Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sermon for 4/24/11--The Resurrection of Our Lord (LSB 1-year)

We Are Witnesses

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Thousands witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus. No one saw Him rise. The resurrection cannot be demonstrated to anyone. The proof of the resurrection rests with those witnesses chosen by Jesus, those who saw Him alive. Scripture tells us, “To them He presented Himself alive after His Passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God.” It was as witnesses of the resurrection that the apostles were first really conscious of what Jesus had given them to do. They rose up suddenly from the despair that followed the crucifixion of their Master, and bore witness that He was very much alive. They were now assured of an unbroken fellowship with Him, despite what may come. Peter proclaimed in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses.” They had, themselves, risen with Christ! Easter had come to them!

Today, millions have gathered all over the world: to listen again to the witness of the apostles and evangelists, to sing hymns of triumph and praise to the Lamb who was slain, but who now lives and reigns forevermore. We, too, confess our faith in the crucified and risen, victorious Jesus Christ! We do so in the midst of a world that bears the marks and emits the scent of death and destruction. We are not ourselves eyewitnesses to the resurrection, and the world mocks us for believing the testimony of men and women whose bodies are now moldering in their graves. But that mockery is the testimony of a world full of broken homes and fractured relationships; a world of spoiled friendships and a mad scramble for power and control; a world where men stand at odds with each other and nations look upon one another with suspicion and hatred and fear. What is the answer to all of these things? It is certain that man has no answer. We are not even certain of what the questions are. But God has given the answer. God can and does heal all the divisions between God and man. The resurrection of Jesus reveals that the love of God is more than a match for all of the hatred and fear and brokenness of this world. He is Victor over it all. The love of God is the last word in holding together a world that would otherwise have gone to pieces long ago. Becoming Man, living, suffering, dying, rising, and ascending: that is God’s answer, in Jesus Christ, to a broken and dying world.

None of us knows what the future will bring to us, but we need not be anxious about the future. We do know that God has everything within His view, and we do know what God has done in the past. We know, above all, that the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead makes all the difference in everything we experience now, and in everything that is yet to come. The resurrection of Jesus is faith’s assurance that He has overcome the world and all the powers of sin and death. It is the beginning of new life in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the guarantee that God has promised that in His own good time His victory will be revealed to all. The resurrection of Jesus creates a “living hope,” as St. Peter said, a hope that comes to us from God and rests in God.

Our conviction that God has not and will not forsake us centers in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That same victory and joy of the early Christians, who lived in the midst of death and suffering on account of their faith, can be our victory and joy just as much today. In this glad faith and confidence we carry on with whatever the Lord has given us to do without panic or fear. We can witness daily the power and love of God that saves sinners, for it is found at the foot of the cross, and in the Christ of the cross all barriers are broken down. But Jesus Christ is risen, and through baptism we rise with Him. It was the resurrection faith that filled those disciples with joy and which today can fill with light and joy and even peace a world that is in the throes of death.

In his epistle to the Colossians, St. Paul tells us what it means to us individually and personally, as members of the Body of Christ, if we are risen with Him. “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” To be sure, we still battle against the temptations of the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. But, the fight is no longer futile. God has come to our rescue. Because we are risen with Christ, we can say with all the confidence in the world, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.” Our sin is placed on Jesus who said to St. Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.

Because we are risen with Christ, we know that all the paths of glory in this life still lead finally to the grave. We may well be able to outsmart or outmaneuver our human competitors. But there is one enemy against which we will never prevail, and that is death. We may come to grips with life, and even do very well with it. But if we have not to come to grips with death, then we have fought the fight of fools. There is One, however, who has come to grips with death, and came out the winner. Death could not hold Him. The wonder of His victory is that He wishes to share it. If we are risen with Christ in Holy Baptism, death cannot hold us either.

Our Lord’s resurrection was not revealed in a series of sensational incidents or by some supernatural activity that could have been immediately known to all. He sought His despairing disciples in the arena of ordinary life; He met them behind the locked doors of the upper room; He waited for them in the early morning by the side of the Sea of Galilee; He walked with them down a country road; He suddenly revealed Himself in the simple breaking of the bread. And so it is now. There is no area of our life where He would not enter. There is no sorrow or disappointment He would not turn to our blessing. By the same token, there should be no part of our life from which we can exclude Him. Our life is His concern. And He gives us, as He has promised, abundant life: life in all its fullness and wonder; life in His body and blood: crucified, dead, and now risen and alive forevermore. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

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