01 April 2018

The Ending Is Just the Beginning

One of the things I remember from my childhood, is how my Dad would often skip to the end of  a book and read the final chapter first, before he started at the beginning.  To each his own, I guess.  Mom and I could never quite understand that approach.  But the thing of it is, coming at the story backwards is how the Church has always heard and received the Holy Gospel of her Savior.

Think about it.  You have already known how the story would end — or, rather, how it continues.  It comes as no surprise at this point.  You’ve known from the start, during Advent and Christmas, Epiphany and Lent, and even on Good Friday.  Does that ruin the story or wreck the surprise?  By no means.  Knowing the truth of the Resurrection is the necessary key by which you are able to understand the Incarnation, Life, and Death of Jesus our Lord.  Knowing the Resurrection does not invalidate the rest of the story up til now.  It rather enables you to hear and receive the Cross and Passion of your Savior for what they truly are.

The Feast of Easter and the Resurrection of our Lord are the proclamation of His Victory on the Cross.  His empty tomb is the evidence, the proof, and the guarantee that death will not have the last word — not for Christ, and not for those who live in Him.  Thus do we celebrate His conquest.

After seven long weeks of holding her breath, the Church again exhales, “Alleluia!”  We sing and chant and praise the Lord with all the exuberance we can muster, reveling and rejoicing in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead.  And this our song shall be throughout the seven weeks of Easter now before us — as it is ever and always the hymn and chant of heaven itself.

The Church rejoices and celebrates this morning, precisely because the Resurrection was so necessary — not for the Christ, who is ever and always the Son of the Living God, but for you and all of us poor sinners.  It is for you that He was crucified, dead, and buried; therefore, it is also for you that He has risen triumphant from death and the grave.  Otherwise, apart from Christ, you are imprisoned by your sins, captivated by Satan and his evil charms, and tyrannized by death and hell.

It all takes you back to the very beginning; which is why the “surprise ending” should come as no surprise at all.  Already back in the Garden of Eden, when Adam & Eve had followed the serpent’s temptation to disobey the Lord, He spoke to them a curse and a promise, the Law and the Gospel.

In choosing to reject His Word, our first parents brought death and pain, heartache and struggle into God’s good Creation.  Food is henceforth obtained only with blisters and sweat, and children enter the world by way of great anguish and labor.  It was not God’s intention or design but man’s sin that made it so — man’s willing and willful submission to the leadership and lies of the devil.

Even so, out of His great love for Adam & Eve and all their children, the Lord did not leave us to sleep in the bed that we had made for ourselves.  His own dear Son entered the world, born of the Woman, born under the Law, in order to redeem those who were under the curse of the Law.  That New Man, Jesus Christ, the new and better Adam, allowed Himself to be attacked by the serpent, that by His death He might destroy the power that death held over the sons and daughters of man, and crush the head of Satan under His bruised heal, and so bring forgiveness by His Blood.

Because the victory He gained was not for Himself but for fallen and perishing people like you, it came not with a show of divine strength, but rather by His divine suffering of your mortality.  In order to become the Second Adam, He suffered death with all who suffer and die in the first Adam, including you.  He made Himself like you in all things, bearing your sins and sharing your death, so that His Resurrection and His Life should become yours; that you might be like Him.

Hence, the proclamation of the Gospel this morning — to the holy myrrhbearers, Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, and Salome — that the crucified Jesus of Nazareth is no longer in the tomb where His Body had rested.  He has gotten up.  He has risen from the dead, just as He said.  The women will not anoint His Body as they planned, because His Body is alive and glorified.

His Resurrection declares that He has saved His people from their sins.  He has earned forgiveness by His sacrificial death, a more-than-sufficient Atonement for the entire world.  It offers a Word of Absolution for you, no less than for Peter the denier.  Christ’s death was not the end of the story, but the end of death’s power; for death bit off more than it could chew when it laid hold of Christ, the sinless and eternal Son of God.  Nor was the Cross a victory for Satan, as it might have seemed at the time; it was the Lord’s decisive crushing of that vile serpent’s head.  And that great Victory of Christ and His Cross is publicized to all the world by the proclamation of His Resurrection.

The question, then, is why the fear and silence on the part of those women?  Scholars have puzzled for years over this seemingly very strange conclusion to St. Mark’s Easter Gospel.  And yet, it’s not so strange if you think about your complicity with the powers of sin, death, the devil, and hell.  As it is, the crushing victory of the Cross has also brought an end to the tyrannizing rule of your own old Adam.  It crucifies you, puts you to death, and buries you in the tomb with Christ Jesus.  And that is a painful process, because it means that you must relinquish all of your self-confidence and self-reliance, along with everything else you are and have, in order to rely on Christ alone.

It truly is a terrifying thing, what a tremendous influence sin and the devil have exercised on your heart and mind, your body and life.  For as frightening and hateful as death and the grave are for your fallen flesh, in your sinful unbelief you are actually more comfortable and satisfied with those dark powers than you are with Christ and His Resurrection.  Perhaps it is because your death is the one thing you have merited for yourself, and in your pride you resist the utter charity of life in Christ.  Whatever the logic, that is the pattern and practice of sin, as it has been from the beginning — to refuse the life that is freely offered by the Lord, in favor of self-reliance and a supposed “independence,” even though independence from the Lord your God is nothing else than death.

It is for that very reason — because of the death that you have chosen in your sin — that Christ had to suffer and die for the forgiveness of your sins and your salvation.  And that is also why you must enter His tomb and bury your old Adam with Him, before you experience His Resurrection.

The Cross and Passion of our Lord, and even His Resurrection, are never easy things for sinners to face, even though they offer nothing more nor less than grace and life and every blessing.  Instinctively, you cling to yourself and to your own meager resources.  The proclamation of the Gospel is thus far more and far different than a simple communication of facts and information.  The story of Christ is rather a death-dealing conquest of the false “life” that Adam & Eve and all their children, right down to yourself and your children, have willingly and eagerly embraced.

Simply knowing the facts, and even believing the facts of the Gospel to be “true,” is not enough.  The Reality of Christ must become your own reality, and you must be transformed with Christ into something new and altogether different than you have been.  To embrace His Cross & Resurrection with faith and confession (instead of silent fear) requires more than knowledge.  It requires the Spirit of God, that by His grace you believe His holy Word and live a godly life by faith in Christ.

That brand new life with God is the gift and benefit of your Holy Baptism, which is in truth your own participation in the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, your personal Good Friday and Easter.  It is your Baptism into Christ which makes the story of the Gospel more than just a history lesson or a fascinating collection of interesting trivia about Jesus.  It is your Baptism into Christ which makes the Feast of Easter a celebration of your own Resurrection from the dead.

It is for you as it was for that familiar “young man” of St. Mark’s Holy Gospel.  For you also have been stripped naked of your old sinful ways in the Cross and Passion of your Lord Jesus Christ.  All your wealth and riches (of whatever sort you have had and relied upon) have been liquidated and given away, that you might take up the Cross of Christ and follow Him, even unto death.  So it is that you have also entered His tomb through the waters of your Holy Baptism, whereby you are cleansed of all your sins and dressed in the pure white robes of His perfect Righteousness and Holiness.  For having died with Him, you know that you shall rise and live with Him, as well.

“He is going before you!”  That is the Word of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus, spoken by His servant to you and to all who enter His tomb.  And as He is going before you, so shall you follow after Him through death into Life.  For Christ Jesus is the Firstborn from the dead, the First Fruits of the New Creation.  And He is with you even now, anointing your body with His Spirit and His Blood for the true Sabbath Rest which remains for you and for all in His Body and His Blood.  It is by the grace of His Gospel that you follow Him throughout your life, even unto death, with sure and certain confidence in His Resurrection from the dead.  And that hope shall not disappoint you.

For Christ has risen from the dead; He has risen indeed, just as He said. Alleluia!

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

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