Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Sermon

Christ is Risen (He is Risen indeed, Alleluia) – Amen
          It was early – before dawn.  It was still dark outside when Mary Magdalene left her home.  She headed to the tomb, to the hole in the middle of some rocky wall, where just few hours before they had laid the body, the remains of Jesus.  And what a state they had laid that body in.  He had been beaten, He had been whipped, He had been flayed – and then He had been crucified.  Even when dead, the indignities to His body continued – a spear thrust into His side – just to make sure He was good and dead.

There had been no time for Mary to do what was right for Jesus’ Body.  On Friday, the light was fading, it was becoming dark.  At sunset the Sabbath would begin – the time of rest when no work was to be done – no work, not even tending to Jesus’ body.  Joseph and Nicodemus had gotten the body from Pilate, and they had hurriedly wrapped it in cloth, some spice – but it wasn’t done with the pains-taking care that Mary wanted.  And so there Mary was – wanting to do things right – to show the body the respect and care it deserved.  To clean the gore, to take care with the linens, to take care with the spices.  After the abuse Jesus’ Body had taken Friday, Mary at least wanted to do right by it for its stay in the tomb.  The Sabbath rest must have been hard for her – the fretting and anxiety too much to bear.  All that time to fixate on what yet needed to be done.

          And so Mary, in her anxious eagerness comes to where the tomb is.  She’s not thinking clearly – for the stone should still be there.  It is beyond her ability to move – even with all her might she could not reach her Lord’s Body – but then, something happens.  The stone is already moved.  The grave is open.  And so Mary runs.  She doesn’t walk, she doesn’t turn calmly, but in the wee hours of the morning, over ground still covered with shadow and gloom Mary runs to Peter and John.  The tomb is open.  He’s not there.  The Body is gone!  Peter and John both run, again, sprinting in the pre-dawn dimness to the tomb.  John, he was younger, faster. He gets there first – but he can’t bear to go in.  He stands at the mouth staring.  The burial linens are lying there.  Those temporary, stopgap linens that would have been carefully removed by women who love Him, those linens that would have been so lovingly replaced by well spiced and scented cloths – just lying there.  Empty.  John didn’t understand.

          Neither did Peter when he arrived.  Peter, ever bold Peter barges into the tomb – wants to see up close and personal what has happened to the Body of the Lord he so recently and carelessly denied in the gloomy pre-dawn dark of the day on which Jesus was put to death.  And it’s gone.  Not even a body to mourn over – not even any remains to weep over with the women.  And dumbfounded Peter and John return home.  Jesus had been placed in the tomb on Friday – they had seen it.  Yet where was He now?

          I would submit, dear friends in Christ – that Jesus entered the tomb long before Good Friday.  Do you wish to know when Jesus first entered the tomb?  It was when the Angel Gabriel said to Mary And behold, you shall conceive in your womb and bear a Son.”  There, when Christ Jesus, when God Almighty took on flesh, when He became Man – that is when He entered the tomb.  Holy and perfect God became Man – took on one of our bodies.  And what by nature are our bodies but walking tombs.  St. Paul says that we were dead in trespasses – dead.  Walking tombs?  Since the fall in the garden our flesh was flesh doomed to die – God had taken the dirt of the ground and breathed into it life – and by sin we rejected that life, tossed it aside – and condemned our bodies once again to be mere ash, mere dust.  Walking tombs, fit only for the grave.  Ashes on their way to being simple ashes once again – dust waiting to return to dust after a few brief years.  This is the lot we humans had won by sin.

          And then God intervenes.  God Himself – the God who made Adam to be perfect – the very one by Whom all things were made – comes down from heaven and was made Man.  Have you pondered that – that God becomes Man.  What that means?  What’s it like being a man in this fallen world?  How many of you ache with pain in your joints right now – how many of you feel your body calling out to return to dust once more this very instant!  God becomes Man and takes up that same pain – we just witnessed this past week how intensely He took it up.  How many of you have seen relationships fall apart, people abandon you, their love and friendship which seemed so promising fall apart, taste like ash in your mouth.  God becomes Man and takes that up.  Hear what Jesus says in John 6.  He has just preached – and pretty much everyone leaves, wants nothing more to do with Him.  He even asks the disciples – Do you want to go away as well?  Pain, suffering, abandonment by friends,  Judas – friend, do what you must! – God becomes Man, He enters the tomb of our flesh, the slow, walking death that our lives are – He enters it – and He takes it all, He follows it all the way through to it’s bitter end – Dying on a cross with nothing but sour, bitter wine on a dirty sponge to refresh Him.  Christ has entered the tomb of our bodies by becoming Man and suffering and dying.

          And there sits Mary before that hole in some rocky wall – tears in her eyes.  Even Jesus’ body is gone.  And she looks in again – maybe just to check again, maybe to hope against hope that the body is there – maybe it fell off and we just hadn’t seen it – and still, no body there.  But this time two angels who ask her why she weeps.  She says that she is looking for a body.  And then, a voice from outside the tomb asks again, “Woman, why are you weeping?  Whom are you seeking?”  I’m seeking a dead body, I’m seeking a lump of lifeless clay.  If you’ve taken it, I want it back.  I’ll drag it away myself – what a sad sight that would be – a weeping woman dragging a corpse through a garden – but at that moment that is the most that Mary thinks she can hope for.

          Jesus said to her, “Mary.”  And it clicks – the Lord Jesus, now risen from the dead speaks to her, calls her by her name – and it clicks.  No Mary, you will not get to see a dead body, you will never see Christ lying dead again for He has risen.  You will never see Him in the tomb again for He has left it, never to be consigned there again.  He is risen, He has life, He is life – and that tomb, that hole in the wall is empty and shall always remain so.

          Do you see what this means for you, dear friends?  Christ lives – that walking tomb of flesh that He entered – it’s no longer a tomb.  It is life itself.  Christ took up our body, took up our own flesh so that He could justify it – make it righteous and perfect again.  He took up our body so that He could sanctify it, make it holy again.  He took up our flesh and died so that He could remove death from our body by His own life.  Right now, this instant Jesus is a living Man, is the Living Man – right now this instant He breathes, He draws breath, He is alive in His Body – and death is done away with.  And so, your Body is a mere tomb no longer – for Jesus by His death and resurrection has won life again for His creation – He has done away with Sin, He has destroyed death.  This is the great wonder, the great mystery of the faith – that even though we should die here we will live – Christ will raise us – that just as He died and now lives again, we too will live again – for He has swallowed death.

          And here is the beauty of our Gospel lesson this morning – the wonderful twist.  There it is, all in front of Mary.  The tomb is empty, the angels are there – and she doesn’t understand, she doesn’t understand until Christ calls her by Name.  Mary – and then she gets it, she understands.  You too, dear friends, understand this because God has called you by name.  How is this child to be named?  That is what we ask at Baptism.  And then, by name, you were called by God, you were baptized.  36 years ago Pastor Brunner said “Eric James Brown, I baptize you in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” and I saw.  Called by name, adopted as a son and granted the gift of faith.  This is what happened at your baptism, God called you by Name and by the power of Water and the Word He opened your eyes and established faith within you – so that even now you see Christ – you see the Living Lord and see in Him your own life.

          And moreso – Just as Mary looked and saw the Lord’s Body, alive – what does God present to us here in His Church?  Take and eat, this is My Body.  Take and drink, this is My Blood. That’s not mere coincidence. Christ lives – He still has His Body.  He has not decayed but He lives – and He still shows us, still gives us His own Body.  I live – and here is the proof.  Take and eat.  I live, and so you shall too.  Here is the proof – take and drink, for this is My Blood which was shed for the forgiveness of your sin – see, you are forgiven.  This is done for you.  He gives His own Body to us – so that He might save and redeem us – make these fallen bodies like to be His own.  By His Supper we receive His own resurrected Body so that we might be ready and prepared for the day when He raises us and all the dead to new life.  He gives us His Body so that we might have holy bodies like his. 

          This is what Christ Jesus has done.  This is what His resurrection means.  It means that He lives and gives us His life.  It means that He calls out to us in the midst of this world of sin, calls to us by name and says, “I give you life, life eternal.  It is mine to give and I give it to you.  Death need no longer alarm you, for I have defeated death.  As I live, so shall you.  You will not be abandoned to the grave, but you will stride forth from you tomb just as I have – for you are mine, I have won you – I have gone to the Father and secured your place at my side, with me for all eternity.”  But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For as by a man came death, by a Man has come also the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.  This is our hope, this is our joy, this is our salvation.  This is what Christ has done for you.  Amen.  Christ is risen, He is risen indeed, alleluia.

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