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The Resurrection of Our Lord: Easter Dawn – John 20:1-18

by pastorjuhl ~ April 7th, 2009

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

With gladness of heart, let us greet each other with the time-honored Christian Easter greeting:

Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!)

Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!)

Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!)

If an LC-MS pastor were to take a survey of the congregation and ask what their favorite portion of the Divine Service is, it would be a safe bet that a top five response would be the canticle “This Is The Feast” in Setting One. “This Is The Feast” is based on the Biblical canticle “Dignus est Agnus” or “Worthy is the Lamb” from the book of Revelation. The canticle gives us a glimpse of the open heaven with the saints and angels singing around the throne of God. Their song is one of a victory feast. The battle between good and evil is over. Victory belongs to good. Life has triumphed because the blood of the Lamb Who was slain has set free God’s people. They will never taste eternal death. Their earthly death will be as if they’ve fallen asleep.

The greatest work of the Lord is His resurrection from the dead. It took quite a while for the scene in John chapter twenty to sink into the disciples’ heads. Peter, the man whom 48 hours before denied knowing Jesus, was the second person to arrive at the empty tomb behind Mary Magdalene. She couldn’t believe the stone was rolled away from the opening to the tomb. She runs for Peter and John. John is first to arrive but allows Peter to go in first. Peter saw the linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself.

The folded handkerchief and the linen cloths are not a mere mention of Jesus Christ’s tidiness. God’s Son is not a chaotic Savior. Everything is in its place. Jesus neatly and clearly destroys the power of sin, death, and hell when He rises from the dead. Just as Eve took a bite of the forbidden fruit and knew what good and evil is like, Satan took a bite from the Savior’s heel and realized he made a fatal mistake. He bit Jesus Christ, the Man Who has two natures: human and divine. God doesn’t know death. He only knows life. When Satan thinks he’s victorious over the Seed of the woman, he realizes his victory is actually a crushing defeat. Jesus will come back to life because He is perfect man and perfect God.

John entered the tomb, saw what Peter saw and believed. John mentions in the next sentence that they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. John believed that Jesus rose from the dead, but he had no idea what His resurrection meant in God’s grand scheme. The question of what Christ’s resurrection means is still asked today. For some it’s one of two days in the calendar year when they are obliged to show up at church. For others it’s a day about family, just like Christmas. For children it’s a time of Easter baskets and bonnets, new dresses or suits, egg hunts, rabbits, lots of candy and maybe a special gift.

Missing in action is the One Whose resurrection we celebrate: Jesus Christ. If Easter is a “kickoff” to spring, what comfort would that bring us when someone we love dies? If Easter is the day to make your “Easter duty” and show up for church, what will happen on your deathbed if you don’t believe Christ’s resurrection means anything? Give a listen once again to Saint Paul: I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you – unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve.

The gospel Saint Paul preaches saves – if you hold fast that word He preaches to you. If Saint Paul preaches a resurrection-less gospel, then all of us might as well go home. If you believe a resurrection-less gospel; if your faith doesn’t have room for Jesus Christ, then you have no hope unless you repent and believe in the message of the cross and the empty tomb. Your spouse’s faith won’t get you into heaven. Your in-laws’ faith won’t get you into heaven. Your good deeds and your pious thoughts won’t get you into heaven. The blood of Jesus Christ that cleanses us from all sin will get you into heaven. Trusting in the Savior Who died for you sins and rose from the dead for your justification will get you into heaven. It’s that simple. Refuse to believe in Christ and you will die eternally. Cling to Jesus Christ, the firstborn from the dead, and you will live eternally.

There still is room at the feast. The Lord’s House is not yet filled. Even today there is a spot for you, no matter how vile your sins. Jesus Christ rose from the dead to bury those sins in His tomb. Death and life have contended. The Prince of Life Who died reigns immortal. If you have despised your baptism, forgiveness is yours. If you have despised receiving the Means of Grace in God’s House, forgiveness is yours. If you think yourself unworthy of God’s forgiveness, God’s forgiveness is yours. Our Lord has a place for you at His heavenly banquet because He has destroyed the surface of the covering cast over all people. Jesus Christ has swallowed up death forever. Jesus Christ wipes away tears from all faces. Jesus Christ takes away the rebuke of His people from all the earth. Why? Because the LORD has spoken.

The Lord has spoken judgment over His people covered in the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ. His Word of judgment for us is “innocent” because His Word of judgment for His Son is “guilty”. Christ our Life takes on our death and destroys it. He stands victorious, ready to preside at His feast of victory. He graciously invites us to dine with Him around His throne now and forever. We dine with Him now in the Divine Service where He feeds us with Word and Sacrament. The feast of victory of our God is a foretaste of the feast to come in heaven where we will dine in His presence forever with those who have gone before us in the faith.

This morning’s Chief Hymn “At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing” would more than likely make many Lutherans top ten list of favorite hymns. I’m sure there would be more than one Easter hymn in many of your top ten hymn lists. The hymn pictures a feast centered on the Lamb of God Who gives God’s people victory in the ultimate celebration of the Passover feast. Instead of an unblemished lamb from a sheepfold, the Lamb of God is sacrificed on the cross. His blood covers our door, our bodies and souls. Death must pass over us because of Jesus. What more can be said but Alleluia! Praise the Lord! We shall not die but live and declare the works of the Lord!

Again this joyful Eastertide let us greet each other with the time-honored Christian Easter greeting:

Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!)

Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!)

Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!)

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

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