Sunday, April 24, 2011

Homily for the Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord (Easter Sunday)

Easter Chancel








Mark 16:1-8; 1 Corinthians 5:6-8; Job 19:23-27

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

Zechariah had prophesied that the LORD would strike His own Shepherd and scatter the sheep. Jesus had warned His disciples of precisely that after celebrating the Passover with them Thursday evening when He said to them, “You will all fall away because of Me this night.” And, though they all denied it vehemently, shortly thereafter, in the Garden of Gethsemane, came the betrayer, Judas, with a crowd with swords and clubs from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders, and they arrested Jesus, and, just as He had foretold, all the disciples left Him and fled.

Can you imagine the terror and the confusion of that night. The band of disciples had seen and heard many wonderful and miraculous things, and they really did believe Jesus to be the Messiah, even God’s own Son. However, they didn’t really understand what that all meant. When they listened to Jesus’ teaching, their faith and their understanding was increased, but, then the devil would come and twist the meaning of Jesus’ words in their hearts and minds, and tempt them to vie for power and glory, to covet material wealth and earthly prestige, and to grumble and to despair when things didn’t go the way they had imagined or hoped. So, the reality that Jesus was arrested, and that one of them had betrayed Him, wasn’t really something that they were prepared to handle. They were terrified for their own lives, and they, perhaps, began to think that maybe they were wrong about Jesus all along. After all, they had their families, their occupations and livelihoods, their homes, and their positions in the religious and civic communities that they had given up. What were we thinking? The man that they thought was God’s Messiah had been arrested, and, whatever was going to happen, it surely wasn’t going to be good. They were terrified, and so they ran.

The LORD struck His own Shepherd and He scattered the sheep. It was the LORD’s will to crush Him. Who’d you think was responsible, the devil? Impossible! The devil has no power over God, nor over the Son of God in human flesh, Jesus. The devil only has power over you. Long ago, he came knockin’ on the door of your heart, and you let him in! And, before you knew it, he’d rearranged the furniture, painted the walls, and hanged up new curtains so that everything you thought, everything you spoke, and everything you did bore his imprimatur. He corrupted your will, he corrupted your passions, and he corrupted your desires and then he used them against you. He used you against others. He said that you would not surely die. But, he lied. You die. You die because you rejected Life and chose death. God is the only LORD of Life; any other god brings only death.

It was because of death that the LORD of Life had to die. It was necessary. It was the only way to raise you from death to life again. So, the Father sent His Son in the form of a man, in human flesh, born of the Virgin, without sin, so that God could die and you could live. However, so corrupted by sin and death we were that we could not see it; we could not understand it or receive it. Jesus had taught His disciples about His death and resurrection several times, and they, who so boldly confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God, rebuked their Lord when He said such things. But Jesus knew who was behind their words and deeds. What did Jesus say to Peter, “Get behind me Satan.” So, when it became apparent that Jesus was going to die, they acted out in violence at first, Peter cut off some poor man’s ear, and then they all ran away in fear and left Jesus alone. Jesus had prayed in Gethsemane that there might be some other way, but there was no other way possible, and so He submitted to His Father’s will, and He submitted to arrest, trial, scourging, mockery, crucifixion, and death, because it was necessary, it was necessary to raise you from the dead.

When Jesus died Friday afternoon, there were only a few of his disciples present, most of whom were women, including His mother Mary, Mary the wife of Clopas, Mary Magdalene, Salome, and the wife of Zebedee. There was also a centurion present and some others gentiles keeping watch. And then there was John, the only Apostle recorded to be present. All the others had fled in fear. Perhaps this meager band of faithful women and gentiles, along with the young Apostle John, represented the firstfruits of what Jesus had prophesied, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.” Regardless, the faithful few were sorely grieved and wracked with sorrow, confusion, and fear and doubt. After all the horrors of the day, it was now approaching sundown and the Sabbath was soon to begin. So, they hastily took Jesus’ body and laid Him in the tomb, and then they departed to their homes where they observed the Sabbath in bitter tears.

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices so that they might go and anoint Him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” They came to finish their work of Friday evening, preparing Jesus’ body for burial. Once again, despite Jesus’ teaching about His suffering, crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection, the women believed Jesus to be dead, yet another casualty of that lying serpent Satan. They expected to find His body there in the tomb, just as it had been laid there Friday evening.

In some ways, they were not so unlike the Prodigal Son as he was returning home, prepared for and expecting the worst. “Who will roll away the stone for us? It’s impossible, they thought.” But, before the Prodigal Son even caught site of his home, he saw His father running towards him with his arms open wide. And, before he could recite his carefully prepared speech and offer his labor as a servant, his father had restored him fully as a son and an heir and showered his love upon him. So too, the fearful and anxious women found that their fears and anxiety were without warrant as the stone had already been rolled away. And, an angel, a messenger of God was there, and he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go; tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.”

In somewhat stark contrast to the struggling faith of the women at the tomb and of Jesus’ disciples and Apostles, we also heard this morning of the bold and confident faith of a man named Job. God permitted Satan to afflict Job – and, again, we must remember that Satan has no power at all that God does not permit him to have – and so Satan took from Job his children, his wealth, his home, and, finally, he afflicted his body just short of killing him. Yet, even in the midst of all his suffering, Job proclaimed his faith in the resurrection of His Redeemer, God’s promised Messiah, and he proclaimed his own bodily resurrection saying, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!” And, with all that being said, add to it that Job lived as much as two thousand years before Jesus’ birth! Stripped of everything that men are tempted to put their fear, love, and trust in, Job was left with two options, curse God and die, as his so-called friends and even his wife tempted him to do, or cast all his fear, love, and trust upon the LORD and Giver of Life. Job’s confession of faith demonstrated where He put His trust.

Indeed, worldly fears, loves, and trusts keep us from placing our fear, love, and trust in the LORD of life, so that we return again and again to the bondage of sin and death. “Who will remove the stone?” Sin and unbelief is the stone that would keep us in our tombs. It is the leaven that St. Paul says that we must cleanse from our hearts, minds, hands, and lips, the leaven of malice, evil, and sin, for Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the festival with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Even after seeing the stone rolled away, the empty tomb, and the angel who told them that Jesus had risen just as He had said He would, the women were astonished and filled with fear. They fled from the tomb and said nothing to anyone because they were afraid. Indeed, as Father Abraham told the rich man who was in torment in hell, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” It is always the Word of the LORD to which we must listen. The angel didn’t simply pass along information to the women, he preached to them, and what he preached was Christ and Him crucified. That was what was important. Jesus died. He was laid here in this tomb. But He is not dead anymore, He is risen, just as He said. And that has changed everything! That same truth was what Job put his trust in so many centuries before, and that same truth is what we put our trust in today. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. There is no need to struggle and to strive for worldly power and glory, to covet material wealth and earthly prestige, and there is no need to fear the loss of these things, nor even death itself, the old and evil leaven. Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed. It is finished. The stone of sin has been removed. You are free to live resurrected lives in His love, grace, and mercy, sharing these with all as they have been richly and abundantly shared with you.

So let us keep the Feast of freedom gallantly; Let alleluias leap. Let love grow strong anew, and great, let truth stamp out the lie. Let all our deeds, unanimous, confess Him as our Lord who by the Spirit lives in us, the Father’s living Word.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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