Easter Sermon

Without those three words, “He has risen”, we would have no hope at all.  With them, everything has changed.

Listen HERE.

Or read, after the jump.

He is Risen! (He is risen indeed.) Alleluia.

Alleluia. For the Lord God Omnipotent Reineth.  The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ and he shall reign forever and ever. King of king and Lord of Lords.  Hallelujah, Hallelujah.

The woman said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.  That’s not really a surprise.  Anyone who has had to make the visit to the mortuary to make arrangements knows the flood of emotions that go through you.  Fear, anger, despair, depression.  Losing a loved one is an emotional roller coaster, and any sort of unexpected surprise, no matter how minor, can make the emotions all the more acute.

So imagine going to the funeral home, and having the funeral director meet you with the news that your loved one isn’t there.  They really don’t know where the body is.  He’s just gone. Fear?  You bet.  Now imagine the funeral director saying, “Your loved one, oh yes, he left a few hours ago, he said he wanted to go out but he’ll stop by the house later.”  Now Fear?  Absolutely.  Is he losing his mind?  Am I?  What is going on here?  Should you go to the police,  start calling relatives?  Or just go home and wait and see if there are any new developments?  The emotions such a statement would provoke would be almost overwhelming.

When we read and hear the Gospel accounts, especially the resurrection, it’s east to try and spiritualize it, to turn it into a parable.  Rather than the disciples running away in fear, and Jesus being placed in a tomb because he was dead – really dead, dead, we have something closer to the tortoise and the hair: a fable designed to teach a lesson about accepting the will of God, and trusting that will all work out for the good, rather than real events that happened to real people.

But listen again to this:  “You seek Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified.  He has risen, he is not here.”  These are powerful words.  There are no other words that could have quite the impact, that could give quite the same effect, that have quite the same meaning, as those words.

Consider some of our own well known phrases and clichés that we use to try and diffuse death, and see if they have the same impact or meaning.    “You seek Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified.  He is not here, He has moved on to a better place.”    You seek Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified, he has passed on.”  You seek Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified.  He has gone home.”

None of these have any real meaning, without the words of the angel to the women, “he has risen.”  The platitudes we use to try and diffuse and talk ourselves out of the true nature of death really come up hollow, when we replace the resurrection with them.  They only have meaning, and any meaning they have, is given to them because of and by the words, “He has risen.”  Those words change everything.  They are the words that give all other words meaning.  Without them, no matter what you say to someone who has “lost a loved one” – it means nothing.  The very phrase “lost a loved one” makes it sound as if they just wandered down the wrong isle at the supermarket.

But here is the truth.  Death is the enemy.  There is no way to make it your friend.  No way to make it gentle, or pleasant, or good.  God created us for life, and because of our sin, we brought death into the world.  You will die because you are a sinner.  Death is not how God wanted it.  It is less than God created.  By definition death is not good,.  And any attempt on our part to make it anything but the enemy it is, is a futile attempt to circumvent the truth of our own sin.

That is why it is so important to have those words : He has risen, he is not here.   Because those words give hope.  The women were afraid – could such a thing be true?  It never has been before, that someone was raised from the dead by the glory of God the Father.  Jesus did raise people from the dead – but there was a comment from Jesus, some sort of statement that something was going to happen.  They were raised by the power of Jesus word – Lazarus come forth, little girl I say to you arise.  Something like that.  Jesus can’t speak those words, because he is already dead.  There is no statement to his followers until after he is raised from the dead, and then it is so unbelievable that the women don’t know what to think.

No surprise that it is unbelievable.  Death is death.  It is forever, isn’t it?  If not forever, it will be undone sometime so far in the future that it doesn’t really concern us anyway.  Consider when Jesus went to visit Mary and Martha after Lazarus had died.  Jesus had already raised people form the dead.   And yet, when Jesus sees Martha and says, “Your brother will rise again,”  the reaction is, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”  What about it?  What good does that do me now?  Jesus was talking about having him home in time for dinner.  But our sinful human minds can not grasp a solution to death that works even in our own lifetimes – or more importantly, at our own death time.

He has risen.  He is not here.  See the place where they laid him.  Those words change everything for us.  They change the way we live, and the way we die.  Because death may be the enemy. It may be frightening.  But it has lost it’s power.  It has lost its hold.

The totally inescapable prison has had an escapee.  And in being freed from the confines of death, our Lord Jesus has torn open the doors, broken down the gates, taken away the power, the sting, the victory of death and the grave.

If Jesus did not rise from the grave, then nothing matters.  If he did rise from the grave, nothing else matters.

He has risen! He is not here.  See the place where they laid him!  Death is no more.  Now, Jesus gives you life.  Because he is alive.  He is life.  The life.  And now through Holy Baptism, you have been given new life in him.  A life that is without end.

Satan thought he could triumph over God by bringing about the death of God.  But in that death, he was crushed.  His kingdom, his dominion, is no more.

As Saint Chrysostom said in his famous Paschal homily:

He has destroyed it by enduring it.

He destroyed Hell when He descended into it.

He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.

Isaiah foretold this when he said,

“You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below.”

Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.

It was in an uproar because it is mocked.

It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.

It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.

It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.

Hell took a body, and discovered God.

It took earth, and encountered Heaven.

It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.

Death has been swallowed up by death.  Christ died, and now death is overcome.  And that changes everything.  It gives our life meaning, and it gives our death hope.  We are not simply consigned to the forces of nature and the universe.  We are laid to rest in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection.  A real resurrection with a real body.  This is the hope we have been given in Christ Jesus.  Not just a hope like “Gee I hope my sports team wins the big game.”  That’s a wish.   When Scripture speaks of hope, it is talking about the way a watchman waits for the morning.  You know it is coming.  Soon, it will be here, and that means that you have survived another night, that God has delivered you.  That’s what it means – we hope for the resurrection, not as those who gee golly want it to maybe happen some day if we are lucky.  We hope for the resurrection like we hope for the sun in the morning.  Was there anyone who went to bad last night worried that the sun would suddenly cease to be during the night?  That we would wake up to no dawn at all?  Just eternal darkness in a quickly cooling world of frozen death?  Or did we go to sleep thinking, OK, I really need to wake up when the alarm goes off, because I know the sun is rising a little after 6 o’clock, and the sunrise service is starting at 6:30, whether I am there on time or not.  You see, that’s the hope we have in the resurrection .  The sure and certain promise of the God who did not spare his own son, but gave him up for you so that you would have forgiveness of your sins.  The sure and certain hope of the son who was raised from the dead by the Glory of God the father.  The sure and certain hope of those who have been called to live in the promise of forgiveness life and salvation that Jesus has given you.   The sure and certain hope of those who know that the grave is still there, and it is never our friend, but it is also a powerless enemy.

He has risen!  Those three words, spoken to a group of frightened women have changed everything that ever happened in this world, from the moment our first parents sinned, to the moment the crucified one returns in glory to judge both the living and the dead.  The one who was sacrificed on the altar now comes to you at his table, on his day, in his house, in his divine service, to give you his body and blood which has been raised from the dead and is now the holy meal of resurrection, and salvation.

That is why we can shout and sing so confidently our hope.  Because he lives and I will conquer death.  Because Jesus lives and the victory’s won, because this is our triumphant holy day, alleluia!   Because he rises glorious from the dead.  He rends deaths iron chain, he breaks through sin and pain, he shatters hells grim thrall.  Come you faithful raise the strain of triumphant gladness! Let us sing praise to him with endless joy!

We sing our songs of praise, because this day, this feast of feasts and day of days, is the day when death is no more.  There can be no greater victory than that.

It changes how we live and how we die.  We no longer need to live as those who have no hope, those who are grasping at whatever pleasures or promises or glories the world offers.  We live for Christ.  We live in Christ. We live with Christ who is our life.   We can now live lives of love toward God, who first loved us, and love toward our fellow man, to whom God has shown love.  Everything about the way we see the world, about the way we live, about the way we die, about the way we do anything, is changed in those three little words, “He is risen.”  Those words are yours through Holy Baptism.  They are given to you, because in Baptism his death is given to you, and his resurrection is given to you.  Now Jesus is in and with and through you.  Now you are his.  And the words spoken at his tomb, “he has risen” will be spoken over your grave.   And the grave will finally, once and for all, be finished, be done, be destroyed.  And you will live with God forever.  Real life, with a real God, who really went through death for you, and came out on the other side alive, and who now gives you the same gift, the same promise, The same hope.  A hope that can not be taken away.

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