Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord (Easter Sunday)

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.
Everything is upside down. Nothing is as we had expected. He came as our king on Sunday. The city was electric as the crowds cheered Him and laid down their cloaks before Him praising God. Everyone was full of hope and joy. We cut palm branches from the trees and waved them in the air, and our children sang “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the LORD!” It was the inaugural day of a new kingdom, of a new hope. But then, He didn’t go to the king’s palace, He didn’t go to the governor’s fortress, but He went into the temple and He began doing the unthinkable…, He began turning everything upside down. He overturned the tables of the money changers and those who sold sacrificial animals. He made a whip of chords and began lashing at them and driving them out of the temple crying, “It is written: ‘My house will be a house of prayer.’ But you have made it ‘a den of thieves’.”
The Sanhedrin was enraged. Herod was both curious and suspicious. And Pilate was afraid that a riot would break out and Caesar would have his neck. So, they began looking for a way to kill Him. Since He was innocent, they began looking for false testimony against Him. And, many came forward in those days, but they were all easily disproved, until…, blasphemy! They would charge Him with blasphemy, a crime for which the punishment is death. Oh, they had to trump it up a bit, to be sure. After all, He didn’t come right out and say directly that He was God. But, He said what He said, and He meant what He meant, and, and for once, everyone understood Him. They understood Him because they had seen the signs, the miracles, He performed, signs and miracles that confirmed and fulfilled the Messianic prophecies, signs and miracles that only God could do. The only way you could charge Jesus with blasphemy was if you knew who He was and that His claims about Himself were true, and you rejected Him. That isn’t unbelief, but that is rejection of the Truth staring you square in the face. But, that is what they did. And, in effect, that is what we all did. We exchanged the Truth of God for a lie. We called good evil, and evil good. We turned everything upside down.
But, we were deceived. An enemy had done this. And, this is what the enemy does: He turns everything upside down. Though he attempts to mimic God, His Word, and His works, He twists them in order to deceive us. He makes good and true things seem like torturous slavery, and evil things seem enticing and desirable and good. The enemy deceived Judas, convincing him that he should betray our friend and teacher. Maybe he thought it would speed things up, get the revolution started already. Or, maybe he doubted that Jesus was truly the Messiah. Who knows for sure? Regardless, we know that he changed his mind later, when it was too late. After Jesus’ arrest in the garden Thursday night, we were all afraid that we would be next. And so, we ran, each one of us, going our own way, and we abandoned Jesus as they arrested Him and took Him to trial before the High Priest, the king, and the governor. I myself escaped with only a linen cloth covering my body. But, Judas was very sorrowful. He tried to return the money, but they wouldn’t take it back. Then they themselves, the scribes, the Pharisees, and the Sanhedrin, became the instruments of the enemy. Instead of thanking Judas, praising him, or forgiving him and comforting him, they began to accuse him. His guilt was enormous, more than a man could bear. He had betrayed an innocent man, his friend and his teacher. The enemy convinced Judas that it was better to end it all, to die, than to keep on in such pain. The enemy robbed him of all hope. But, it was a lie; it was all a lie. That is what our enemy is. He is a liar, even the father of lies. All he wants is to destroy us and end us in ruin, because he hates God. And, how weak we are, so susceptible to his tempting, believing his lies. God, have mercy on us sinners.
Even Peter denied Him, though Jesus had told him in the garden, “This night, before the cock crows, you will deny Me three times.” Peter answered Him saying, “I will die for you, but I will never deny you.” And, we all said the same. But, we were so afraid! Fear – fear is one of the enemy’s most powerful weapons against us. To fear anything or anyone more than God is to sin against His First Commandment. We all feared losing our own lives more than we feared denying Jesus. Three times someone from the crowd identified Peter as one of Jesus’ disciples. Each time Peter denied it vehemently, the third time even invoking a curse upon himself, he was so very afraid. But, then the cock crowed, and Peter remembered what Jesus had said to him: “This night, before the cock crows, you will deny Me three times.” Peter was cut to the heart. Like Judas, he also wept bitterly. But, Peter remembered how Jesus had forgiven him in the past; He remembered the mercy and love He had shown to the least of men and women, and he had hope. In truth, I think that the angel told the women at the empty tomb to go and tell the disciples, and specifically Peter, the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection and that they would find Him in Galilee, in order to absolve and comfort Peter from the sin of his denial and betrayal. After His resurrection, Jesus did absolve Peter personally, and He sent Him with this charge: “Feed my sheep.”
Everything is upside down. The women went to the tomb early Sunday morning, just as the sun was coming up, in order to finish the preparations for His burial, to anoint His body and wrap it in linen. The rest of us had returned to the upper room where we celebrated the Last Supper with Him, in fear, with the door bolted tight. The women worried that they would not be able to roll away the great stone that barred the entrance to Jesus’ tomb. But, when they arrived, they were terrified to find that the stone had already been rolled away! Moreover, Jesus wasn’t there! I mean, His body, it was gone! And, there was a young man there, sitting where Jesus had lain, wearing a white robe. 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.” Then he told them, “Go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.” But, they were terrified, and they fled from the tomb, and they said nothing to anyone, because they were so very afraid.
Fear. Fear keeps us locked up inside ourselves, in our homes, in our churches. Fear keeps us from telling anyone anything about Jesus, about the Good News of death and resurrection for the life of the world. The stone that was meant to keep Jesus’ dead body in His tomb was rolled away, and yet our fear was like a great stone keeping us locked up in our own tombs of hopelessness, despair, and unbelief. Fear turns everything upside down. Christ is risen, just as He said! And yet, we too often live our lives as though He remains dead.
My brothers and sisters, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! And so are we! Jesus’ resurrection isn’t merely a historical fact, although it is certainly that, but it is a present fact and reality. Jesus lives! Death could not hold Him, and it cannot hold us! How then will we live our lives as a result of this fact? After Jesus’ Ascension and His sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, we were no longer afraid. For forty years and more we proclaimed the death and resurrection of Jesus before kings and emperors, suffering imprisonment, beatings, torture, hardship, and loss, but without fear. We all gave our lives for our confession of Jesus. I myself was dragged to my death through the streets of Alexandria for proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Most of you will be blessedly spared such horrible suffering, but persecution in your day is of a different, more subtle, and therefore, more deceitful and devilish kind. We knew fully well that we were on the outs with our society and culture, but you have enjoyed being in with your society and culture for such a long time now that you have much to lose in terms of worldly comfort, stability, possessions, and prestige. That is why St. Paul speaks of the importance and necessity of disciplining yourselves as a runner disciplines his body to run a race. Likewise, he exhorts you today to “Cleanse out the old leaven,” the “leaven of malice and evil,” and celebrate this festival with the “unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” Your culture values what it considers freedom, independence, and equality more than anything else, but these are nothing more than a euphemism for sinful license without any regard for truth, goodness, or God. It is tempting and intoxicating, but it is another lie of the enemy of which you must beware, mark, and avoid lest you become ensnared in the tomb once again.
But, He has left us a wonderful gift, His body, the Church. As He was dying, Jesus told His mother to behold John as her son, and He told John to behold Mary as his mother. What He meant was that, in Him, we are a new community and family of faith. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ, adopted children of our God and Father in Jesus, and we all have the Church as our Mother, from whose holy womb in baptism we were born again into a new life that will never die. Therefore, let us gather here together every Lord’s Day, every Sunday, which is a Little Easter, to commune together in Christ, our sins forgiven anew, nourished, strengthened, protected, equipped, and sent by His Word and Blessed Sacraments to live in true freedom without fear. And let the Light of Christ shine through us in word and deed to the glory of God the Father, through Jesus Christ His Son, in His most Holy Spirit. For, Jesus has turned everything upside down, which means He has made us right again with God His Father, a new creation.
Then let us feast this Easter Day on Christ, the bread of heaven; The Word of grace has purged away the old and evil leaven. Christ alone our souls will feed; He is our meat and drink indeed; faith lives upon no other! Alleluia!

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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