March 23, 2008

Easter 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! 

“Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death.” So said Peter, on the night Jesus was betrayed. But he wasn’t ready. Moments earlier, and on the heels of Jesus instituting the Sacrament of the Altar, the disciples argued about authority and power among them. They had walked with Jesus for three years, and yet it was as though they learned nothing. They were failures.

The gospels show us especially the failure of Peter. In defense of the Prince of Peace, he takes up a sword. He boasts of his bravery, but he cowers at the accusation of a girl. The one who confessed Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the living God, is the same one who curses in the courtyard near where Jesus was being illegally tried. At the third denial, the Lord Jesus turned and looked at Peter; how that look must have pierced his soul! “So,” Luke tells us, “Peter went out and wept bitterly.” He must have felt not unlike Judas. Full of remorse, Judas the betrayer committed suicide. 

These are the places the season of Lent takes us – places of betrayal and weeping, places of hunger and demonic attacks, places of arguing and boasting, places of suicide and tombs. Lent takes us to these places because these are the places to which life also takes us. We have our good times, and enjoy our toys, but these cannot quench the thirst of the human spirit or fill the hollow emptiness in the soul of man. So Lent drags us to the mirror and demands that we look. Our reflection is monstrous. We have sought for joy but cannot find it.

Like Peter and the rest, we have stumbled and fallen this Lent. We too are failures. Some of you set out to fast, but found your hunger was strong. Some of you set out to pray, but found yourself sleeping, staring at screens, or doing anything but the most important thing. Like the disciples, you may have argued, speaking sharply to those you are commanded to love. Have you spent your time in drunkenness and immorality, or selfishness or self-pity?

I know your hypocrisy and self-righteousness. I know you are conniving and will flatter or lie if it will help you get ahead. The Lord knows, too, and while you may fool others, when He looks at you as He looked at Peter, there is no escaping the truth. And that truth leaves us where it left Peter - in bitter weeping.

Peter failed – but Jesus does not leave Peter in his failure. “Go your way,” said the angel to the women on Easter morning, and “tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee.” Could there be more comfort and love than those two little words, “and Peter”? By this, the angel said much more than, “He is risen.” He said, “He is risen for you women, and for the disciples, and for Peter.”

Which means that you who have kept a good Lent should celebrate this day – but those who have kept a bad Lent, or no Lent at all; those who have fallen again and again, those who have stumbled into the worst of sins, both gross and subtle – all of you are called to celebrate this day. He is risen, He is risen for Peter, and He is risen for you. Repent, and rejoice that Jesus is risen, for because of Him your demons are put to flight; in His body your body is sanctified, in His blood your sins are atoned for; through His passion, death, and resurrection His Father is now your Father, His God is your God.

That news filled the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ resurrection with joy – a deep, lasting joy that persisted even through persecution and martyrdom. It was infectious, and the church grew without websites or marketing, campaigns or consultants. Why is it that, despite all our technological advances, modern man, even in the church, experiences only occasional happiness but not deep joy and peace? We are not truly joyful because we look for joy in money, goods, fame, and pleasures [Luther]. We think life can be saved by medicines, that nations can be saved by armies, that economies can be saved by stimulus packages and rate cuts—but these things only delay our certain doom. Every nation finally falls, every life ends, and if you place your trust in temporary things, then your hope is only temporary.

But God saw man’s hopeless condition; He saw our world in disaster, the human race in shipwreck, and He designed a plan for our rescue. If we are not joyful, it is because we place our trust in the planks of a sinking ship. True, lasting joy is found only in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and seeing in that the victory of God. His victory over death, sin, and Satan He gives to and shares with us.

Why did it happen? Why did Jesus submit Himself to crucifixion, and rise in His body again on the third day? He did not do any of it for Himself. He did all of these things for us. From this, we see what kind of a person Christ is. So brave as to face the grave; so powerful as to defeat death; yet so humble as to suffer for the sins of another, even the sin of an entire world; and so loving as to endure mockery and shame for the very world that despised Him.

We say God is love precisely because He loved us so completely as to die our death, suffer our punishment, and give us His victory and life. Never has there been such a sacrificial, self-giving love in the entire history of the universe.

The death and resurrection of Jesus is an article of faith – but that doesn’t mean it isn’t historical. It is not a myth to get us through the rough times, or a metaphor for how God is able to make things better. Faith in the resurrection is not a guess that it probably happened, or a hope that it might have happened; faith takes the historical fact that Jesus did rise from the dead and says, “It happened for me.” In other words, faith is trusting what God’s Word says the historical event means for us and the world.

Faith doesn’t just say, “Jesus rose from the dead.” That is just history; true, to be sure: historical fact, verified by many eyewitnesses. But believing facts is not faith. Believing the history is not faith. Faith says, “In that death of Jesus, my sins were pardoned; now Jesus is risen, and I shall rise too. He will call for me in the grave on the last day, and I will answer, and come forth to live in His kingdom.”

Now that is something to give us joy beyond anything this world can offer. We sang, “Christ is arisen from the grave’s dark prison,” and this fact means that your grave, my grave, the graves of those we love who died in the faith – those graves are no longer dark prisons, but sleeping chambers. Out of those graves their bodies shall come, called by the risen Christ to enter into His kingdom. When you and I go together to the graveyard to lay there the bodies of your children, spouse, parents, and friends, that event is truly bearable only in the light of this day; so even at the grave we will say, “Alleluia! Christ is risen!”, for we know that His resurrection is the first-fruits, the down payment on our resurrection.

In Jesus, the wonderful promise our God gave through Hosea has been fulfilled: “I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction” (13.14).

Because of this day, we can say: 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.”


Mason said...

I might preach this next year. Unfortunately, Easter is so difficult! I also had Chrysostom's ending in my sermon, but removed it for the sake of brevity.
He is risen!

Christopher Esget said...

Have at it, if you like. The "Peter" material is all me, but a lot of the rest is from Luther's Easter sermon in the House Postil, along with my musings on the Confessional emphasis on faith trusting not in history but in the effects of the history.

In my opinion, every Easter sermon should pay homage to Chrysostom (as yours also obviously does). Outside of the Bible, nothing better has been or will be written. I have ended my Easter sermon with the same words for three or four years running, now - every year I think I will improve on it, and every year I realize the futility thereof!

Jordan said...


I have always marveled at the kindness of the Lord that at the most important moment in human history He makes sure that the Angel goes out of his way to send that message to a despairing Peter that he is forgiven.

I was also struck by this in your sermon a few weeks back about the blind man crying out when Jesus was passing by. There the blind man lies on the side of the road being ignored and despised by everyone except the one Person who can help him, Christ, who then goes out of his way to reach down and rescue this man in his filth and blindness.

I know it's not exactly the same thing, but I think the same theme is there. Christ having mercy on us not just corporately, but as individuals. Thanks again for this sermon, and for all the work you did this Lenten season.