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Sermon for the Resurrection of Our Lord 2011

by Christopher Esget ~ April 23rd, 2011

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

About a week and a half before the first Easter, a friend of Jesus died, a close friend. His name was Lazarus. Lazarus had two sisters, Mary and Martha, who also had been devoted disciples of Jesus. When Jesus finally arrived at their home in Bethany, just two miles from Jerusalem, there is mixed reaction; they do not understand why Jesus did not come sooner. The mourners are hurting, confused; everything they knew and trusted has been thrown into chaos. Christ did not comfort the mourners with platitudes about how everything would turn out fine, or how God needed another angel. No, when Jesus arrived at the tomb of Lazarus, He wept. His tears were for Lazarus, His dead friend, but they also were part of a larger lamentation over our fallen world.

In straying so far from God, man has come to believe in death, accepting it about himself, even regarding death as a friend, as a good. And in accepting death, we have turned against life itself, as God made it to be for us: enfleshed, bodily, material. Even among Christians, children are often regarded as accidents, mistakes, a burden on time and money; families with many children are scorned, and the death of our sick and elderly is considered a good that should be hastened. God created the human person to be soul and body joined together, and He created the world—material things, oranges and blueberries and tulips and rivers—all material things He made for our good and our delight. But sin—man’s sin, our sin—has rendered it a cosmic cemetery, with the dust of a billion corpses sticking to the soles of our shoes. And it was not just the tomb of Lazarus, but this whole world which has been turned into a tomb, that our Lord Jesus looked upon, and wept.

Our entire human race has become a “collection of people condemned to death.” Realizing that we are dying, many live “either in fear or terror,” and all our societal controversies reflect this: social security, health care, immigration, the three wars we are fighting, unions, Qu’ran burnings, all reveal fears of a great apocalypse to come, a catastrophe just around the bend. So in a mad effort to forget about death and pretend everything is fine, what do we do? We race from one activity to the next; but as one of the most insightful writers of the last century put it, we are “rushing around one great, big burial plot” (Schmemann).

Meditating on this horrible reality is far too painful, so our race has convinced itself that death is but an illusion; death is a liberation, an escape from the prison of matter.

And if death is an illusion, then the resurrection of Jesus is also an illusion. Attempting to reconcile Christianity with the prevailing culture, now promoted is the insidious notion that Jesus did not rise in His body, but it was simply His spirit that lived on; and the disciples had an experience of this spirit which they shared with others.

These are nice thoughts. But they are not Christian, and they are not at all what the Apostles themselves tell us. St. John tells us concerning the risen Jesus, “That which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands … the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life.” St. John, and all the Apostles, tell us not about a spiritual encounter that makes life better for now, but about an encounter with the risen Jesus, whose body was resurrected from the grave, no more to die. And St. John tells us this not simply as a matter of interesting history, but in order to “proclaim to you the eternal life,” that those joined to Christ shall likewise rise again.

Here is the reality, the hard truth, according to St. Paul: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.” If Christ is not risen, then everything is meaningless, then this brief life is all you have; and there is also no basis for any ethics or morality, and all we are left with is survival of the fittest and might makes right.

But thanks be to God, all the Apostles testify, and more than five hundred eyewitnesses give testimony, and St. Paul, last to see the risen Christ, solemnly affirms, in testimony that would bring him to his own martyrdom: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

Therefore now, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Cor. 15.26) “God did not make death,” the book of Wisdom says, “and He does not delight in the death of the living.” Way back on Ash Wednesday we were reminded that God hates nothing He has made—and know this: He has made you. “Thou hast made us for Thyself,” prayed St. Augustine to the Lord, “And our heart are restless until they find their rest in Thee.” God made you for Himself. God made us for Himself. Christ Jesus came not to be your enemy; He came to destroy your enemy, as it is written, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” Christ Jesus came not to condemn the world; but He took the condemnation, the world’s condemnation, your condemnation, everything you deserve because of your rebellion, your hedonism, your self-centered folly – all of it He took upon Himself, and it was condemned in Him. So He said shortly before His crucifixion, in talking about His own death, “Now is the judgment of this world.” The world was judged in Him, as He took it upon Himself. This is why we sing with such great joy, on our knees, “Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.” “Now is the judgment of this world,” Jesus said about His cross, “Now the ruler of this world will be cast out.”

That is the work of the cross – the judgment of sin; and in the resurrection is the death of death. Death is no illusion; but in Jesus it has been put to death. The resurrection of Jesus is no illusion, and therefore the resurrection of all those in Christ is our sure and certain hope.

So when next you go to the grave of one who has died in Christ, remember that on the last day, those in the graves shall rejoice, for Christ is risen, and death is undone.

When you are approaching your own death, know that the death of Jesus is the death of death. In Him is forgiveness; and where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.

All this is what we confess when we say with the greatest gladness:

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

 

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