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Sermon for Easter Morning

April 8, 2013 Leave a comment

easterNote: This is the sermon preached at the Festival Divine Service on Easter morning.  As usual you can click here for mp3 audio 31 Sermon for Easter Morning.mp3

Augustana, 2013

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

Every winter folks complain about the war on Christmas, where is the hue and cry about the war on Easter?  There are far more bunnies and eggs in the shops than icons of the resurrection.  Why aren’t the stores playing Easter music?  There are far more March Madness stories than there are Easter stories in the news.  I think it’s a conspiracy, a war on Easter.

Okay, so it’s not a conspiracy.  And the war on Easter is something I just made up but for how many of you is March Madness more than Lent and Easter?  Or if college basketball is not your thing, pick something else—shopping for the new Easter dress rather than preparing your heart to celebrate the paschal feast with sincerity and truth.

Do we even acknowledge today for what it is?  Yes, Easter is the highest day in the Church Year, but that’s faint praise.  Easter is truly only second to the Last Day.  Think about that for a second.  Easter, truly, is second in significance, really, only second to the Last Day and we might be able to make a case that it’s even more important because it is on account of Easter that we will stand and be blessed on that great day, on the Day of the Lord.  It is on account of the Lord’s resurrection from the grave on Easter morning that we will stand on the Last Day and be blessed by God.  That first Easter morning, and all the ones that have come after it, is the sole basis for our hope that when we are buried we will not stay in the grave.  The angel’s message is, “He is not here; He is risen.”  Easter is not just about celebrating some vague sense of something new and springlike; Easter is about the end of death.

I’m struck this year by the loss of so many loved ones so many of you have suffered this year.  We’ve not lost many of our congregation but many of you have lost so many of your  people, brothers and sisters and other family members.  Easter is personal for you because the Easter message is Christ Jesus’ victory over death and what is true for Him is true for all who believe in Him, who have been baptized into His death and into His resurrection.  Easter is about the end of death.

I know what it looks like.  I know what it looks like all too often.  Death looks like it has won.  We make trip after trip to this funeral home or that one.  That’s how the first Easter morning began.  The women were taking the spices they had prepared to the tomb.  They were going to the funeral home.  Preparing a loved one for burial was a much more hands-on affair back then.  But back then, death was far more real and less funeralfied, you know what I mean?  They even put astroturf over the dirt pile.  Funeralfied.  Jesus had spoken about resurrection prior to His death, twice actually, but the disciples didn’t understand what He meant by it.  In Jesus’s day, resurrection was something that would happen on the Last Day for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and for all the righteous of God.  There would be no mistaking that Day when it came and so the women were not expecting resurrection when they went to the tomb that morning to finish burying Jesus.  Nobody had ever dreamed that one person would die and be bodily raised again on the other side of the grave while the rest of the world carried on much as it had before.

Usually about this time in an Easter sermon I thump on about how there are many Christians today who don’t believe Jesus was raised in His body that day.  They are spiritualists, we might more accurately call them Gnostics, but few know what a Gnostic is, so “spiritualist” makes a good handle.  They don’t believe they will be raised in their body on the Last Day either.  They’ve turned the Last Day into something else entirely—their own Last Day.  And when they die they think their soul just flies up to heaven forever.  They don’t believe Jesus was raised in His body and they don’t believe they will either.  Even though that’s not what the Scriptures, Old and New, say.  Although I really shouldn’t blame them, they’re not that much different from the women and the rest of the disciples on that first Easter morning.  But Easter morning really does change all that.  There really is a resurrection of the body; Jesus was raised.  Next week we’ll hear the account of the week after Easter when Thomas put his finger in the place where the nails were and his hand in the place where the spear was.  And if Christ was raised in His body, that’s your promise that you will too.  Death will not have won because, we know, death has not won.

The mood of Easter morning then, is one of great astonishment, confusion, maybe even, but as the Good News begins to sink in, great joy.  “He is not here but has risen.”  The Good News of Easter morning is that death no longer has the power it once had.  Jesus Christ, eternal Son of God and true man, the one who was crucified Friday for the sins of the whole world, had not remained in the grave but has shown us the way through death and the grave to the resurrection from the dead for us and for all who believe.  “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”  Remember?  “He is not here; he is risen just as He said He would.”  It is the certainty of Christ’s resurrection that gives us strength and confidence in the face of loss and tragedy whether in our own lives or in the wider world.

From the beginning, the message of Easter was the message of Christ’s victory over death.  That’s the Good News—the conspiracy of sin has been wiped out; the madness of death no longer reigns.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead!  One of the oldest easter hymn texts in our hymnal is from John of Damascus, from the late 7th century.  He writes:

The day of resurrection!

Earth, tell it out abroad,

The passover of gladness,

The passover of God.

From death to life eternal,

From sin’s dominion free,

Our Christ has brought us over

With hymns of victory. (LSB, 478:1)

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

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Sermon for Easter Sunrise

April 7, 2013 Leave a comment

Resurrection-717493Note: this was the last of the sermons I adapted from from “Our Suffering Savior.” I followed the published version rather closely, so only the audio is provided.

Click here for mp3 audio 30 Sermon for Easter Sunrise.mp3

Back to the blog

April 9, 2010 Leave a comment

Business and Busy-ness

I’ve had about a 3-week hiatus from the blog. I doubt many folks have missed by contributions to the “Interwebs Thingy” but I didn’t really start for readers as much as I started to discipline myself to think about things a little more deeply by writing about them as well as post the sermons.

Immediately after the last blog post on Lent 4, I was called to the hospital in Charlotte to visit a member who was struggling very hard to stay alive. He lost that earthly fight the next day and was received into the arms of His Savior. The same day, I was called to the house of another long-time parishioner who had also taken a dreadful turn for the worst and ended up entering eternal life on Wednesday. So that meant, funerals on Friday and Saturday and visitations and trips to funeral homes etc as well as Sunday service on Lent 5. Then I had a brief break before Holy Week.

I was busy. But that work was not burdensome because it was work that I love.  But there is more.

I have lovely people in my congregation who understand, I think better than most, that pastors do more than work on Sunday.  They are a blessing and a delight to pastor.  Many of them, as we say in the south, bless their hearts, told me, “Pastor, get some rest,” or some variant thereof.  There is a time for rest and a time for action.  These times, when death strikes, are times for pastors to act, speak, do, and be with their people as a vocal and visual reminder that even though the old foe has struck, he has no victory, no sting.  My first roomate in the Navy was an Academy grad, weapons officer.  He said that a lot of folks don’t understand chaplains.  He said, “Chaplains are like goal keepers in soccer.  They won’t run the hardest the whole game, but when you need them, you’re glad they’re there.”  I’m glad to be there for folks so that they aren’t overcome by what their eyes see and begin to think God’s reality in Christ has faded away.

In my prayers and meditations and preparations for that week I stumbled across a little gem in The Minister’s Prayerbook, by Doberstein.  I can’t recommend the whole thing enough but this was the gem I found in the anthology on p. 362ff.

You are standing now at the most shattering spot in the whole wide world–an open grave.  There are others there with you, but how many are really standing there, how many will endure the gaping reality that opens here?  The mourners, who are the most affected, are not, as it were, really standing at the open grave, but rather before their own pain, the grief of their hearts, the void that has been opened in their circle. And the rest of the funeral company, how quickly they will flee, as soon as it is over, back to their everyday life, to chatter, to the funeral baked meats, or perhaps even a bit of a spree!  What are they fleeing from? They are fleeing above all from the open grave.

And in your own soul too, my friend there is something that would like to flee that feel how utterly impossible it is to endure standing here on the rim of the world.  For down there, where they have no lowered the coffin, our world has come to an end, the world of everyday and the world of heroic greatness, the world of passion and pain, of merriment and tears.  This pit, little deeper than the height of a man, is the deepest abyss that the eye can behold.  No wonder you feel dizzy!  But you dare not flinch; you dare not allow yourself to be drawn into a misty sea of emotion, you dare not take refuge in phlegmatic insensibility which would armor your feelings; you dare not do for the others’ sake and you dare not do it for your own soul’s sake.

And because you refuse to flee, because you stick it out here, physically, mentally, and spiritually, death does something to you.  It asks you now, as it will one day ask you in your last hour, whether you really believe that Jesus Christ is the conqueror of death.  And if in your heart there is a joyful Yes, then death has lost its power; then there is no other power of eternal life, the peace of forgiveness, the omnipotence of Jesus Christ, and the death that is life.  But if you cannot say this joyful Yes, if you can speak of nothing but the immortality of the soul, the grief, and the doubtful fame of the deceased, then make haste and save your soul! Then go and struggle for certainty and do not rest until you have found peace!

I’ve been a pastor now for over a decade, a Navy chaplain for most of that time, and this was not my first rodeo with death.  I stood in the cargo holds of airplanes as the pallbearing detail loaded the caskets of our nation’s dead and remember praying the prayers and reciting the psalms for them before their last flight home.  At Bethesda, I was a chaplain not just for the wounded returning from combat but the nurses and other staff who were in a combat with reality seeing the devastation explosives (and in my time there, cancer)  can do to the human body.  I never left the edge of the world.  It is the place where our paramedics and emergency medicine docs and nurses live.  It is the place where our hospice workers and nurses live day in and day out.  There was a time, not too long ago, when I would have been, almost overcome by it all.  Asked if Jesus had overcome death, I would have said, “It sure doesn’t look it this time.”  To paraphrase the father of the demon-possessed boy, “Lord, I believe, but just barely.”

Maybe those images of grief and loss are not as fresh in my mind as they once were but the assurance of Jesus’ resurrection, the assurance of Easter is eternal life on account of Jesus.  It has to be.  The thing that keeps me going is the empty tomb.  As the angels said that morning, “He is not here.”   No one in that highly-charged atmosphere following the “supposed resurrection of Jesus” could find a body that even looked like Jesus.

And so, when death begins to whisper in my ear and show me my own end or the end of people I love so dearly, I must embrace and hold fast to the message I am given to proclaim and say just as loudly and clearly as the angels said it that morning, “He is not here.  He had risen, just as said.” Amen.

To unbelievers, and our society’s movers and shakers, I guess it doesn’t seem like much.  It must seem rather absurd, really.  But that’s my job.  Shepherding folks, getting them through the valley of the shadow of death, following the Good Shepherd, our Lord Jesus.  So after all the busy-ness, I did take some time off and putter in the garden.  In the next few days I hope to catch up with posting all the sermons of the past couple weeks.  But I’m going to pray and study more too.    I gotta keep my game up if all I’m going to be is a goalie.

Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.  Amen.

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