31 March 2013

Death Is Defeated by the Body of Christ

Christ is risen! — He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

By His death, He has destroyed death.  And in His rising from the dead, he has brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.  Sin is forgiven, and the whole world has been reconciled to God in Christ Jesus.  Therefore, death has been defeated, and the devil is undone.

But, for all that, the last great enemy, death, has not yet been abolished.  Defeated, yes, but death is not yet “dead and gone.”  People are still dying every day, both Christians and non-Christians, alike, even throughout Eastertide.  Cemeteries continue to expand, as graves continue to increase.

Life has triumphed over death in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus, and God the Father has put all things beneath His feet.  But you do not see that reality, do you?  It sure doesn’t look like Jesus has got the upper hand.  What you see is that He and His Church still bear the Cross in this world.  Not only death, but sin, too, is rampant everywhere you look.  Both of these are still at work in you.

The new thing that God has created is already established, sure and certain, in the crucified and risen body of the Lord Jesus.  But it does not yet appear as it shall be.  For the time being, in this fallen world, life has the appearance of death, while death has the appearance of life.  What I mean by that is this, that real life is hidden under the Cross, whereas sin is so tempting and appealing, as though it could liven things up and make your life better, when it actually brings only death.

Now, then, before you have ever called out for help or cried out in dismay, the Lord your God has already resolved your dilemma.  He has already answered your prayer.  And yet, His answer is rather elusive.  You do, then, call upon His Name and beg Him for mercy, because you neither see His solution in your life, nor experience His salvation in your mortal flesh and blood.

Even so, while you are still speaking, He is not only hearing your prayer, but He is also already responding with His gracious gifts of the Gospel, and with His promises of life everlasting.

The Truth is that the Crucified One is, now and forevermore, the Living One, and He is never to die again.  He is risen indeed.  Alleluia!  And that is good news for you, because He has died and risen as your Savior, in order to become your great Salvation.  All of that is rock-solid true.

But what you see is an empty tomb; or, rather, what you see is nothing.  In any event, Him you do not see.  That is the odd thing about this Holy Gospel from the Resurrection Chapter of St. Luke:  The Lord Jesus doesn’t appear in this account.  He is mentioned, and His words are recalled, but He makes no personal appearance, and He doesn’t speak for Himself.  His body is not found, nor is He seen alive.  The women are first of all perplexed; then they are terrified; and when they have gone to report what they discovered, and what they heard from the angels, the Apostles and the rest of the disciples refuse to believe them.  Peter runs to the tomb, to check out their story for himself, but he doesn’t see Jesus, either.  He goes home marveling, which is quite different than believing.

It is an odd Holy Gospel for such a joyous day as this; but, then again, it cuts pretty close to where your own Christian faith and life are at.

The words and promises of the Gospel are perplexing, and they honestly do sound like nonsense.  St. Paul acknowledges that earlier in his letter to the Church at Corinth.  So it’s no surprise that you are hampered by doubts and fears, within and without, no less so than those first Christians were.  At times, no one believes; and that includes you, no matter how much and how badly you want to.

It is still a struggle, a strange and dreadful strife, that contending of life and death inside of you, and all around you in the world.  That combat stupendous, which Christ has already won, still rages in your flesh and blood, and in your heart and soul.

It certainly would seem as though Christians were really delusional nut cases: to believe in the Resurrection against all evidence to the contrary.  It is by faith alone, and not be sight!  Indeed!  But is that just a ruse, a clever hoax, a pious excuse to keep on kidding yourself?  For the fact is, that you labor long and hard, seemingly in vain.  And you bear children, apparently for calamity; or else, perhaps, you bear no children at all.  Either way, it still remains the case, that, in Adam, all the children of men die.  And to be sure, the tombs of your ancestors, and of your loved ones, including some of your own children, are not empty at all, but full of death, of dust and bones.

So, what gives?  And what is the point?  Where is the power and promise of the Resurrection?

Beloved of the Lord, do not despair or give up hope!  For now Christ Jesus, your Savior, has been raised from the dead, and that has actually changed everything and made all the difference.

Children continue to be born to Adam and his kin; not for calamity and death — though they do all experience that — but in order to be reborn and recreated in the New Man, Jesus Christ.  If they are born but once, that is most pitiable, and it were surely better had they never been born at all.  But if they are born again, by the Word and Spirit of Christ, then they are brought forth, out of death, into the resurrection of their bodies and the life everlasting in body and soul.

For the Son of God, Himself, has become a Son of Adam, by His conception and birth of the Woman, in order to die the death of Adam, once for all; and so, by His death, to bring an end to the death of Adam; and in His Resurrection from the dead, to raise the sons and daughters of Adam from the dust of the earth, to live forever as beloved children of His God and Father in heaven.

The Lord Jesus Christ is the First Fruits, as you have heard from St. Paul, His Apostle; and if He is the First Fruits, then you shall follow after Him.  As surely as He led the sons of Israel out of Egypt through the waters of the Red Sea, and through the waters of the Jordan River into Canaan, so surely does He lead you through the waters of your Holy Baptism, through death and burial with Him, into the gracious and glorious Paradise that He has promised to each and all of His people.

When He hands over His Kingdom to His God and Father, then will He surely also bring you to the Father, in and with Himself; for you belong to His Kingdom by grace, through His Gospel.

For now, He has established His Kingdom and His dwelling place within His Holy Church on earth, wherein He calls and gathers you to Himself, in order to bring you into His eternal Sanctuary with the Father in heaven.  As He brings you in and plants you here, so does He bring you in and plant you there, even forever.  Everything that belongs to Him, He gives to you here in His Church.

He hands Himself over to you here, by the Ministry of the Gospel, no less so than He has offered Himself up, once for all, and handed Himself over to the Father, by His Sacrifice upon the Cross.  So that you are bound to God the Father, in both body and soul, in the Person and work of Christ Jesus: By His Word and Spirit; and also, by and with His crucified and risen Body, and His Blood.

Where, then, is the Body of Jesus?  That is the big question at the beginning of Easter, and, really, to this very day.  Where is the Body of Jesus?  That’s what everyone is looking for, or should be.

By the end of St. Luke’s Resurrection Chapter, as we shall hear and celebrate in these coming days of the Easter Feast, the answer is given clearly: The Body of Christ is in the Breaking of the Bread.  He is recognized and received at His Table, in the eating and drinking of His Holy Supper.

It is by and with His Word that He reveals and gives Himself to you in this way, by this means of grace.  Do not suppose that it is foolish nonsense, no matter how marvelous and perplexing it be.  For with His Word, He remembers you in love, and He Himself gives to you His own Body to eat; He pours out His own Blood for you to drink.  And by His Word, which He has spoken to you — and He still speaks to you by His messengers — by that Word of His, you also remember Him.

Not only that, but it is also by and with His Word, and by the preaching of it, that His faith and His faithfulness become yours: In the same way that His Victory over death, and His Resurrection from the dead, and the power of His indestructible life, all become yours by the Gospel.  In point of fact, unbelief and death go hand-in-hand (with each other, and with sin).  But Christ has triumphed, as the First Fruits of faith and life, in the New Creation that God has brought about by His Cross and in His Resurrection.  Therefore, when you and all others are faithless, yet, He remains faithful.

So it is, that, by His Word and Spirit, by the preaching of His Gospel of forgiveness, you also now believe: As the women who witnessed the empty tomb, and the other disciples, too, were brought from their doubts and fears and sadness, to faith and life, and peace and joy, in Christ Jesus.

Your rejoicing and gladness, on this glorious day, and throughout this poor life of labor, even in the midst of sin and in the face of death, unto the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting — this joy and gladness are not a joke, a pretense or charade; and they are no lie or subterfuge, regardless of how you may be feeling on the inside.

If you are smiling and singing on the outside, while in your heart and mind you struggle with sorrow and feel like dying, nevertheless, true joy and real gladness are rightly yours, both now and forever, in Christ Jesus.  Not because of how you feel about it, or what you think about it, but here is the Truth: Your rejoicing and your gladness are found and received in the Lord’s rejoicing over you, and in His great gladness in you.  The fact of the matter is, that He delights in you.

The Lord your God, the Maker of the heavens and the earth, has recreated you for such joy and gladness and life everlasting in Christ Jesus.  He has done it, first of all, in Christ Himself, in His Body of flesh and blood: In which He has been crucified and raised for you and your salvation.  It is a done deal, permanently established for you in Him.

But He has also brought about the New Creation of Christ Jesus in you, through the Gospel, by your Baptism into Him; and by His Body and His Blood, which are given and poured out for you here at His Altar.  By these means of grace, in Christ, you are a new creation: Born of the new and better Adam, not for calamity and death, but for the Life and Light and Love of God, the Lord.

He is your Strength in weakness, and He is your Song in both joy and sadness, all your days, because He has become your Salvation.  That won’t change, not ever.  It stands fast, and it shall be revealed at the last.  As surely as He has risen from the dead, so surely shall you also rise; for He has died your death, and, therefore, His Resurrection is already your resurrection, evermore.

The Prince of Life, who died, reigns immortal.  He reigns over you in love, and with great joy.  This Victor King has mercy upon you, and the eternal sunshine of His grace, mercy, and peace, His Resurrection and His Life, His Body and His Blood, now warm and light you, all your days.

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

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