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Sermon for Easter Dawn

Augustana, 2011

33 Sermon for Easter Dawn.mp3

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

It was very early in the morning, in the darkness and stillness before dawn.  Mary Magdalene had gone to Jesus’ tomb to finish what had been started hurriedly before sunset on Friday and the beginning of Sabbath.  She saw that the stone had been rolled away from the tomb and she ran to tell Peter and probably John about what she had seen.  And so we are here on the first day of the week, very early in the morning gathering just before sunrise at 6:42 this morning and becoming participants in this great drama of Easter Sunday morning even as we prayed at the beginning of this Holy Week that we might be made partakers of our Lord’s resurrection.  Just as the first witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection see an empty tomb, so we enter the darkened church this morning to hear again of our Lord’s great victory over sin, the devil, and death itself.  This is Easter morning, the greatest day of the Church Year, the greatest day in all of human history for it was on this day that our last enemy death was defeated.

The disciples went to the tomb and found it empty of Jesus body.  But it was not entirely empty; it held all the signs of the fulfillment of the OT promises.  Stooping in to look into the tomb, the disciple who got there first saw the burial cloths made of fine linen that had been wrapped around Jesus body.  When Peter got there he didn’t timidly poke his head in but walked right in to the place where Jesus body had laid.  He too saw the linen cloths and he noticed then the face cloth that had covered Jesus face, folded up and lying off by itself.  Jesus body was gone, but the grave clothes were still there and the face cloth was folded up neatly by itself.  This is one of those details in the gospel writers’ accounts that indicates Jesus’ body had not been stolen by grave robbers.  Grave robbers would not have unwrapped the body and left behind the valuable linen and spices, nor would they have neatly folded these items before leaving the tomb.  Jesus’ body is not missing.  Jesus’ body has risen.  John sees and believes.  He believes but he did not yet fully understand.

Jesus himself had tried to tell them that He “must rise from the dead”.  Jesus said very specifically, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead.” (Lk 24:46)  Jesus had taught them from the prophecy of Isaiah,

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;

he has put him to grief;

when his soul makes an offering for guilt,

he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;

the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.

11   Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;

by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,

make many to be accounted righteous,

and he shall bear their iniquities.

12   Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,

and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,

because he poured out his soul to death

and was numbered with the transgressors;

yet he bore the sin of many,

and makes intercession for the transgressors. (Is 53:10–12)

Jesus had taught them from the prophet Hosea.  “After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.” (Ho 6:2)  He had taught them that “the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead.”

Jesus had taught them and now this first Easter morning they saw with their eyes what He had taught them but they did not quite understand.  “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.” (Ps 16:10)  They knew the psalm but did not know that it was meant to speak of this morning, this moment.  It formed the basis of Peter’s sermon fifty days later on Pentecost, because then having seen what they saw and having the Spirit of God poured out on him, Peter believed and understood what the Scriptures meant.  And he preached it.

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, losing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. 25 For David says concerning him,

‘I saw the Lord always before me,

for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;

26        therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;

my flesh also will dwell in hope.

27        For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,

or let your Holy One see corruption.

28        You have made known to me the paths of life;

you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’ (Ac 2:22–28)

What began in Peter’s first sermon the others carried on in their sermons and thus began the apostolic preaching of the death and resurrection of Jesus .so that by the time Paul first writes to the Christians in Corinth, he writes, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. (1 Co 15:3–4)  According to the Scriptures, then, means not what I thought it did when I was growing up: “Sure Christ rose from the dead, ‘according to the Scriptures,’”  but rather, Jesus rose from the dead in accordance with the Scriptures, that is, so as to fulfill what the Scriptures said would happen.  As Dr. Luther once said, “All Scripture and the Word of God point to the suffering of Christ, as He Himself declares in the last chapter of Luke (24:46–47) that Scripture contains nothing else than the promised grace and forgiveness of sin through the suffering of Christ, that whoever believes in Him, and none other, shall be saved” (AE 14:168).

And so this morning is it; there is no greater day in the history of all humankind than today.  The empty tomb and the folded grave cloths are just artifacts compared to the fulfillment of the Scriptures of God.  The disciples did not yet fully understand because it was not yet fully revealed to them.  Understanding the Scriptures of God is not really our strong suit either but for entirely different reasons.  “Read the Bible” is one of those things that may sit on that list in between “learn to scuba dive” and “learn a foreign language.”  And even if we do sit down to read it, we don’t read it with understanding or our minds wander as soon as we get to a list of “begats” or which parcels of land went to which particular tribe and we’re really no better off than we were before.  And yet to understand that Jesus rose in accordance with what the Scriptures had prophesied means that we need to understand what it was the Scriptures foretold.  And I wonder if we think so little of what the Scriptures that foretold this morning, if we think too little of this morning.  That in our misunderstanding and dim memory of the Scriptures we are not even worse off than those first disciples that first Easter morning.

The message of resurrection from the dead gave the apostles the fire for their sermons and the strength to face even terrible deaths, for they all did except one, John.  They knew that facing death for the sake of Christ, meant resurrection and life with him.  And don’t think for one minute that this garbage pseudo-gospel about “Christ being raised in our hearts,” gave Peter the faith to be crucified upside down or James, the son of Alphaeus, the faith to endure through being sawed in half.  No, they had seen Jesus raise the dead.  They had seen him alive after being dead.  No, they faced death certain that they were victorious over it.

Dear friends, has that message which the apostles y received and then passed on become “traditional” for us.  And I mean that word in all its negative connotations, that which has become mundane, expected, customary, even perhaps old-fashioned and outmoded.  Do we have anything close to that holy fire they had?  Does Easter truly matter to us or has it become merely tradition?  I submit to you that in our actions and in our hearts we too often take the resurrection of Jesus is taken for granted and live rather in fear and worry about what the next day will bring.  But this is not the Christian message.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the world has changed.  From the afternoon of that first Good Friday and the dawn of that first Easter morning, the world has changed, the entire universe has changed.  The old order of the cosmos passed away and a new one came into being.  What we expect will happen on the Last Day, when all the dead shall come up out of the grave has already begun.  Already now, in the resurrection of Jesus from the tomb, God’s promise has been kept.  “He will not let His holy ones see decay.”  As Paul preached, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.”  And so, we rejoice this happy morning.  For our sakes, the Risen Jesus grants us His Spirit in the hearing of the Easter message, in the Good News of the empty tomb and to work faith in us.  The tomb is empty.  Jesus has risen from the dead just as said, just as the Scriptures had foretold.

Why do we weep over the cares of this life?  Why do we seek anything other than Him who has been raised and who is the resurrection and the life and is our resurrection and our life?  No, just like Mary and Peter and John that first Easter morning, in your hearing it again, you have seen the risen Lord.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!  Amen.

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