Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Resurrection of Our Lord, Series A

Sermon on Matthew 28:1-10
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
April 24, 2011 (Easter, Series A)

Happy birthday! Huh? Did he just say what I thought he said? Pastor, are you okay? Or did all those extra Holy Week sermons plus having to work at Walmart mess up your mind? No, I said what I meant to say. Happy birthday! Today is the commemoration of your rebirth into the new life of Christ. When you were baptized, however many years ago that was, you were born again into a new life, a life lived by faith before God, and you died to your old life, the life of sin leading to destruction. Of course, most of you probably weren’t baptized on April 24th, or on Easter Sunday whatever date it fell on for that matter, so you’re probably still confused about what I’m talking about. The fact of the matter is, when you died to sin and were reborn to God in your baptism, what happened was that you joined Christ on the cross and were reborn from His tomb. And so, in a sense, your Baptism took place not on whatever date is on your baptismal certificate, but in 33A.D., on a hill called Golgotha, as well as a couple of days later in a new tomb belonging to one Joseph of Arimathea. God is outside of time, and so the key events having to do with our salvation don’t obey the normal laws of time. Christ’s death on the cross, His resurrection, your baptism, your physical death, and your resurrection on the last day, are really all the same event as far as God is concerned, even though they show up at various points on the time line from our perspective. As St. Paul points out in Romans 6, you died with Christ on the cross, and you were born again in Christ’s resurrection. So, happy birthday!

In the Gospel lesson, we see two groups of people at the tomb, besides the angel who comes down and rolls away the stone. One is the soldiers, the other is the small group of women who had come to mourn and to finish preparing His body for burial. When the angel came down and opened the tomb up, and the earth shook, our text says that the guards “became like dead men.” And this isn’t surprising, considering that these men were indeed dead in trespasses and sins. The guards were at the tomb to prevent anyone from stealing Christ’s body. They were there to make sure that no one would be able to say that Christ rose from the grave. Their mission was to make sure that, since Christ had been eliminated as a possible threat to the power and the pride of the high priests, He would stay out of the way. Of course, they didn’t seriously believe that Christ would rise again, but they were there to make sure that nobody would be able to claim that He had.

In this respect, the guards, and the priests who had hired them to do this, are a picture of what we are according to our fallen sinful nature. The Old Adam in each of us wants Christ out of the way. We don’t like it when somebody tells us that we haven’t fulfilled God’s law, and worse yet that we cannot do so. We like to think that we are pretty good people, that we can get along pretty well without God’s help. When Christ comes along and tells us that we are sinners who need what only He can give us, we wish that we could ignore Him, get away from Him, get Him out of our way. This was why the Jewish leaders had Jesus killed in the first place, and why they had posted guards to make sure that He stayed dead.

But when Christ is risen, the old sinful nature dies. The guards, who represented the unbelieving world that wanted Jesus killed and out of its way, become like dead men. In baptism, the Old Adam was drowned, was killed with Christ on the cross, so that a new man might come forth and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. That which is sinful and unclean cannot live in the presence of a holy and righteous God. If we wind up in the presence of God, as all of us will at one time or another, without Christ’s righteousness covering us, we will suffer eternal death in Hell.

Fortunately when God came to us in Holy Baptism, and when He comes to us now in Holy Absolution, Preaching, and in His Holy Supper, He comes to us in such a way that we don’t suffer eternal death, but rather He gives us a new life. Yes, you died in Holy Baptism, but you died to sin and you are now alive to God, and all the blessings that God has to give you are yours. In our text, the characters that depict this are the women who came to the tomb. Instead of depressed, sorrowful, hurting people who wanted to die because their Lord had been killed, they became joyful people, people who have a new life. When Christ Himself met them, he greeted them with one word. The ESV renders it as “Greetings,” but it can also be translated “Rejoice!” Because He lives, we too now live in His presence. We have been transformed from His enemies into His brothers by His death and resurrection. And that’s how He refers to the disciples in His instruction to the women: “My brothers.” We have been adopted into Christ’s family, we have become sons of God. We are now among those who are welcomed into His house and who receive His bountiful gifts to us. We can eat with Him and drink with Him and not die, because He has transformed us from sinners who would be killed by His presence into His saints.
Today, when Christ rose from the grave, you were born again. You who were dead in trespasses and sins are now alive to God in Christ Jesus. So again I say, “Happy birthday!” to all of you. But instead of a birthday dinner, with a cake and candles for desert, we have something better to celebrate today. We have the feast of victory itself. We have our Lord’s own body and blood which He gave for us to win us this victory. Let us feast, for the Lamb who was slain has begun His reign. Alleluia! Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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