Sunday, April 12, 2009

Psa.118.14-24; Festival of the Resurrection of Our Lord, April 12, 2009

The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. Glad songs of salvation are in the tents of the righteous: “The right hand of the Lord does valiantly, the right hand of the Lord exalts, the right hand of the Lord does valiantly!” I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord. The Lord has disciplined me severely, but he has not given me over to death. Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it. I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:14-24, ESV)

(outline by Michael J. Redeker)

Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

That’s nice to hear. It’s a celebration, today. Just take a quick look at the worship folder and you can tell that. “The Festival of the Resurrection…” You know what a festival is… We have lots of them and we really enjoy them. Not all that long ago we had the “Festival of the Super Bowl.” Who doesn’t like tailgating? Food and fun. Lot’s of folks like that day who don’t even like football. At times like that we like to pull out all the stops, gather friends and family around us, enjoy their company, eat, have fun, etc. What celebrations do you have coming up this year? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could take all that energy, all those great times, all those good feelings, and wrap it up in a package we could just open up whenever we wanted? Wouldn’t it be great to open up that package when things weren’t so great? When illness comes and troubles us. When a family member dies? When we fail at work, or even lose our job?

Really that’s what Psalm 118, it’s the victory celebration bottled up in a nice little package we can refer to any time we like. It’s a little Festival package, full of victory and rejoicing. That’s probably why it has been used during the Festival of the Resurrection from way back. In fact I read that it was Martin Luther’s favorite psalm. If we look at it it’s easy to understand why. There’s victory all they way through it. God’s love endures forever. God remains faithful and has delivered His people from trouble and death. He has shown his great love and won the decisive victory. This Psalm shows us the victory that comes after God has handled our struggles. And it recounts God’s victory over our troubles in the past. The psalmist is sure of God’s victory in the future because of how God has been victorious in the past. “The right hand of the Lord does valiantly.” It says. The right hand is the symbol of strength. Here the Psalmist is saying that the Lord has overcome by his great strength. And just so you don’t miss what he’s saying it’s repeated 3 times. “The right hand of the Lord does valiantly. The right hand of the Lord exalts. The right hand of the Lord does valiantly.” The Lord is my strength and my song. He says. God has won the victory. And what is the result of that victory? “I shall not die, but I shall live and recount the deeds of the Lord.” When it seemed that death was coming, its threat was taken away. It was taken away by the power of God. The psalmist has seen what God has done and that is where he puts his trust. He has taken refuge in God rather than men. The Lord has been working all along. The psalmist confesses that, and says in effect, “won’t it be nicer and easier when the struggle is over and the victory is clear?”

That’s how it is for us today as well. The victory is sure in Jesus. We’ll sing one of my favorite hymns today. “Jesus lives the victory’s won.” (LSB 490)

Jesus lives! The victory’s won!
Death no longer can appall me;
Jesus lives! Death’s reign is done!
From the grave will Christ recall me.
Brighter scenes will then commence;
This shall be my confidence.

Ah, but aren’t we tempted to forget that the victory has been won already? Aren’t we tempted and teased by the world when we put our trust in Jesus? When people see us gathered around a casket and still we sing songs of rejoicing. Don’t they accuse us of being silly? Or confused? Aren’t we ridiculed every day in the media for what we believe? When we see our own death coming, when illness brings our mortality front and center in our lives? Aren’t we told to trust in everything but Jesus? And aren’t we tempted to do just that: “Believe in the doctors. Believe in the medicine. Believe in pyramid power.” And yet God came through just as he promised. Jesus Christ died but he also rose again. Our faith is an Easter faith, a resurrection faith. It is the middle of our struggles that it is most difficult to remember God’s faithfulness. It is when we are hurting, when we are lonely, when we feel threatened that is when Satan especially challenges our resurrection faith. But God uses those times, especially to draw us to himself. Those are the times when we realize that if the victory is sure at all it has to be God’s victory. Because we can’t triumph against the most serious threats and struggles in our lives.

And the victory of Jesus Christ is a sure thing. It was not by accident. The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone. Jesus spoke of himself in that way. The victory was assured from the beginning. In the movie by Mel Gibson, the Passion of the Christ, at the very beginning, Jesus crushes the head of the serpent as if to say, I’ve already won. It’s already over with, the victory is sure. Today is a victory day, because of Jesus. This is the day the Lord has made. It was no accident. The day of victory was in God’s heart from the beginning, when human beings pushed themselves away from him and toward death. Before the sun rose today, and yesterday, last year, and even the thousands of years of sun rises, God’s set his plan in motion. And the outcome was assured. He sent his son, Jesus Christ, God and man together in one person, to win the victory. To live life perfectly on God’s terms. To make the law right for everyone. And more importantly he died to remove the barrier of sin that keeps human beings away from God. And most importantly he rose again from death, striking at the heart of sin’s result. The wages of sin is death, but Jesus Christ gives us life again as a gift. That makes sin’s punishment empty. Sin and death and the grave hold no power over those who have received the gift of faith in Jesus Christ. That first Easter when Jesus walked out of the tomb alive again was the Great Victory Day.

Now I ask you this: Is that Victory day only a one day event? A week? A year? The victory day that the Lord has made is an eternal day. God’s victory celebration is one that will go on forever and ever. When little children are playing and having fun they don’t want to stop for anything. “Mom, I don’t want to go to bed, I want to play.” In God’s victorious day, the living doesn’t ever end. And in God’s heart is you and me. We are the reason for his wonderful and sure plan of victory. Because his plan for you and me is that we too shall be a part of that forever celebration.

It’s easy, really, to understand how people only celebrate Easter for one day, even though we don’t agree. For non-Christians it’s only about Easter egg hunts, and candy, and a visit to the dentist in the near future. For them it’s only about the promise of spring and green grass around the corner, or little baby ducks following their mother down the road. For those who have no faith in the Victory of Jesus, that is all there is. But why is it that for so many Christians; Easter is just a one day event? How many Christians are not even aware that the Easter season stretches over a forty day period that can be seen as one big long celebration day in the life of the church? How many Christians forget that God indeed brings his eternal celebration, his victory day to us every week? Through Jesus that’s what happens here when we gather to hear his word and eat and drink his victory meal, that “foretaste of the Feast to come.” “This is the Feast of Victory for our God.” And it doesn’t end when the Easter service is over. It doesn’t end after any Sunday worship service is over either. It continues every day of our new lives. Our lives given to us in Baptism.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:3-5, ESV)

That verse isn’t just for you to remember on Easter day, or when we march a casket up this isle. That is the victory chant for you for every day of your life. Because of Jesus, we live in the victory of the Resurrection forever. It is a celebration that will go on and on and on and on.

So, what’s at the heart of the celebration? It’s Jesus. Early on that first Easter Sunday, the men and women who had followed Jesus didn’t think they had much to celebrate. Their whole world had come crashing to a bloody and painful and fearful end. Jesus was crucified, dead and buried. Early in the morning, even before the sun had come up, Mary Magdalene went to be with Jesus’ at his tomb. But when she got there the tomb was open, the stone had been rolled away, and Jesus’ body was gone. In panic she ran to tell Peter. “They’ve take the Lord’s body away!” She must have been worried that the men who had killed Jesus were adding insult to injury. Peter and John ran to the tomb to see it for themselves. And they saw that it was empty, except for the burial cloths they left with questions in their minds. Mary remained there crying. When she looked again into the tomb she saw men in bright white sitting where Jesus had been. “Women,” they said to her. “why are you weeping?” “They’ve taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they have laid him.” She answered. And then from behind her another voice spoke. “Woman,” it said, “Why are you weeping, whom are you seeking?” She thought it was the Gardner, and answered, “If you know anything about my Lord’s body please tell me where it is.” But, it was Jesus. He was alive and standing right there beside her. “Mary.” He said. And suddenly she knew who he was. “Teacher!” she shouted and reached out to grab hold of him. “Not yet, don’t hold on to me now. Go tell the rest that you have seen me.” And she ran as fast as she could, “I have seen the Lord! He is risen.” He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

As dead as he was, and his death is a sure thing. He is just as alive. His resurrection is a sure thing too. Death held him as it will hold you and me. Your death may be painful, or painless. It may be quick or slow. You may see your death coming or you may be taken by surprise. It doesn’t matter. Just as Jesus rose, you too will rise. And the promise isn’t just that you will rise it’s that Hell isn’t a part of the picture. Satan works every day to drag people with him into that abyss. But Jesus has made him release his grip on you and me. Death is Satan’s tool. It’s the threat of death and hell that he holds over you and me. But through baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus, that threat is no threat at all. When we say, “He is risen!” He is risen indeed. Alleluia! We are talking about ourselves as well. We are talking about the promise of God that we are risen with Christ.

Today is a victory day. In fact it is the Victory day. In the words of the Psalm

23This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. 24This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Christ is risen!

He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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