+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Luke 24:1-12
Theme: The Resurrected Life
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
Cemeteries are just temporary repositories of physical remains. This truth is not based on the pending destruction of the world due to climate change or nuclear war. It is based on the defiance of death’s power by Jesus Christ, the Firstborn from the dead. The tomb of Jesus hardly served the purpose for which it was hewn. It is fundamentally no different for us. Whether it is two nights or two millennia the grave is no barrier to Him who calls forth the dead.
Where HE is there exists only life. “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He has risen! Remember how He told you, while He was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’”1 So said the angels who greeted the women at the tomb. The first Easter was the dawn of the new age. It is also the last age. The sun will rise day by day only until we are raised by the Son of Righteousness. It will then become obsolete.
The historical foundation of Christianity stands on the factual validity of this event. “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith…If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins,”2 said the apostle Paul in the First Century. It remains true today. If the crucified Jesus is not also the living Jesus then sorting out the lessons of His earthly ministry ranks among the least of our concerns. If Christ is not living than our repentance is in vain and the bondage of sin is not broken. Then all spiritual pursuits are pointless in the end.
But the Christ who is the object of our faith is the man who rose bodily from the dead. Ours is not a speculative, philosophical theology. It is not an amalgamated concept of a distant, abstract deity. It is not a synthesis of ethical and moral principles. It is not a construction of social pragmatism offering only benefits in the here and now. We join the glad refrain as part of the church which exists in and from His life-giving triumph. He has freed us from the fear of death.
“Why do you look for the living among the dead?” It was a pointed question to say the least. Was it a dig at their lack of faith? Should these women not have anticipated the scene they were about to observe? Initial responses were numb and contemplative reflections. But the reactions of His followers soon swelled into grand alleluias. The crucified Lord was living. Death’s power had been shattered. It was more than their minds could comprehend. They had witnessed Him raise Lazarus3, revive Jairus’s daughter4 and resuscitate the son of the widow of Nain5. But now, succumbed to torture, surrendered to abuse, abandoned in fear, and entombed in death…He lives! He talks. He breathes! He eats! He has scars but no infirmity.
The event has taken place in the past but the benefits are unending in the present. As sinners we live in the past. Or stated more specifically, in-so-far-as we live as sinners we live in the past. We revel in the fading glory of the Old Adam and cling to the decaying schema of this world. But as saints, as the redeemed, as the adopted sons of the Father, we live in the present and the future. We can only live this life properly and fully not because we have managed to cope with our fears, not because we are distracted by our indulgences, not because we are driven by desperation, but because we believe. We are promised the blessing of the incorruptible life.
Dear friends, the desensitizing power of sin makes us perennial ‘under-appreciators’ of the new life we have in Christ. In Him we are not merely resuscitated or restored, we are resurrected. The former is a return to the old. The latter is an advance to the new. Examples of the old are common-place, second nature. Illustrations of the new are grasped only by the eyes of faith.
The old is what we know and it has its satisfactions. When you are finally out from under a huge debt you feel liberated. You feel like you can start again. When you battle through an addiction and ‘kick the habit’ you feel restored. You feel like you have your life back. When you are declared cancer free you are overjoyed. You feel like your “old self.” In all these things you are resuscitated: returned to your former condition. But when you are forgiven you are resurrected. You are a new creation. You may not ‘feel’ anything at all. But God’s promise, not your feeling is your motivation.
Now we are not saying in any way, shape, or form that God’s work of resuscitation and restoration is unimportant. It is part of God’s generous providence. But it does not require the sacrifice of His Son and the intervention of the Spirit. God continues to show patience even with a wicked and unbelieving world. The Bible says “He sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”6 Yet for the unbelieving, God’s generosity can only serve as the pretext and context for His alien work- His work of convicting the unrepentant of their sins. He never intends the tolerability of this life to be an alternative to reception into the world to come. His forbearance always serves to create the opportunity for repentance. It is never intended to help people “get by” without Christ.
His proper work, His sacred work is the work of His Son and the Spirit- the work of resurrection, and recreation. In the resurrection there is a profound joy and incomprehensible peace. Because we are recreated in Christ we can truly recreate that is, live in faith as God intended. Faith is truly uninhibited in its movement towards others. Luther describes it thus,
“Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man would stake his life on it a thousand times . . . Oh, it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith; and so it is impossible for it not to do good works incessantly” 7.
Not that faith ever goes off half-cocked. But it is certainly never found dawdling for lack of conviction. It engages the task according to the need at the time. During General Stonewall Jackson's famous valley campaign in the American Civil War Jackson's army found itself on one side of a river when it needed to be on the other side. After telling his engineers to plan and build a bridge so the army could cross, he called his wagon master in to tell him that it was urgent the wagon train cross the river as soon as possible. The wagon master started gathering all the logs, rocks and fence rails he could find and built a bridge. Long before day light General Jackson was told by his wagon master all the wagons and artillery had crossed the river. Jackson asked where the engineers were and what they were doing. The wagon master's only reply was that they were in their tent drawing up plans for a bridge.
Already resurrected spiritually in baptism we anticipate the resurrection of the body on the other side of the grave. Baptismal living involves learning to expect things from God which are much greater than the mundane things we often settle for in this life. When you kneel at the altar to receive the body and blood of the Crucified; if you are expecting only to be comforted, only to be encouraged, only to be reminded of God’s covenant of love, you are setting your sights too low. In the sacrament He heals you with the resurrection promise. You are not just receiving a little extra strength to face the fall-out of sin in the here and now, you are receiving the Spirit’s power that anticipates the resurrected life. You are celebrating already now the fact that you will be released from all of sins’ burdens.
“Why do you look for the living among the dead?” These are words never to be encountered by Christ’s followers again. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
The Resurrection of our Lord
31 March 2013
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Luke 24:5-7
2 1 Corinthians 15:14, 17
3 See John 11:38-44
4 See Luke 8:49-56
5 See Luke 7:11-17
6 Matthew 5:45
7 Martin Luther, Preface to Romans
Τί ζητεῖτε τὸν ζῶντα μετὰ τῶν νεκρῶν;
(Why do you seek the living among the dead?)