April 7, 2007

Easter Sunday sermon: Mark 16.1-8

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

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

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

Why are you here? Didn’t you watch the show on the Discovery Channel?

Scholars and media-types act as though questioning the resurrection of Jesus is edgy and ground-breaking (excuse the pun!). That could not be more wrong. To say that Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Mary, rose from the dead was just as controversial in the first century as it is in the twenty-first. For if there is one thing universal to human experience, it is this: dead people stay dead. The philosophers of the Enlightenment didn’t discover this. But since that time, theologians have proposed that we reject “antiquated” notions about a bodily resurrection and instead embrace “the Christ of faith,” which is hopelessly ambiguous. Such ideas have filtered down into many pulpits, to the point that the resurrection of Jesus is presented as a metaphor and an experience.

Yet the philosophers of the Enlightenment weren’t the first to discover that dead people stay dead. Modern scientists didn’t discover this. The director of the movie Titanic certainly didn’t discover this. Belief in the resurrection of Jesus has never made sense with anything else people experience. The resurrection is not an “antiquated” belief – it has always been controversial! For the resurrection of Jesus runs counter to everything we can see, touch, and feel. We want to believe in some kind of after-life, some kind of existence beyond death – but our own experiences and scientific studies cannot verify it. We know that we will go down to the grave, but we do not know anyone who has come up again. No one, except Jesus of Nazareth.

Not an idea, not a hope, not a vision – His resurrection was attested to by eyewitnesses: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Salome, Peter, James, John, Matthew, Thomas; more than five hundred eyewitness saw our Lord Jesus Christ risen from the dead. He spoke with them, ate with them, was handled by them – and then at last He appeared to Paul. Many of these were martyred, put to death because of their testimony that Jesus of Nazareth, who was killed on a cross and buried in a tomb, is risen from the dead. Just a metaphor? No one dies for a metaphor!

The Holy Apostles and the other eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Jesus were not trying to make sense of their sorrow. They didn’t invent an idea for transforming society. They didn’t set out to become grief-counselors who help people recover from a loss. They proclaimed that Jesus of Nazareth’s death on the Cross was the ransom-price for the world’s sin, and that by Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, we are joined to Him and shall also experience resurrection, in our bodies.

That is the faith of the one, holy, Christian and apostolic Church, and if Christ is not risen, that faith is in vain.

· If Christ is not risen, our sin and guilt remain.

· If Christ is not risen, then death really is the end.

· If Christ is not risen, you have nothing for which to hope, nothing to look forward to except the gloom of your own tomb.

But perhaps we want it that way. The world is passing away, and its lusts – but we have fallen in love with our vices, become attached to our possessions, controlled by our addictions, obsessed with ourselves. We live as if we don’t want it all to end, as if we don’t really want Easter.

How far we have wandered! How easy it is to drift away from following our Lord Jesus! Enamored with our own petty lives and delusions about who we are, Christianity can become an empty shell, such that the resurrection, the kingdom of God, communion with God, are mere doctrines to be believed but not the longing of our heart.

My dear friends, why have you come today to the Lord’s Church? The Church does not offer you a better life in this world. Following Christ just might make it worse. But it all ends in death regardless. Are you not here because you have at some level experienced what we heard Job say: “How my heart yearns within me!”?

What Job yearned for, we now have as a guarantee: the Redeemer, the One who promises forgiveness and resurrection, lives. On Friday, I told you that Jesus on the Cross encapsulated all of human existence – the entire story of creation and fall was wrapped up in His death. But today, in the resurrection of Jesus, we see that story’s glorious reversal. Christ was made man and came to earth to find the man He made from the earth, and to find the woman He made from the man’s side. But He did not find them upon the earth, for they were buried in it. So He descended to where they were - “into the darkness and horror and hopelessness of death” [Schmemann]. He who was made man was buried in the earth to rescue the first man who was made from the earth. His side was opened that He might recover and restore she who was made from the first man’s side. And as we are born wrapped up in the sin and death of the first Adam, so are we now by Baptism wrapped up in the righteousness and life of the second Adam.

So now, death for the Christian is completely transformed, for we know it has been overcome. Even at the grave we make our song, “Alleluia!” for Christ is risen, and the dead in Christ shall rise too. Christ does not promise happiness after death, life after death, existence after death; He promises us resurrection after death. The dead shall arise, and all who believe and are baptized shall see the Lord’s salvation; they shall live, body and soul, in the new heavens and the new earth.

For you He did this. For your sake He took the form of a slave, for your sins He died, for your life He rose.

He is still with us, in His own body and blood, giving us His life and His righteousness in His Supper. Our dying bodies He feeds with His living body. Into our parched mouths He pours His life-blood. His body devours our death; His blood cleanses our sin, and even though we die, yet shall we live. Who can comprehend the greatness of this Gift?

O death, where is thy sting?

O hell, where is thy victory?

Christ is risen, and you, O death, are obliterated!

Christ is risen, and the evil ones are cast down!

Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!

Christ is risen, and life is set free!

Christ is risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead; for Christ, having risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

Alleluia, Alleluia! Truly He is risen!

To God be glory and power now and ever and unto ages of ages; for, “This is the Day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

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