Easter Sunday – He is Risen!

He is Risen!  He is Risen Indeed!  Alleluia!

That’s the reason we’re celebrating Easter today isn’t it?  We’re celebrating because Jesus “has risen, as he said.”  He instituted his Lord’s Supper on Thursday, was crucified on Friday between two criminals, brought down from the cross before night fell, placed in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, and then rested in the tomb on Saturday, the Sabbath.  Then, on Sunday, the first day of the week, he rises from the dead and lives.  He is Risen!

Now, Jesus’ crucifixion is covered extensively in Psalm 22 and Isaiah chapters 52 and 53.  These Old Testament texts are fairly detailed concerning the suffering and death of Christ.  Indeed, Jesus Christ cries out the opening words of Psalm 22 from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” showing us that what he did on the cross is in fulfillment of God’s promises, “as he said.”  Jesus was forsaken for our sakes, bearing the punishment we deserve upon himself.  Our sins cause us to deserve eternal separation, forsakenness, from God, and yet Christ took this upon himself on the cross, suffering and dying for our sins.

Yet, even though these Old Testament passages, among others, speak of the suffering and death and atoning sacrifice of Christ, they also speak of resurrection and life.  Isaiah 53 ends by saying that the Christ who bore our iniquities and made us to be accounted righteous through his death, now sees us and has made us the Lord’s offspring.  The end of Psalm 22 speaks of all peoples coming to worship the Lord who had died and yet lives, and of proclaiming “his righteousness to a people yet unborn.”  Psalm 16, our Psalm for today, speaks of the Lord not abandoning us to Sheol or letting his holy one, Christ, see corruption.

Well, you are the generation of whom Psalm 22 speaks, those who were yet unborn who now have the Lord’s righteousness given to you as a gift. You are the ones whom Isaiah speaks of, the ones whose sins Christ bore and the ones whom the Lord accounts as righteous for the sake of Christ; the ones he has made to be children of God.  You are the ones spoken of in Psalm 16 who will not be abandoned to the grave, to Sheol, for the Lord did not let Christ, his holy one, see corruption.  Just as Christ rose, you too will rise because of him.

And all this was foretold from the beginning.  In fact, it starts even earlier than the Psalms and Isaiah.  It begins in Genesis 3:15 after the fall of Adam and Eve into sin.  Their sin brought separation among humanity, between humanity and God, and between humanity and the rest of creation.  You see this disruption of the natural order as Adam and Eve are ashamed to be naked, as they attempt to hide from God, and how the ground no longer willingly yields up its fruit to them and the fact that their bodies will one day die.  You also see it now in your own lives as you experience tension in your relationships with other people, a nagging conscience which tells you all the things you’ve done wrong, difficulty at work or in other areas of your life, and experience sickness and death.  Things are not as they were meant to be due to the fall of Adam and Eve into sin.  You may not always recognize sin in the world, but you see its effects in your own lives and in the lives of those around you.

To undo this fall and to restore these broken relationships, the Lord promised a Savior, the “seed of the woman,” who would crush the head of the serpent.  The serpent Satan had brought sin and death and evil into the world by corrupting Adam and Eve, and so the Lord promised a Savior who would defeat Satan and remove sin, death, and evil from the world.  Everywhere else in the Scriptures, genealogy is traced through men, but here in the Lord’s Gospel promise in Genesis 3:15 the Lord calls the Savior the “seed of the woman” to point forward to the virgin birth of Christ through Mary.

And then this promise of a coming Savior, or Christ, was carried through generations of the Church, beginning with Adam and Eve, down to Seth, down to Noah, down to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and many others.  The Church begins in Genesis and is carried throughout the Old Testament as the Lord gathers a people for Himself around this promise of the Christ.

So, you see that the Old Testament is your story as well, because it tells the story of the Lord’s actions for His people, and you are united with the Old Testament saints through Christ, just as you are united with all the New Testament saints as well; you are all the saints of God united in Christ.  For, in the fulness of time Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born to the Virgin Mary to fulfill the Lord’s promise of a Savior.   He is the “seed of the woman” come to defeat Satan and death and to die for your sins.  He is God in the flesh.  He is the Christ, the one anointed to bring salvation to His people.

And that’s exactly what Christ has done on his cross and empty tomb.  The Christian message does not end at Good Friday.  It doesn’t end with “Jesus died for your sins.”  It continues beyond the cross to the empty tomb.  God’s promises do not end at death.  And so the Christian message continues with the good news that Jesus rose for you.  He rose to justify you before God; he rose to give you eternal life; he rose to defeat sin, death, and the devil.  He rose to reconcile you to God, to each other, and to the rest of God’s good creation, thereby undoing the effects of the fall.

Now, these enemies of sin, death, and the devil are still in the world, but they’re on the losing side.  They’ve already lost, and when Christ returns on the Last Day they will be cast out so that only the Lord and you His people will remain.   So, the Church Israel continues to span the Testaments, now in the New Testament, until the day when Christ returns.  And on that day you won’t be like angels on the clouds; you’ll be real people, resurrected people, living in a real creation that’s been fully restored to the perfection in which God originally created it, before Adam and Eve sinned and brought decay and death into the world.

So, this is the significance of Jesus Christ’s Easter Resurrection.  Christ’s death and resurrection is the focal point of all the Scriptures.  It’s what all the Old Testament saints looked forward to, even though they beheld it darkly, as through a veil.  It’s also what all the New Testament saints, you, look to for your salvation – the cross and empty tomb of Jesus Christ.

For, Christ has defeated the enemies which Adam and Eve’s sin brought into the world.  And now in the New Testament Church he baptizes you into this victory, killing you to free you from captivity to sin, death, and the devil, and raising you up to new life in him.

This, then, is salvation.  Salvation is more than your soul going to heaven.  It’s the resurrection and eternal life.  It’s you being raised up from the grave or from the dust and being brought back to life, body and soul.  It’s you being made the people God created you to be, a people in perfect communion with Him and with each other.  And it’s all been accomplished for you by Jesus Christ as a result of God’s grace and mercy towards you, and you have it now in part as he gathers you together as his Church and bestows His blessings upon you through Word and Sacrament, even as you await its ultimate fulfillment when Christ returns on the Last Day to complete his baptismal promises to you in person.

That’s the great grace and mercy in all of this.  It’s God Himself who has done all this for you through Jesus Christ who died on Good Friday and rose on Easter Sunday.  It’s all been done and given to you freely by God as a gift.  It’s yours.  You don’t have to do anything.  No altar calls, no sinners’ prayer, no witness to how bad your life used to be before, no making of amends.  Just God’s free gift to you, received through faith.  As Christ exclaimed from the cross, “It is finished.”

So, you don’t have to wonder if your sins are too great to be forgiven.  Christ died for your sins, even the ones you think are unforgivable.

You also don’t have to wonder if you are good enough to come to Church.  The Church is full of sinners, including me.  Yet, Christ died for our sins too, and we are therefore freed from their hold since he has made us God’s children instead.

You don’t even have to wonder if your faith is strong enough.  It is, because your salvation depends on Christ’s work on the cross and empty tomb, not on the strength of your faith.  You can struggle with your faith, you can wonder, you can complain to the Lord (as you see the psalms constantly do).  Yet, in all of this, the Lord’s love for you still stands.  And it’s a concrete love; it’s a love that you see played out when Jesus hangs on the cross for you.  It’s a love that you see as the resurrected Jesus tells the Marys, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”

Jesus calls the disciples brothers, just as earlier in the Gospels he refers to his disciples as his family, brothers and sisters.  The Lord himself has made you God’s family.  And family sticks together because it is united by blood.  Your Christian family is united by the blood of Jesus Christ.  You may disagree with members of your earthly family, get in fights, argue, and even dislike them, yet they’re still your family.  In the same way, we may have conflicts within the Christian family, and yet we’re still family because we are united by the blood of Christ.

And when he returns on that Last Day for his final advent, all these tensions and conflicts will be removed.  All evil will be cast out.  What will endure is God’s love for you in Christ and your love for each other as His people.

So, your Christian hope is not just that Christ died for your sins.  Or that Christ rose to justify you before God.  Or that you will die and go to heaven.  No, it’s all these things and more.  Your sins were nailed to that cross with Christ.  You stand before the Lord on the strength of Christ’s righteousness.  You will die and go to rest with the Lord.

Yet, there’s one more thing that we sometimes forget.  It’s also that Christ is returning to resurrect you and bring you into the restored creation to live in eternity.  He didn’t remain in his tomb, and neither will you.

That’s why we’re celebrating today, and that’s exactly why we – as the Church – celebrate every Sunday morning, because it’s the Lord’s Day, the day of the resurrection when we celebrate his resurrection as well as our future resurrections when Christ restores all creation to the perfection in which he originally created it.

This is the Gospel we proclaim, just as the Old Testament prophets proclaimed it, just as Peter and the other apostles proclaim it, and just as we and future generations of the Church will proclaim it until we all sing it together at the resurrection and the full plan of God’s salvation is completed.

So, we rejoice because He is Risen!  He is Risen Indeed!  Alleluia!

Amen.

 

(Image: Resurrection of Christ and Women at the Tomb, by Fra Angelico, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AResurrection_of_Christ_and_Women_at_the_Tomb_by_Fra_Angelico_(San_Marco_cell_8).jpg)