Monday, April 05, 2010

1.Cor.15.51-57; Festival of the Resurrection, Sunrise Service. April 4, 2010

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:51-57, ESV)

Grace and Peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!

Alleluia! Today is the day we look our old enemy, our biggest enemy, our most feared enemy, Death in the face and tell it to its face, it doesn't have any power over us any more! That’s what St. Paul is telling us right here. He mocks the very thing we all in our human nature fear. O Death! Where is your victory? O Death where is your sting? You ain’t got no victory any more. You ain’t got no sting any more… because…

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed Alleluia!

If you’ve been out to the cemetery with me while we lay the perishable body of one of our brothers or sisters in Christ to await the resurrection, you’ve heard these words of St. Paul. I like how it starts at almost a whisper. Behold! I tell you a mystery. It’s like a movie I saw, one character asks, “What’s going to happen?” the other says, in a whisper, “Something wonderful!” (“2010”) Something wonderful is going to happen to us, so says St. Paul. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed. Changed into something not necessarily different but better, better than we are, and what God has always intended for us to be. He uses words like perishable and imperishable; mortal and immortal to help us to understand what he’s talking about. Now we kind of know what those words mean. Look at the leftovers in your fridge and you know perishable. That pizza you put in there last week has perished. The peas in the little Tupperware bowl that’s gotten pushed to the corner have perished. The bodies of those we’ve placed so lovingly in the ground have perished. We understand what it means to be perishable. And all too painfully we know what mortal means. You and I have suffered the pain of mortality. We’ve gathered in this place and other places in grief and loneliness, looking mortality in the face. It’s just another word for Death. We know what it means, our pets die, our plants die, our friends die, our family members die, and we know that we too will die (unless our Lord comes first). That’s just what we confessed it a few weeks ago, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Gen 3:19) We know what mortal means. We know what perishable means. We live in their dark shadow every day. We look Death in the face every day. But that’s exactly why we are here today; to stare into death’s face and tell it boldly that it has no power over us; it can’t control us; it won’t have its way with us; it won’t make us live as if it was all there is anymore, because…

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed Alleluia!

The sting Paul is talking about is that death is ours because of sin. Sin is ours because of the law. We can’t keep the law because we are sinners. Death is the rightful punishment for those who can’t keep the law. We are mortal and perishable because of sin. And the sin I’m talking about isn’t the things we do. If we could keep the law we’d not have to die. But we can’t keep it. We can’t work harder and harder and get better and better. We can’t do anything to please God. In fact, the harder we try to please God, the more we do stuff for him to try to earn some better standing in his eyes, the more sinful our behavior is. Doing stuff for God so that he does something for us in return is always sinful. It’s trying to manipulate God. It's not trusting in God to save us, its counting on ourselves. The true God of the universe doesn't work that way. That’s just not the God we have. That’s the way the gods that we have invented out of human thinking work. Because that’s the way we work. And I’m sorry, it doesn’t matter if it’s reading our bible, helping an old lady across the street, counting beads, or dropping a hundred bucks into the collection plate, everything you do is done at least a little bit to try to buy God off, or to make you look better to him than you are. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not telling you to stop doing stuff that is good to do, and I’m not telling you that you need to change your motives. It wouldn’t do any good anyway. We are by nature sinful and unclean. We sin against God in thought word and deed. That’s the sting… we are lost and condemned creatures, unable to change who we are and what we think. Who we are means… the sting… perishable… mortal… Death… But…

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed Alleluia!

Death, says St. Paul, is swallowed up in victory! And we just said that we can’t have any victory as far as our lives go, because we have no power over our sinful nature. Well, we don’t have to. … thanks be to God, he gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus has won the victory and he gives it to us. He was victorious over death. We just sang it 28 times!

He lives, he lives, who once was dead;
He lives, my ever living head!
He lives triumphant from the grave;
He lives eternally to save;
He lives to silence all my fears;
He lives to wipe away my tears;
He lives and grants me daily breath;
He lives, and I shall conquer death;

Hymn: I Know That My Redeemer Lives;
TLH 200 / LW 264 / LSB 461;
Text and Music in the Public Domain.

In the second service today we’ll read the account from St. Luke where the women go to the tomb and find it empty. Every year when we hear it they are surprised not to find Jesus body there… but we are not. We know the rest of the story… the angel asks them, Why do you seek the living among the dead? We know what to say next…

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed Alleluia!

That’s our victory over death. We don’t seek him among the dead, he’s alive! All that sin that we were talking about just a few minutes ago, all that trying to please God in the wrong way, all that trying to buy God off, and impress him, all that was taken to his death. He was crucified dead and buried. He was as dead as dead can be. He looked death in the face and at first it seemed to win. His dead lifeless, perishable, mortal body lay in the coldness and stillness of death. He died. He took the sting. But when the women got there, he was not there to be found anymore. He woke up from death. He came alive again from death. His heart started beating again. He blood started flowing again. He smiled in the face of death and said “you are done!” He was the victor and death went down for the count.

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed Alleluia!

And you and I will be raised too. That’s God promise to you. Because he lives I too shall live! That’s what Paul is saying. He says we shall all be changed. It’s going to happen so fast if you blink you’ll miss it, but the change will happen none the less. He describes it in such simple terms. He says the dead will be raised... he’s using words there that are a bit like waking up from deep sleep. In fact that’s how he begins, we shall not all sleep. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable. It’s as simple as waking up and putting on new cloths. The trumpet will sound to wake us up and we’ll put on new cloths; imperishable cloths; immortal cloths; no more decay, no more pain, no more tears, no more anything that goes along with this perishable, mortal body. There will only be laughter and joy.

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed Alleluia!

It’s for you! How do I know? I know it because it’s God who promises it to you. If it was just my promise, you’d be in trouble. If it was something you did or had to do, you’d be in trouble. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. It’s a gift. You can’t earn it, work for it, pay for it or even steal it. It’s given. It’s given to you through faith in the promises of Jesus Christ. That means, he gives you the cloths and puts them on you. In fact it’s already happened. That’s why at funerals here we use that white cloth, called a pall that covers the casket. It reminds us that we are clothed in Christ. We have his perfect life, instead of our sinful self. We put it over the casket when we read these words:

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’s the new cloths; we just can see them yet. They’ve been given and put on, so that when our enemy death comes, we our eyelids close in death, we know they’ll open up again. We’ll awake and put on those new cloths again. This old perishable, mortal body won’t be perishable and mortal anymore. We shall all be changed. Because…

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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