Monday, April 1, 2024

Are we listening?

Sermon for the Festival Divine Service on the Resurrection of Our Lord, Easter Sunday, preached on Sunday, March 31, 2024.

Death has become ordinary to us.  It is so ordinary, that we have reconciled ourselves to dying so well we are not sure we need or want anything more.  Death has become normal even routine!  Thus the world has decided that the best way to deal with it is to make your peace with it and go on with your life.  This is not a perspective peculiar to us or to our times.  It has been the default perspective of humanity for a very long time.

Consider that when Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome got up on that first Easter morning, their first concern was not life but death.  They had to go and finish the rushed job of preparing Jesus’ body more as a way of dealing with and accepting His death than for anything else.  They went to the tomb expecting to find the grave in tact and a body there waiting for their sympathetic ministrations of spices and linen cloths.

But here is the rub.  Jesus had told them on multiple occasions that He was going to die but He was also going to rise again on the third day.  Jesus even told them where they would meet up with not a corpse but the living Savior.  Go ahead into Galilee and I will join you there.  But no one was thinking about what Jesus said.  No one had given a thought to the rest of His words.  Suffering and death were enough.  Death is death.  They might have heard Jesus’ words with their ears but they had stopped comprehending them after Jesus spoke of His death.

Even the prospect of the grave being sealed with a large stone did not deter the two Marys from making their way to the grave.  As soon as they got there, however, things were not normal anymore.  The large and heavy stone sealing the grave was gone.  The soldiers guarding the tomb were nowhere to be seen.  Instead there was a stranger there who told them not to be afraid, to calm down, and meet up with the risen Lord as Jesus had told them to when no one was listening.

Have you noticed that in the preaching of the disciples there is little mention of all the miracles that Jesus did?  Have you noticed that the disciples did not really talk about much of anything except our Lord’s death and resurrection?  Could it be that there is only one miracle that counts now?  Either Jesus is raised from the dead or none of it matters.  As one put it, “If Jesus is not raised, what else matters?  If Jesus is raised, what else matters?”  That is exactly the point.  There is only one miracle that matters and that is that Christ is risen just as He said.

If Christ is risen just as He said, then everything He spoke about is also true.  Our sins have been paid in full by His blood.  Our rebellious souls have been reconciled to the Father through Jesus obedience even to death on a cross.  Demons have been cast out.  Our future as the heirs of salvation has been sealed for us in baptismal water.  Our lives are no longer the random accidents of a lost people but the purposeful lives of those whose future has been prepared by Him who has gone to prepare our way.

The sign that matters is the resurrection of our Lord.  Yes, a little extra wine for a wedding and food for the hungry and healing for the sick and the lame and storms stilled is nice.  But they make no real and lasting difference for us – they are only distractions.  The resurrection of our Lord makes all the difference.  The only thing that needs to be said of Jesus is that He is risen.  

If Christ is not risen, it does not matter if your sins are big or small, you are still in prison to those sins.  If Christ is not risen, it does not matter whether your life is long or short, you still die.  If Christ is not risen, it does not matter how hard you try or how close you get to being good because God is not paying attention to you.  You are dead to Him.

But if Christ is risen, your sins do not matter because Christ has paid for them all.  And if Christ is risen, it means that this mortal life is but the prelude to the eternal life that death can never steal from you.  So if Christ is risen, then it means that you have a real Father in Heaven who loves you enough to save you and who will keep you in His grace and favor until you are raised with Christ to everlasting life.

Now this resurrection is not a matter of a spirit being unleashed from its bodily prison or of a life more imagined than real.  The grave was empty.  There was no body laying there for the women to find.  It is not because Jesus did not have a real body but because that body had been raised.  That is no curious detail here but the pledge and promise of our own graves when our Lord reaches into the dust of the earth to raise us up with Him.  Your body matters.  It is not simply a container to be discarded while the real you escapes.  No, indeed.  Christ was raised from the death to wear a new and glorious flesh and blood.  What is His now, is what ours will be when we are raised from death to everlasting life.  Just as He lives never to die again, so shall we who live in Him by faith be at last raised to a life that cannot die and to a future the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh cannot overcome.

The Marys who went to the tome should have known this.  The disciples who hid behind their locked doors should have known this.  How could they think that the Lord of life could be killed and imprisoned in a grave?  How could they miss the promise heralded in the words of Job?  How could they content themselves with what this mortal life offers and not yearn for what our Lord has promised?

Well, look around you.  Every Sunday we confess in the creed that Christ suffered, died, and rose again – even as the Scriptures attest.  Every Sunday we confess that we believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.  Yet we like the people of old have come to regard death as so normal that we miss the gift of life that God has set in baptismal water, in the voice of His Word, and in the eating and drinking of His flesh and blood.  At the dismissal of the Sacrament I say “The true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen and preserve you body and soul to life everlasting.”  The life you have from God is a real life, lived in a real but glorious body, and not some vague promise of a spiritual being who lives to be joined with the great spirits of nature and your ancestors.

It is no wonder that the Marys who went to the grave were shocked into alarm by the promise of the resurrection.  It is a wonder we are not.  For the resurrection of our Lord is the only thing that matters now and will matter forevermore.  Christ is risen.  Because He lives, you live also.  Because He wears a glorious flesh, you too will live not as a spirit but as God’s sons and daughters embodied in flesh that cannot die.  Your life will not and cannot be defined by the span of days we have on earth.  For you belong to the Lord.  And He who raised Jesus from the dead, will raise you to be with Him forever.  It is the only miracle that matters, the only sign worth having from God, and it changes everything.  Christ is risen!

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