27 March 2016

The Word of the Resurrection

The Resurrection should not come as any surprise, for it is the fulfillment of the Word of God, as the Holy Scriptures of the Prophets had foretold, and as the Lord Jesus Himself had also spoken.

But it does catch you by surprise and leave you reeling.  It seems amazing, and rather more like unbelievable nonsense than reliable fact.  Not just to the people way back when, but to you, right here and now on Easter Sunday morning.  For even though you fully expect to hear that Christ is risen (He is risen indeed!), you don’t actually expect it to make any difference or change anything in your life.  It makes for a nice greeting and it’s a good excuse for family gatherings and parties, but it doesn’t permeate your heart and mind, your body and soul, with the peace and hope that you long for all your days.  Instead of joy and confidence, you still tremble with anxiety and fear.

Although you would affirm at the drop of a hat that Jesus rose from the dead, you do not act like it, and you do not live as though it mattered, because you do not remember His Word.  Else you would not continue to curse or to covet, to boast of yourself, to spend so much on things that do not last and do not matter, to envy and resent your neighbor, or to harbor grudges and bitterness.

But to remember the Lord Jesus and His Word of the Resurrection, as the angel describes, is not a matter of recalling the story or keeping track of the details involved.  It is not a mental exercise, nor really any sort of activity or exercise on your part.  It is nothing you can dredge up for yourself.  It is rather to be engaged and acted upon by the Word itself; not as letters on the page, nor as a code for you to decipher, but the Word that is preached into your ears, into your heart and mind, by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the working of His Holy Spirit through the Gospel.

It is not an easy thing.  To remember the Word of Jesus is a miracle as great as the Resurrection.  Or, better to say, it is the miracle of the Resurrection as it is accomplished in your fallen flesh by the powerful mercies of God, lest you remain dead in your trespasses and sin.  For by your sinful nature, you do not remember or believe the Word of Christ.  You refuse to believe it, and you do not take it seriously.  Although it is beyond your reason and strength, you think it is beneath you.

If you are here in church regularly, you are tempted to presume that you already “know” it all.  Adults are as bad as children at playing that game.  But you don’t know as much as you think you do; there’s always more to learn.  Nor do you understand what you do know, not as you should.  And again, more to the point at hand, to “know” is not yet to remember what Jesus is speaking, for that requires not your intellect but your ears; not what you think, but what you hear and receive.

And if you are not in church regularly or often, assuming that your health is not preventing you from coming, your absence demonstrates well enough what you think of Jesus and His Word.  As though you had no need of Him.  As though you could live without the preaching of His Word.

Repent of your arrogance, and of your real ignorance.  If those faithful women who had followed and supported Jesus in His Ministry were still caught by surprise when they came to His empty tomb; and if His chosen disciples and holy Apostles did not believe the Word of His Resurrection at first, because of their hardness of heart; and if none of them were able to remember, to believe, or to rejoice in this Gospel, except by the hearing of the Word of Jesus — then do not kid yourself or flatter yourself that you can manage on your own.  That is both prideful and utterly naïve.

Why do you look for the Lord Jesus among the dead?  He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity.  He is the Living One!  You will not find Him in your dead and dying flesh.  Nor in the cares and occupations of this perishing world.  Not in business ventures.  Not in your lavish vacations.  Not in your hobbies and diversions.  Not even in your family and close friends.  All of these things, no matter how precious, are subject to death and the grave as surely as you are.  They are all together withering grass, fading memories, and dust and ashes blowing in the wind.

You won’t find Jesus there among the dead, in what amounts to the graveyards and tombstones of this mortal life.  Memorials and monuments of death, that is all this world is able to remember.  But that is not where Jesus is.  And without Him there is no life or health or happiness or peace.

To have the crucified and risen Lord Jesus, and thus to have Life with God in Him, you must remember His Word.  Which means that you must hear Him speak and listen to what He says.  Not simply information, far less “do-it-yourself” instructions, but the Word of the Resurrection, that is, the Word of the Gospel, which does and gives what it says.

So, what does it mean that the Crucified One has risen from the dead — that He is risen indeed! — and that He is the Living One?  What difference does it make?

It means that your sin has been dealt with, atoned for, and removed, once and forever, and that you are now reconciled to God in Christ.  Although you were His mortal enemy, He has made peace between you and Him.  Be at peace with Him, therefore, and live in peace with your neighbors.

You need not be afraid, nor tremble with anxiety at whatever might be coming down the pike.  For the Resurrection of Christ Jesus means that your death has been undone, and that your damnation has been taken away.  Baptized into Him, into His Cross and Resurrection, you have already died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  So there is nothing at all that can you hurt you forever.

His Resurrection means that neither Satan, the Accuser, nor even God’s own righteous Law may condemn you any longer, because the One who died in your place has been vindicated, justified, and exalted to the Right Hand of the Father.  As He is your Righteousness, you live by faith in Him, and there is no charge that can be sustained or stand against you.  You are innocent in Him.

That is what is true for you in Christ Jesus.  In His Resurrection from the dead, you are also raised and made alive.  Although your mortal flesh and blood are still perishing and returning to the dust, you live unto God in the Body of Christ, and so shall your body also be glorified on the last day.

Are you weak and weary and downhearted?  Christ has risen.  In Him, you too shall rise.

Are you guilty and fearful and teetering on the edge?  Christ has risen.  Your sins are forgiven.

Are you skeptical, incredulous, and doubting?  Christ has risen.  Your faith is not in vain.

His Resurrection and His Life are not far away and out of reach.  They are given to you here in the preaching of His Word and in the Sacrament of His Altar.  In fact, His Word of the Resurrection is always directing you and bringing you to the Table of His Holy Communion, to the gift of His crucified and risen Body, and to the New Testament in His holy and precious Blood.

It is in the celebration of this Feast, in the giving and receiving of this Bread and this Cup, in the proclamation of His death until His comes, and in the blessing of His Name, that you are given to remember the Lord Jesus Christ, as He remembers you with His love and mercy and forgiveness.

Here is what is missing from all the dead and deadly monuments of this dying world.  Here is the Body of the Lord Jesus, by which He has conquered death, atoned for sin, and reconciled you and all the world to His God and Father in heaven.

Here is the Body that was crucified for your transgressions and raised for your justification.  It is given into your hands, into your mouth, and into your body, that you should die no more but rise and live with Him forever.  That is amazing, to be sure, but it comes as no surprise.  Remember the Word that He speaks even now: It is for you, and for the many, for the forgiveness of all your sins.

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

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