Saturday, April 15, 2006

Festival of the Resurrection of Our Lord, Jesus Christ

1 Corinthians 15:19-28
If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. 20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For he "has put everything under his feet." Now when it says that "everything" has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.
Death, the enemy defeated!
Grace and peace to you from our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
P: Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
C: He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Alleluia! It's Easter... It's the biggest church festival of the year. We get out the best! We pack the chancel with flowers, we pull out these beautiful banners, put on the white and gold paraments, of all the colors of the church year we use these the least, some churches have a set of Gold ones that they put out for only today. This is a day when we want to fill this church, this building, with as much sound as possible. We want it to spill out the windows and doors, we want it to be heard all the way to Sioux Falls... it's a day filled with Joy! Just look at the hymns we are singing today, have you ever counted the exclamation points in the Easter section of the hymnal, it seems like there is a few on every page. You have to admit... even a stranger would have to admit we make a big deal out of today.
So, what's the "big deal" all about? Of course today we celebrate The Resurrection. The day Jesus came out of the tomb alive again. The day the women came to the tomb and didn't find what they expected. Instead of a body... they found an angel sitting there. Really... what we are talking about here today is... the biggest issue that faces anyone. Really the big issue, the important issue... is death.
Well, Paul doesn't mince words... he calls death the enemy. “The last and most important enemy.” And it is a powerful enemy. It isn't what God intended for his creation. He made us to live forever. He made this earth to provide forever. In one of my favorite Pauline passages he describe the earth - the whole creation - groaning under the burden of the decay caused by sin. And the ultimate expression of that decay is death. It steals away what God created... young children, old men, mothers and fathers... it destroys relationships... husbands mourn their dead wives, parents mourn their dead children... it strikes fear in the heart of even the bravest warrior. Death is the enemy. It's an enemy that is out there... looking... for you!
Well, we don't like to think about that do we... especially on this day. There’s no better way to ruin a good party, then by talking about death. We even go out of our way to avoid it. When you drive by a cemetery do you look to the other side of the road? If I look away I won’t have to think about it. Isn't there and old traveling game when you pass a cemetery hold your breath until your past? The common thing today, you see it in movies, they talk about it on talk shows... the thing that's used to make death seem almost palatable is this... death is just the natural end of life... it's just the cycle that keeps things running... the renewing process of the earth. Dead things make food and room for the next generation. Well, my friends that just isn't the picture we get in the Bible at all. Death is not our friend. Death is not the natural expression of life. Death is the natural expression of... sin. Sin is against God. Sin destroys what God creates. God hates sin... and God even more than that God hates death.
It's important not to buy into the lie that death is a good thing. It's important not only because the bible says it, but also because it really takes away the importance of what Jesus did. Almost no other biblical idea is more under attack today than this one. You can see it in any television program. Handicapped people plead to be killed, because death is better than living in pain or being debilitated. Jack Kavorkian is held up as a hero who relieves people's suffering. It's better to kill babies then let them be brought up in homes where they aren't wanted. If death is portrayed as a friend; dear Christians; if death is natural... if death is friendly... then the death of Jesus is just another natural thing, another natural end to a natural life. But as surely as I am standing here before right now; the death of Jesus Christ, true-man true-God, was the most unnatural occurrence that has ever happened in all of human history.
Well, so if that's really what today is all about, if we're really here today to talk about death... what are all the Alleluias for? If death is the topic of the day why so... well... joyful? Well... it's because the Resurrection of Jesus Christ changes everything. Jesus resurrection is victory. It's victory over the enemy... victory over the strongest enemy. The enemy that swallows up everyone... is swallowed up itself. The Apostle shouted it in his letter to the Corinthians. "Death is swallowed up in victory! Where, O death, is your victory?" he says almost mockingly. Death has no victory with Christ. It's gone because Jesus Christ won victory by rising from the dead. And even more important... Jesus victory over death is ours. It's already true right now for you. That's what that wooden box there is all about. When you were brought to that font, when water is poured on you, when the word is spoken over you... there was a death. It is God's promise that when all of that happened to you there, you are united to Christ in his death. That means you are also united to him in his resurrection. So Christ's resurrection is your resurrection! "...don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection." (Rom 6:3-5 NIV)
So when we shout "Christ is risen!" We are shouting out a promise. “Bill” is risen! John is risen! _____ is Risen! Mason is Risen!! Alleluia! We say in the creed, "I believe in the resurrection of the dead." We believe that we will be raised. God sets things back to the way he intended them to be. He makes it so that human beings can live forever! When we say "I believe..." we are talking about ourselves. I believe in my own resurrection because of Jesus. And we are talking about all those who have gone before us (and after us) in faith. Our parents, our friends, our children... all those who have faith in Jesus Christ will be raised again to live forever.
Not only that, but the enemy is no longer a fearful enemy. Not only has Christ's death taken away its power, it has changed death forever. Now death becomes the beginning of a new life. For Christians, even though death isn't quite a victory for us, it is an end to the troubles and pain of this world. Even though we hate death (and we should hate it) we can rejoice when a Christian dies. Especially when death brings an end to suffering. We don't rejoice in death. We don’t rejoice in the consequences of sin. We rejoice in the victory Jesus has won. We rejoice in the victory he gives to us through Baptism. When we die it isn't the end. It isn't the last word. The last word is Jesus; Jesus whose resurrection guarantees our resurrection; Jesus who will come again and raise all the dead to life; life that goes on for ever and ever.
It's Easter. What's all the shouting about? The shouting is a victory yell. Death has been undone. Death is powerless over us. Death has met its match in Jesus Christ. And the shouting is about resurrection. Alleluia! Jesus is risen from the dead. Alleluia! Jesus resurrection is yours. Amen.
P: Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
C: He is risen, Indeed, Alleluia!
The peace of God which passes all human understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the risen Christ. Amen.

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