Monday, April 13, 2020

Sermon -- Easter Day: The Resurrection of our Lord (April 12, 2020)

NOTE: The Festival of the Resurrection of our Lord was not only disrupted by the shelter-in-place order due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Good Shepherd also suffered a power outage.  Though a handful (under ten) gathered without electricity or heat, we did not and will never forfeit the hope and peace we have through our crucified and risen Savior.  No matter how strange this Easter has been, the Good News remains firm.

MATTHEW 28:1-10


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

In the name + of Jesus.

     King Solomon wrote in the Proverbs: “Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day...” (Proverbs 25:20)  If you have ever endured such sorrow and grief, you know what Solomon is talking about.  When the heart is weighed down and broken, peppy little ditties do not help.  No matter how well meaning the person is who tries to get a smile out of you or who tells you to brighten up because it is a sunny day, you find no joy in it.  In fact, it is infuriating—like someone who hides your coat from you on a blustery day.  They seem to be oblivious to your pains.  The heavy heart does not want or need empty, happy platitudes. 
     It was with heavy, broken hearts that the women were walking to the tomb as the glimmer of daylight was coming up in Jerusalem.  They were going to tend to their loved one—one who had taught them, encouraged them, healed them, and comforted them.  They had also hoped he would be the one who would bring salvation to them.  They loved Jesus dearly, but they watched him suffer brutally and die shamefully.  They stood at a distance as they saw Jesus' body quickly wrapped for burial, laid in Joseph's tomb, and a stone rolled in place to secure it.  They had returned at the earliest possible time to tend to Jesus' body more properly.  It was a somber journey.  I think it is safe to say that they were not singing or telling jokes. 
     “Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day...” (Proverbs 25:20)  When you have a heavy heart, it is because you are suffering the realities of being a sinner in a sinful world.  It could be the death of a loved one, a divorce, remorse over the stupid thing you did which ended a relationship, the fear of disease, terrorism, or the fear of the unknown.  All of these come upon us because we are sinners living in a sinful world.  We all have experienced a heavy heart, but we would rather not.  So, we invent ways to avoid having to think about being sinners in a sinful world.  Whether it is songs, jokes, drunkenness, or online gaming, we withdraw and try to pretend that reality isn't real. 
     But some realities cannot be avoided or ignored.  The worst is the death.  Death presents a finality which cannot be changed.  It is an end which cannot be fixed.  It is the stark reality that there comes a day when we all must stand before God in judgment.  Your conscience tells you that there is a standard you are supposed to live up to.  It testifies that there is a God who has set that standard, and you are accountable to him.  Your guilt shows you that you have failed to live up to the standard.  And death is the day when you must give account.  The reality of our death produces fear; but the death of a loved one shoves this reality in our face.  It makes us painfully aware of all these things.  Singing a light-hearted song at such a time makes a mockery of our pain and grief and denies the reality we face.
     But reality takes a new shape today.  In response to our grief, we are given hope.  In answer to our guilt, we are shown mercy.  And in a rebuttal to death, we see new life.  Fear not!  For behold!  Jesus has risen!  Heavy hearts can be lightened, tears can be wiped away, and eyes which gaze at a grave can now turn heavenward.  Fear not!  For behold!  Jesus has risen.
     St. Matthew uses the word “Behold!” four times in our Gospel lesson today.  (Once it is translated “See.”)  Some Bible translations do not bother to include this word because we do not use the word “behold!” in our every day speech.  Its use in the Bible, however, should be retained.  It is as if God is highlighting something, saying, “Pay attention to this.  This is significant.”  And so, St. Matthew's account of the resurrection urges us to pay attention, repeatedly. 
     Behold!  There was a great earthquake because an angel descended to roll the stone away to show an empty tomb.  Behold!  Jesus is risen and will meet his disciples in Galilee.  Behold!  The message was given to the women, and they should go and deliver it to the apostles.  And behold!  Jesus himself came and appeared to the women who were returning to Jerusalem.  The Lord urges us to pay attention to every part of this Gospel lesson.  It is all significant, and it should be of great importance to us all.  Fear not!  For behold!  Jesus has risen!
     Jesus' resurrection is what puts an end to all of our fears and grief.  He gives us a new reality.  He shows us that being sinners in a sinful world no longer ends with death and judgment and hell.  Jesus had taken all of that for us.  Rather than ignore them with with songs and jokes, Jesus dealt with the realities of sin and death for us.  He carried our sins into death for us.  He accepted our judgment and endured a God-forsaken hell on the cross.  He was placed in a grave, and the women saw the lifeless body of Jesus entombed, supposedly forever.  But having dealt with our sin and death, Jesus gave us a new reality.  The angel appeared to the women to declare a new and better day: “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)  
     Fear not!  For behold!  Jesus has risen!  Now your life does not end in death.  Now the grave does not retain its power.  Jesus of Nazareth, who became a human being like us, has conquered the grave.  He lives and can never die again.  As the women ran back to tell the disciples, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!”  And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. (Matthew 28:9)  The body which went into death to pay for our sins is risen.  The Savior who said that he would die and rise on the third day has done just that.  Now the reality is that your sin is fully pardoned, the grave must give back what it has taken, and the devil us vanquished.
     Fear not!  For behold!  Jesus has risen!  And you, who have been baptized into his name, have been given everything he has won for you.  Baptism unites you with Jesus.  You are no longer regarded as sinners, but saints—for Jesus' innocence is yours.  You are now heirs of the heavenly kingdom—for you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus; and if you are sons of God, then you are also heirs of his kingdom.  You are children of the resurrection—for this man, Jesus, conquered the grave for you and all mankind who are united to him will also rise to live forever.
     Fear not!  For behold!  Jesus has risen!  And now even the fears, the guilt, and the evils of this world find a new reality.  These may pester you, and they may even bring you to tears.  But they do not and they cannot overcome Jesus who lives and reigns over all things for the good of his Redeemed.  The frustrations and sorrows and evils of this world (even COVID-19 isolation, and on top of that a power outage, to disrupt the joyful festivity of the highest festival of the Church Year) will come to an end.  For that matter, even death will come to an end.  But Jesus lives, and he lives forever.  He is with you always, and he will come again to bring you to be with him.  And when he comes again in glory on the Last Day, the grave will have to give up all its dead.  The grave gets to keep no one.  And all who believe in Jesus and have been baptized into his name will be taken to glory and peace and joy everlasting.  For behold!  Jesus has risen!
     While a heavy heart may not respond well to peppy little ditties or silly little jokes, our Lord gives comfort to a hearts which grieve and confidence to a hearts which are afraid.  He shows himself the one who conquers death, who delivers us from evil, and who will bring us out of this sinful world to the home of righteousness.  So, we do not sing little ditties.  Instead, we raise up fight songs.  Even in the midst of grief, we joyously mock sin, death, and the devil and declare our victory over them:

Oh, where is your sting, death?  We fear you no more;
   Christ rose, and how open is fair Eden's door.
For all our transgressions his blood does atone;
   Redeemed and forgiven, we now are his own. 
(He's Risen, He's Risen by C. F. W. Walther; Hymn 143:4 in Christian Worship)

Jesus lives!  The vict'ry's won!  Death no longer can appall me.
   Jesus lives!  Death's reign is done!  From the grave Christ will recall me.
      Brighter scenes will then commence; This shall be my confidence!     
      (Jesus Lives! The Victory's Won by Christian Gellert; Hymn 145:1 in Christian Worship)

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

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

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