21 April 2019

Death Is Defeated and Life Reigns in the Body of Christ Jesus

In this life, in this fallen and perishing world, there is suffering and finally death.  Consequently, there is the pain and sorrow leading up to death, surrounding it, and following afterwards.  There is sad disappointment and bitter loss.  The best laid plans go awry, and too often they backfire.

You labor in vain.  You bear children for calamity.  You plant, but you do not reap or eat of it.  You build your house, but you do not dwell or live in it.

As a Christian, you hope in God, and you look to Him for good and better things.  You rightly pray to Him and cry out to Him for mercy.  But you wonder if you are heard, and whether your prayers will be answered.  For the fact is that even Christians die, and their children die.  They also suffer losses and disappointments.  Whereas those who are not Christians often seem to prosper.

Now, then, hear the proclamation of Easter, and remember the Word and promise of the Lord Jesus Christ.  For your God and Father in heaven has already answered your prayers and provided for all your needs, before you ever thought to pray to Him or even knew how.  In Christ He has already acted to help you, to rescue and deliver you from death and the grave, and to give you life forever.

Both the prayer and the answer, along with everything else, depend on the Lord Jesus.  Everything in heaven and on earth, all of creation, hinges on Him, on His crucified and risen Body.  For in His Body of flesh and blood God has created new heavens and a new earth, and He has recreated Man in His own Image and Likeness.  In the crucified and risen Christ Jesus, all things are made brand new.  In Him God has established the New Jerusalem, His holy Church, in heaven and on earth.

So, where are you supposed to find and receive the Body of this one Lord, Jesus Christ, and all these good things that are in Him alone?  Where and how are you enabled to enter into and abide within the glorious New Creation of His Resurrection from the dead?  Those are the big and urgent questions set before you in this Easter Gospel from St. Luke, in which, ironically, Jesus does not yet appear (it is later, on the Road to Emmaus and in the Breaking of the Bread, that He does so).

It is by the way of His Cross that you enter into the Resurrection of Christ Jesus.  And it is in His Holy Christian Church that you find and receive His crucified and risen Body.  Not in the empty tombs of this old world, but in the Liturgy of His Gospel, in the Holy Communion.  That is where the Church receives and eats the Body of Christ Jesus, and so becomes the Body of Christ Jesus.

Certainly, the empty tomb of the Lord Jesus, to which the Gospel testifies, is evidence that He has risen from the dead, just as He said that He would.  In this sign of the empty tomb we greatly rejoice, and for it we give thanks and sing.  Nevertheless, it is still a tomb.  And it is still empty.  So you will not find the Living One, with His life and salvation, there in the place of the dead.

Do not be deceived, perplexed, or dumbfounded.  What the world calls life is really death.  And what the world perceives to be death — in the Cross and Passion of Christ — is really life indeed.

The Word of His Cross may appear to you as nonsense, but if you would find Jesus, His Body, and His Life, then hear and heed the testimony of His two men, His messengers, clothed in dazzling garments.  They are dressed in the Glory of Jesus’ Resurrection, as you also have been clothed in your Holy Baptism, whereby you have entered into His tomb and returned with Him to life.

The glory of your Holy Baptism — the dying and rising of repentance and faith in the forgiveness of your sins — is the manifestation of the heavenly life in Christ Jesus, which the Church on earth confesses before the world, even though it is for now still hidden under the Cross and suffering.

Do not search for it with your eyes, far less with your fickle emotions, prideful intellect, or human reason.  But hear the preaching of Christ Jesus in His Church, in the midst of His New Jerusalem, and so receive His crucified and risen Body here at His Altar from the hand of His servants.

Why should this appearance of heaven on earth terrify or frighten you?  And why should it cause you to flee and go away?  Why do you regard the Liturgy of the Lord as a burdensome obligation?

It is because of your native sin and unbelief that you are so afraid of His Cross and Resurrection and His indestructible Life.  For your sinful heart deceives you and beguiles you, and it turns you away from life with God — to sin, death, the devil, and hell.  And you settle for that judgment and demise, because you know that you deserve it; because your heart and your conscience and the devil accuse you and condemn you with the Law.  So when you are blinded by the dazzling light of Christ, you know that you are not worthy.  It is too beautiful and wonderful and high for you.

But now rejoice, dear Christian disciple of Jesus, and do not be afraid.  All your sins are forgiven.

God has raised His Son, Christ Jesus, from the dead.  He is the First Fruits of all those who sleep.  In Him, therefore, all the sons and daughters of Adam are raised from the dust to newness of life.

This Son of Man, the dear Lord Jesus Christ, was delivered into the hands of sinful men, and He was crucified under Pontius Pilate, for this very purpose: that sinful men and women, boys and girls, should be redeemed from sin, death, and hell, and on the Third Day be raised up with Him.  For His Cross is the Atonement of the world, and His Resurrection is the Absolution of the same.

As surely as Christ Jesus is risen from the dead — the very One who died bearing your sins and the sins of the world in His Body — so sure and certain is the forgiveness of all your sins.

Rejoice, therefore, in what the Lord your God creates.  For He recreates you in Christ Jesus by the proclamation of this Gospel, by the free and full forgiveness of your sins in His Name and stead, and by His Body given and His Blood poured out for you to eat and to drink in this Holy Supper.

He freely gives you such good gifts and manifold blessings, because He rejoices over you!  The Lord your God celebrates Easter with you and all the company of heaven, because He rejoices in your Salvation!  As the Father rejoices in His beloved Son, so does He rejoice in you, because you are baptized into Christ Jesus, and you are a member of His Body and Bride, His Holy Church.

Here then, in this Feast, is the Body of Christ Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead, the First Fruits of the Resurrection and of the New Creation.  It is given to you here, not for this life only, but for the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting of your body and soul in Him.

And as Christ Jesus your Savior gives Himself to you here and now, His Body into your body, so are you also crowned with His Glory and Honor and presented to His God and Father in Peace.

The last great enemy to be abolished is death, which does linger for a time in this fallen world, but it is already defeated, and there is no doubt that it is trodden beneath the feet of Christ.  Therefore, just as He is risen from the dead and seated at the right hand of His God and Father, so are you also raised from death to life in Him, and so shall you live forever with Him in His Kingdom.

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

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