Monday, April 25, 2011

Listen to the Angels at the Tomb

One of the Easter Sermons, Preached on the Resurrection of our Lord, Sunday, April 24, 2011.

Christ is Risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!  Alleluia!

    Four months ago we gathered here for the feast of the Nativity, commonly called Christmas.  We came to set aside all the competing voices that fight for our attention in order to hear again the voice of the angels: "Glory to God in the highest and peace to His people on earth."  Amid the hustle and bustle of our busy lives and with all the competing visions of Christmas, it was hard to single out the angels' voices.  One Christmas carol pointedly asks, “Do you hear what I hear?”  Four months to the day we are back here again for one of the biggest of the Church festivals, only to have me ask you again, “Have you heard the voice of the angels?”
    As we come here for the great feast of the Resurrection of our Lord, we admit our lives have not gotten any easier nor have the voices competing for our attention diminished in any way.  If anything, the clamor for our attention has only gotten worse.   We are torn by the various voices – whom do we hear?  It could be the call of the moment which invites us to forget eternity or the call to self which tells us to judge all things by our own reason and senses or it could be the call of the spiritual mediums of our age who fascinate us with spirit messages and beings.
    Today I call upon you to listen to the angels we heard speak in the Gospel lesson.  The voice of the angels points us beyond our fears, past our doubts, past the sins that condemn us, through the dark shadow of death, and directly to Jesus' resurrection – the key to our own resurrection and the freedom live this life without fear.  The resurrection is not merely an historical even but the pledge and promise of our own resurrection, of the end of sin's dominion over us, of our victory over death and the grave, and of a new way of living that is not dominated by fears, anxieties, upsets, and empty promises.  There are many voices competing for our attention but Christ’s is the only Word of truth that offers real hope.
    It is all in who you listen to...  Your mind and your reason will tell you today is about dreams -- not about something factual or real.  Reason tells that the dead do not come back to life, that the grave IS the end, that there is anything sure or real beyond what you can hold in your hand right now.
    Who among  us has ever seen somebody die, be laid in the tomb three days, and then rise again?  Reason tells you, okay, if it makes you feel better, well go ahead and dream – but dreams are not true.  It makes me feel better to think I am tall and thin but it doesn't make it so.  Reason says, it is a relatively harmless lie and if it helps you in some way, go ahead, believe it... just don't take it too seriously... don't forget it is just a dream... you can dream the dream --just don’t forget to live all you can live today and fill your earthly lives with as much living as you can.
    Your senses tell you they know what is real and what is not.  Your senses cry out for proof – like the folks from Missouri “Show me!"  Like Mary Magdalene at the tomb, we search for evidence, for secret wisdom, for real proof to answer the nagging doubts and fears that plague our lives.  At the very same time, we are fearful of believing in something we cannot see, recognize, and prove.  We have been disappointed too many times.  So some of us ask for proof that Easter’s promises are real.  I am convinced this is why we are so enamored of the accounts of people's near death experiences – the white light or shimmering images at the end of the darkness.  We want something there to hold on to, some proof that takes the risk out of believing.  Don't believe what you cannot prove – that is what our senses tell us.
    The spiritual gurus of our modern age tell you "it doesn't matter if it is true or not."  Faith is not about fact but about symbols or spirit worlds and spirit beings.  It does not matter if Jesus’ body were still there in the tomb – His spirit lives and that is what we hope for.  Death is a spiritual liberation from the burden of the material.  But we know death is real and what we want and need is not some spiritualized life but real life.  Too many have spiritualized Easter into a day long on words and short on facts – as if the idea of Jesus were better than the reality of Jesus.
    The angels at the tomb speak directly to our fears and address all the competing voices.  "Do not be afraid," they say.  They know how much of our lives are shaped by our fears – fears of living and fears of dying.  The angels speak to us the word that ends those fears. The angels tell us not to let your fears define you but to let the cross and empty tomb define You, to let the Lord of life and death shape who you are and how you see your life.
    The angels at the tomb spoke the Gospel:  "Jesus who was crucified is not here but he has risen just as he said."  The voice that we need to hear the one who speaks forgiveness to our guilty consciences and life to lives lived in death’s shadow.  Only Jesus is that voice.  Only Jesus has borne in His flesh all that debt our sins accrued.  Only Jesus has laid in the coldness of death and the grave and now lives – the Lord of life and of death. This is the Gospel – that Jesus suffered for our sins, died our death on the cross and rose from the dead and death has no more power over him.  If you want this life, the only word that speaks it is the word of Christ.
    The angels did not hide anything.  They did not push people from the grave but invited them to come and see.  Facts are not the enemies of our faith but our friends.  "Come and see...where he lay..."  Ours is not a fairy tale faith of "what if" or "what might be" but the "because faith" of witnesses who saw Him risen and the Christ who proved Himself truthful.  If Jesus did not rise, then we will not rise.  If we will not rise then reason, senses, and the spirituality guru's have it right – this life is all you have and then the grave will claim you.  If this is what you believe, then why are you here.  You better not waste any moment trying to cram all the living you can into these days.  But Christ offers you much, much more.  His is no spiritualized resurrection for a spiritualized Gospel but a real death and a real grave and a real life stronger than death and triumphant over the grave.  Only this Word offers hope to those still living in the shadow of death.
    Jesus death was real – as real as death can be – and worse than any death we might experience.  His death was real with sin and suffering, blood and agony, and brutal pain.  As real as was His death, so real is His resurrection and life.  Easter is not the fairy tale happily ever after ending to a tragic story but the God who tastes the bitter reality of our death so that we know the sweet gift of His life.  This is the Gospel.  This is what claimed us in our baptism.  This is what we confess.  Today we shut our ears to the competing voices, distractions, and doubts.
    Today we stand before our Lord, listen to the angels, to the living voice of His Word, to the testimony of those who saw Jesus risen... Listen to Mary Magdalene who melted when the Risen Jesus called her name.  Listen to Peter whose guilty heart was set free when he heard that Christ was no longer dead.  Listen to the voices of those who saw Him and touched Him – not a ghost or spirit but a glorious body that holds in it the hope of our own life over death, our own joyful resurrection, our own new bodies.   Listen and believe....   Believe and live...  Live and proclaim...  Your sins died with Him on the cross and Your hope is born by His resurrection from the dead – He is who He claims to be and had done what He promised.  The voice of this Gospel is the most sure and certain voice of all.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed.  Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Amen!

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