Monday, April 10, 2023

The sermon for Easter Sunrise, the Resurrection of Our Lord (A), preached on Sunday, April 9, 2023.

At first glance, Easter does not seem to have much in common with the parting of the Red Sea and the passing over of the Israelites from the land of their slavery to the land of their freedom.  But there is everything in common.  Easter is our Passover – the time of our own deliverance from all that would enslave us that we might enter into the perfect freedom which Christ alone can give.  It is certainly symbolic but it is more than symbol.  It is truth.

The Israelites were enslaved to an evil oppressor who refused to renounce his claim on them.  You and I and all people are enslaved to the cruelest enemies of all.  The devil has the enticing whisper that causes us to forget all that is true and fall for lies.  The world has the glittering allure of things that matter when they are but trivial and temporary.  Our own sinful hearts teach us to live in the prison of our feelings.  We are, like them, a people crying out to be set free.

Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early on Easter morning.  She was imprisoned to despair, thinking that her life was over with the death of the Lord Jesus.  She was imprisoned to what her eyes had seen in the cruel agony of His death upon the cross.  She cried out to be set free, hoping that the small consolation of caring for our Lord’s body would afford her some comfort in her tears.  We are, like Mary, a people crying out to be set free from the things that look so real but are passing away.

What Easter offers is not a diversion or a distraction.  This is not about the promise of Spring or time that moves on so we can forget our troubles.  Our Lord’s resurrection from the death is the true passing over where death is forced to surrender its claim on us, where sin can no more be the final word over us or the final verdict over our lost lives, and where the reality we see with these eyes must give way to the new and everlasting reality you see only by faith.

This Easter Eucharist in which we feast not upon symbolic foods but the flesh of the Lamb and the blood of the Lamb imparts to us the things hidden from this world and from our earthly vision.  Here in the communion of this bread and this cup we taste our Passover.  Here is the food that finally can deliver upon all the promises ever made.  Here is flesh to give life to our own bodies and lives lived in the shadow of death.  Here is blood to cleanse us once for all from sin.
When the Jews gathered in Passover just as they gather in Seder today, the always end with the statement “Today in Clarksville; next year in Jerusalem.”  Maybe we come with the same hope and expectation.  Next year we will surrender our tears and our fears to hope.  Next year we will lay down our sins before the cross and not take them back home to grieve us more.  Next year we will not surrender our hope to every trouble and trial and disappointment that comes our way.  Next year we will rejoice.

My friends, now is that next year.  We are already living on the other side of the Red Sea.  We are not living in the land of sorrow or slavery.  We are not living in the land of disappointment and despair.  We are not living in the land of death and darkness.  We are living in the light of Christ, the birth that shown forth from Bethlehem the hope that has been fulfilled.  We are living in the light of Christ, the sinless one who has come to wear our sin and claim its punishment.  We are living in the light of Christ, where death can no more seal our fate and where life cannot die anymore.  What Israel hoped for and Mary Magdalene longed to know is OUR hope, our life, and our joy.

The world around you can offer you nothing but a prison, nothing but slavery, and nothing but sorrow.  Once he saw Christ risen from the dead, the devil had to up his game.  The end was already in place so the only thing left in his arsenal of weapons is to lie, to cheat, to deceive us.  That is what we see around us now.  The world says the only truth that matters is the one you feel, that the only thing that matters is the moment, and that if you cannot see it with your eyes, it is not real.  Do not listen to the voice of yesterday.  You live in the future.  You are already Christ’s own, having gone down under the water in baptism and risen in Christ so that His life lives in you.  Today Christ called to Mary Magdalene to open her eyes of faith and see, to surrender the prison of her fears to His gift of liberty, and to exchange the tears of sorrow for the tears of real and eternal joy.  Our Lord calls to you and to me to do exactly the same thing.

Today is our Passover.  It is the day for us to rejoice that God has brought us through to the other side.  We have a hope that will not disappoint us, a life that death cannot steal from us, forgiveness for every one of our sins, righteousness to cover every evil, and peace that passes understanding.  While these gifts inform our feelings, they are not simply feelings.  We are not yet who we shall be, but we are not who we were.  That is the Passover we celebrate today.
It is too easy for us to forget where we have come from, and too tempting to focus on how far we have to go.  That is the dilemma of every Christian – especially on Easter Sunday.  I call you not to give into this temptation or to forget what God has made known to you.

Christ IS risen.  If God were only interested in improving your behavior, He would have left you in your prison.  Guilt, fear, and shame are mighty motivators to get you to do what you should.  But our God is concerned not simply with making you a better person.  He will settle for nothing less that your redemption – taking you from all that imprisons to the perfect freedom that is in Christ alone.

That is where we are.  We are in Christ, the crucified and risen Savior.  We are forgiven of all our sins by His blood.  We are relieved of ever fear of punishment or shame by His atoning death.  We are rescued from every dead end and detour this life can offer.  We are passed over and passed through to the promised land of forgiveness, life, and salvation.  Mary Magdalene is already there ahead of us and with her the mighty prophets and patriarchs who said this day was coming.  The apostles and evangelists, the martyrs and saints of every age are there ahead of us.  But we are not far from behind.  The new Jerusalem of heaven is on the horizon, the perfect freedom of Christ owns us body and soul, and nothing can separate us from all that Christ has prepared for us.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed.  Alleluia!

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