Sunday, April 16, 2017

Sermon -- Easter Sunday (April 16, 2017)

MATTHEW 28:1-10


In the name + of Jesus.

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

     There has never been a happy walk to a cemetery.  Even if you are someone who visits historic cemeteries, you go because you find it interesting, not because it makes you happy to know that these people had died.  Death is evil because life is good.  Even when life is hard, life is still good and a gift from God.  When people resort to suicide, they are not looking to escape life, just its hardships.  No matter how death comes—whether peacefully or violently, whether it is expected or comes suddenly—it always produces fear, sorrow, grief, and regret.  Death is a cruel enemy to all mankind.  We grieve over loved ones who are among its victims, and we all will suffer its mortal blow.
     The women who had been friends with Jesus made their unhappy walk to Jesus' tomb early Sunday morning.  Their sense of duty compelled them to complete the care of Jesus' body which had been buried in a hurry in the final moments of Friday.  When they approached the tomb, they expected to find the corpse of their beloved teacher and friend.   The women were shocked to find the stone rolled away from the tomb's entrance.  They were shocked to see an angel sitting there.  And they were all the more shocked by the angel's announcement: “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.  Come, see the place where he lay.  Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead...” (Matthew 28:5-7)
     “He has risen.” (Matthew 28:6)  Those are the key words.  The message of the angel was not merely, “He is not here.”  That was the news which the Jewish leaders feared would be broadcast by Jesus' disciples.  They had even taken steps to prevent it.  The chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, 'After three days I will rise.'  Therefore, order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, 'He has risen from the dead,' and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” (Matthew 27:62-64)  The guard was posted, not that the apostles proved to be any threat.  They were hiding in fear.  It did not matter.  The apostles did not try to steal Jesus' body.  The guards could not contain Jesus' body.  The women did not find Jesus' body.  The angel rolled the stone away to show that Jesus' tomb was empty.  The message was then proclaimed: “He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.” (Matthew 28:6)
     Jesus Christ has risen.  The body which was dead and buried is risen.  Jesus lives.  His body is revived.  His whole person is restored.  The man is risen from the dead.  The grave could not keep him.  Death had to give Jesus back, and it cannot have him again.  Jesus of Nazareth lives and reigns, forever holding victory over the grave, just as he said.
     Now, if the Easter message stopped here, we probably would not celebrate it.  Our Easter greeting would be, “Christ is risen!”  “Well, good for him.”  To know that Jesus of Nazareth has overcome death might fill us with some faint hope that we could overcome it too.  But we know that we will not.  For, this word of the Lord is true: It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes the judgment. (Hebrews 9:27)  You may skate through life without ever having to face any real consequences for your sinful behavior, but that does not mean that you are unaccountable.  Even if you've not suffered much for your sins, others have suffered from them.  Sins hurt.  They leave emotional scars.  Your friends may overlook your sins.  They may even congratulate you and laugh with you about them, but the Lord does not.  The Lord, who gave you your life, will assess it when you die.  And just as you cannot escape death, neither can you escape the Lord's judgment.
     Sin has brought death into the world.  It has corrupted body and soul, mind and heart.  From our sinful hearts come selfish actions, lying words, and thoughts which we are too ashamed to admit we have—although some are bold (or is it foolish?) enough to post these things on Facebook and Twitter.  The sin that resides in us also takes its toll on our bodies.  Sin brings pain and disease, aging and aching.  The body breaks down and finally dies.  It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes the judgment. (Hebrews 9:27)  The grave demands you because you are guilty.  Your soul returns to God who judges you according to his holy standards.  You cannot escape the grave or the judgment.
     In his love for you, God sent a Savior.  Jesus Christ is your refuge from sin, through death, and in the judgment.  Your sin was paid for by Jesus' sufferings and death on Mt. Calvary.  Your judgment was taken by Jesus for you.  The Lord became man in order to suffer and die for all the sins that men have committed.  The curse for every sin was delivered on Jesus at the cross.  And since Jesus bore all guilt, he died and was buried.  The grave received its due.
     But the unhappy walk to Jesus' grave on Easter was changed by the angel's words: “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.” (Matthew 28:5-6)  Jesus, who has borne your sin and died your death, is risen!  He lives, and that means that the payment for sins is sufficient.  He is your refuge from sin.  Jesus Christ is risen, and that means that he holds the keys to death and the grave.  Jesus Christ is risen, and that means that the grave must give back those who belong to Jesus.  He is your refuge through death.
     Jesus Christ is risen!  He did not just redeem your soul.  God never designed you to be a bodiless soul which floats around on clouds in heaven.  When you die, your soul will separated from your body.  It will return to God who will judge you.  But your judgment is in: You are forgiven.  Jesus Christ declares you righteous, for he has taken all guilt from you.  He is your refuge in the judgment.  Therefore, the departed souls of our fellow Christians enjoy the peace and the glories of heaven.  But they do not remain spirits.  That is not what God created us to be.
     Jesus Christ became a body and soul man to redeem you completely.  The bodies, therefore, which we bury will be raised up again.  The grave must give back what it has claimed, for Jesus is Lord of life and death.  Though our path to the cemetery will never be happy, it is not without hope either.  We bury our fellow Christians knowing that the grave will not keep them forever.  We bury their bodies knowing that they will be raised up completely renewed and restored.  The body of our Lord departed from his grave, and so he will summon us up from ours.  Body and soul will be reunited forever.  The soul will be perfected, eagerly desiring to do God's will and perfectly capable of actually doing it.  And the body will be perfected, delivered forever from aching and aging, from pain and disease, and from skin rashes, frost bite, and mosquito bites.
     Jesus Christ is risen.  And he is risen for us.  Because he lives, we too shall live.  Because his body has conquered death, we too will share in his victory.  Because he lives and reigns forever, he will bring us to live and reign with him.  And just as Jesus has not abandoned his body or shed his humanity, so will we, body and soul, receive all the joys and glories and peace of heaven.
     Jesus Christ is risen!  He has taken the sting out of death.  Though death will come, Jesus will come for the dead, and the grave must give us back.  On the Last Day he will raise up all the dead and give eternal life to all believers in Christ.  Then you will be reunited with the saints who have died.  Then the Church will forever be united at the heavenly feast.  Then we will live in the glory which our Father has always desired us to know and to have.  And then, our praise and our confession will continue, even as we confess it now:
M:         Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
Cong: He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.