Sunday, March 31, 2013

Sermon -- Easter Day (March 31, 2013)

LUKE 24:1-12 / 1 CORINTHIANS 15:55-57

In the name + of Jesus.

M:       Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
Cong:  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

     Death is a bully.  It plagues you with fear, because you know that you are going to die one day.  No one wants to die.  People do not want to suffer, but that does not mean they want to die.  If you want the suffering to end, the better option is being healed, not being put to death.  And no matter how much anyone tells you that death is natural, that is a lie.  Death may be normal, in that it happens to everyone.  But death is not natural.  The wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23)  Death is a punishment, a curse.  That is why you fear it.
     Death is a bully, and it taunts you.  It marks you, and you know that you are marked.  Ignoring it will not solve anything.  On the other end of the spectrum, being obsessed with it is no good either.  It is not good to walk around under a cloud of gloom and morbidity, nor is it good to live in ignorance or denial.  Neither one fixes the problem.  And so, death taunts you.  Death wants you to be afraid and to know that you are marked, that you are stuck, and that you are lost.
     Death is a bully; but today, death has seen its teeth knocked in and its hands cut off.  Today, death can blather and heckle all it wants, and we are not listening.  Today, death can rage and taunt and bully for all its worth, but it isn’t worth anything anymore.  For today, Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  Today, Jesus Christ has walked out of his grave.  He lives, and he cannot die again; death has no mastery over him.  Rather, Jesus holds the keys to death and Hades.  Therefore, it is Jesus who now taunts the bully.  “O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55)  Today we rejoice and today we confess: Jesus is Lord.  Jesus is Savior.  For, Jesus is risen!
     This most joyous of days, the very first Easter day, began in a cemetery.  It began with death as a bully.  It began with bereaved women who were going to a tomb and looking for a corpse.  It began with apostles hiding in fear who did not believe that Jesus would rise from the grave.  But the early morning walk to the grave changed everything. 
     On the first day of the week, at early dawn, (the women) went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared.  And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.  They were perplexed about this… (Luke 24:1-4)  Sure, they were perplexed!  They had always thought that death is the last word.  They had no answer for the bully.  But behold! Two men stood by them in dazzling apparel.  And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?  He is not here, but has risen.  Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”  And they remembered his words…. (Luke 24:4-8)  Jesus foretold that he would have the last word, and now he did have the last word.  Now Jesus lives.  Now Jesus issues the taunting to death:  “O Death, where is your victory?”  Jesus Christ is risen!
    And now Jesus includes you in his victory.  Death may still feel like a bully to you.  For it still claims loved ones.  It will claim you, too.  But that is only death’s bark.  It is like the vicious dog chained in someone’s yard.  It makes a lot of noise.  It is intimidating.  And you would really be in trouble if it could get to you.  But it can’t.  It is chained to the tree.  And so the worst it can do is bark and snarl.  It cannot harm you.
     This is what Jesus has done for you in dealing with death for you.  St. Paul has taught you the taunting chant against death.  “O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?”  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:55-57)  Jesus Christ has removed the sting of death for you.  Without sin, there is no death.  But those who have sinned must pay the price for their rebellion against God.  Jesus, however, has come to pay the price for you.  He has taken your sin to the cross with him.  He suffered the wrath of God and died the accursed death.  There is where he dealt with all of your sin, once and for all.  It is forever chained to the tree of the cross.  Of course, the cost was his life.  The wages of sin is death; therefore, Jesus died.  Therefore, Jesus was wrapped for burial and place in a tomb.  He absorbed the full brunt of death’s curse.  He threw himself into the jaws of death for you.  He sacrificed himself for your freedom.
     But how do you know that you are truly free?  How do you know the payment was enough?  How do you know that your chant, “O death, where is your victory?” is not just big words and false bravado?  How do you know that death still doesn’t have the last word?  Answer: Jesus rose from the grave.  The payment for your sins is sufficient.  The power of death is overthrown.  Jesus’ resurrection proves it.  And when you were baptized into Jesus’ name, you were given the benefits of all of Jesus’ work.  His holy life is credited as your holy life.  His sacrificial death has become your death.  His resurrection from the grave is your resurrection.  Through Jesus, you are a new creation—holy and blameless before God, eager to pursue good and to flee from sin on earth, and awaiting the glories of heaven. 
     “O Death, where is your victory?”  Death still taunts.  It still barks.  It still wants to intimidate and bully you.  And it seems that it is freed from its leash every time we get the heart-rending news that a loved one has passed and we stand by a grave site.  Satan still wants you to believe that death has its teeth and that its icy grip is strong.  But do not fear.  The women at the tomb on Easter morning learned that death was overcome.  Though these sin-stained, frail bodies of ours will give out one day, death has not won.  It has no real grip.  It is still chained to the tree.  These bodies of ours, because they are sin-stained, cannot enter the holy dwelling of God.  We will lay them aside.  They will return to dust.
     But just as the Lord formed Adam out of dust, so he will re-form you out of dust.  The angels who sang for joy when God created the world met the women at the tomb to announce the new creation.  He who conquered death, he who holds the keys to Death and Hades will call forth: “O Death, where is your victory?”  Jesus will summon you from your grave.  And just as Jesus rose from his grave, so he will raise you up from yours with a glorious, holy body that will dwell in God’s presence forever.  Never again will you feel the sting of sin or the taunting of death.  For, you will be free from sin and sorrow, from fear and guilt, from death and destruction, from aches and pains, from bullies, from bee-stings, and even from sniffles.
     Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  And he is risen for you.  Therefore, in the face of death, you can taunt, “O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?”  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:55-57)  Jesus lives and reigns over all things, and he lives and reigns for your good.  Therefore, you shall live and reign with him.  Death is defeated.  Jesus Christ has the victory.  He is risen!  Alleluia!
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.