holy Sacrament, even as He appeared to the Marys, to the apostles, and to hundreds of people before His ascension.  

For on that first Easter Sunday, “very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.”  The Marys found the immovable stone moved.  And to help them make sense of this perplexing sight, an angel sat where the body of Jesus had lain.  “Do not be alarmed.  You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He has risen; He is not here.  See the place where they laid Him.”

And indeed they saw, these first two witnesses of the resurrection, these women who were chosen to deliver the Good News to the apostles, even though the law discounted their testimony.  But all testimony is worthy if it is true.  And the Marys told the apostles what they saw and heard.  Moreover, the apostles themselves were also to see and hear and touch the risen Lord, and be sent by Him to preach to the world.

Those first preachers of the Gospel spread the news from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.  The disciples of Jesus changed the world by proclaiming His Word, and by preaching the good news that the bully of death has been beaten down, that Satan has been defanged, that sin has been atoned for, and that in Christ, we have everlasting life, by grace, through faith, and by means of the Word of God.

That childhood encounter with the ugliness of death impelled little Alice to ask questions and to listen to the revealed truth of God’s Word.  For like the Marys, Alice became a witness of the Truth, of the Risen Lord, and of all the gifts He lavishes upon those with open, humble, and contrite hearts who embrace the good news of Easter in communion with the Lord and His holy church.

As a follower of Christ and a confessor of the Gospel, Dr. Alice von Hildebrand wrote: “One thing is certain: When the time has come, nothing which is man-made will subsist. One day, all human accomplishments will be reduced to a pile of ashes. But every single child to whom a woman has given birth will live forever, for he has been given an immortal soul made to God's image and likeness.”

Indeed, dear friends, “Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Amen!

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Hison 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. 

No comments: