Easter Sunday Sermon
March 27, 2016
“The Church Gathers on Sunday”
St. Matthew 28:1-10
Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men. But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.” So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word. And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, “Rejoice!” So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell My brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me.”
The Christian Church gathers together on Sunday morning because Jesus Christ, the head of the Church, rose from the dead on Sunday morning. Every Sunday service is a celebration of Easter. On Good Friday Jesus died for the sin of the world. On Easter Sunday he rose from the dead. The reason he died was our sin. It was laid on him. He is the Passover. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He died.
The same Jesus who died on Friday rose on Sunday. That is why we are here this morning. This is why the Church gathers together on Sunday to hear God’s word. Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday.
The Old Testament Church gathered together on Saturday. It was the Sabbath. Saturday was a day of rest. God’s people would rest from all their work and gather together to hear his Word and to sing his praises. God created the world in six days. He rested on the seventh day. That’s why he blessed that day and made it holy. He required his people to rest from their work on Saturday, just as he had rested from his work on that first Saturday. That’s why the women didn’t go the tomb to anoint the dead body of Jesus on Saturday. They waited until early Sunday morning to do so. The Sabbath began on sunset Friday and ended on sunset Saturday. At the first light they went to the tomb to see Jesus.
They expected to find a corpse. They were driven by love; not faith. Love is the greatest of Christian virtues. As St. Paul says, without love we are nothing. But without faith, love is helpless. The women loved Jesus because Jesus loved them. He showed them God’s love. That’s what Jesus shows us. Jesus shows us God’s love by what he says and does. Jesus’ love for them elicited their love for him. Love led them to the tomb to pay respects to their dead teacher. That’s what they were looking for: their dead teacher. You don’t look for the living in a tomb. You look for the dead in a tomb.
The angel set them straight. He told them that Jesus had risen from the dead. Angels are messengers from God. We are used to having God speak to us through the mouths of men. We call them preachers, ministers, pastors, whatever – they are human beings like us. Angels are not human. They are spirits. The word angel means messenger. God used these spirit beings as his messengers for thousands of years. While angels have no bodies, they usually appear in bodily form, as if they are men. They speak for God and they speak with authority. Remember how Gabriel struck Zacharias mute because he didn’t believe him when he promised that his wife Elizabeth would have a baby in her old age? Angels aren’t sweet and cuddly like cute little babies. They are not provocative and sexy like models walking around in their underwear. They are messengers of God who see the face of God and speak for God. The angel told the women that Jesus was not dead but risen from the dead. He told them to tell Jesus’ disciples that he was risen and that they would see him in Galilee. On their way to tell the disciples, they met Jesus who told them the same thing that the angel had told them.
The women were told to tell the men about Jesus. Did you get that? This is important. Our churches do not call and ordain women to be pastors because God’s Word forbids it. St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 14:34 that it is shameful for a woman to preach in the church. He wrote in 1 Timothy 2:12 that he did not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man in the church. The matter of women pastors is settled in God’s Word. It is forbidden.
But God told the women to tell the men about Jesus. God’s messenger, the angel told them to do so. God’s only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, told them to do so. Tell them. You came looking for death and you found life. Tell them. Your love was blind and misdirected, set upon what your eyes had seen as you watched your Lord die on the cross. You saw him die and you were overwhelmed by sorrow. Now you have heard the gospel. He is risen. The sins for which he died have been washed away. He has conquered death. Tell them. Tell the disciples, the apostles, the pastors what you have heard.
The Marys speak for the church of all ages. The church gathers together on Sunday. She confesses Jesus, who rose from the dead. She tells the pastors to preach to her about Jesus. The women, obeying the command of the angel and the command of Jesus, went to the disciples to tell them that Jesus had risen from the dead and that he would meet them. He did. And he gave them the duties of the apostolic ministry: to preach the gospel and administer the sacraments of Christ. We need the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ. He has forgiveness of sins to give us. He died and rose from the dead. He has life to give. By giving himself up for us on the cross and by raising himself from the dead, he is ready, willing, and able to give forgiveness and life to those who need it.
The Marys told the apostles to go to where Jesus was. The church insists that her ministers go to where Jesus is and to preach what Jesus gives them to preach. Every Sunday morning, the church confesses her faith in the words of the Creed. Then the preacher preaches according to the creed the church confesses.
The church gathers to confess Jesus. She gathers to be instructed in Jesus’ words. She gathers to be fed by Jesus’ body and blood. She gathers to receive forgiveness of sins from him who died for her sin. She gathers to rejoice together in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.
There is a good reason why the church has been gathering together on Sunday mornings for nearly two thousand years now. Without the preaching of God’s Word and the church assembled to hear it, the church would be scattered like lost sheep. The women were full of love and devotion. That wasn’t enough. Look where it got them! Looking for a dead Jesus! What good does a dead Jesus do for you? No good at all.
While the church gathers together Sunday after Sunday to receive from the Lord Jesus the words of everlasting life, it is common – and it is becoming more and more common – for Christians to stay away from Sunday’s Divine Service and to seek Jesus on their own. That doesn’t work. What happens is that when we neglect the services of God’s house we look for Jesus where he isn’t.
True, God is everywhere. He is omnipresent. Wherever you go, he is there. The Psalmist writes:
God is everywhere that you are, whether you attend Divine Service on Sunday morning or do something else. God is with you.
But how do you know what God wants for you? How do you know what God thinks of you? How do you know how God regards you? How do you know not to be afraid of God when you face death? You must know that death is God’s punishment for sin! How do you know that your sins are forgiven? Are you a Christian? Do you want to live a life pleasing to God? How do you know what God wants you to do? How do you know? Do you meet an angel who tells you not to be afraid? Do you meet Jesus who tells you to rejoice? I’ve never heard an angel speak to me and I have never seen Jesus, either. So how do I know what God’s messenger says? How do I know what God’s Son says? I need to know!
We must listen to God speak. He speaks through his Word. The church is the sheep that hear the voice of their Shepherd and follow him. He gives them eternal life and they shall never perish.
The empty tomb is not enough. We need God’s Word as well. What Jesus did is done and cannot be improved upon. He fully paid the debt of sin we owed to God. By dying he destroyed death’s power. His resurrection guarantees our own. The Bible says Jesus has “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” We need the gospel. It is how the Holy Spirit “calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”
The guards shook and fainted with fear leaving them as if they were dead. That’s what the empty tomb did for them. The empty tomb is not enough. We need God’s Word. We need to know what Christ’s death and resurrection mean. That’s why we celebrate Easter every Sunday of the year. We come to church burdened by our sins. We have not loved God with our whole heart, soul, strength, and mind. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have trusted in the world’s vain promises and neglected God’s Word. We have been lax in prayer. We have abused authority. We have failed to help our neighbor in his need. We have thought impure thoughts. We have rejoiced in wrong instead of thirsting for what is right. We have sinned and our sin makes us guilty and deserving of death.
We bring our dying bodies to God’s house and we hear the voice of the angel: “Do not be afraid.” We hear the voice of Jesus: “Rejoice.” Every Sunday, Sunday after Sunday, we come. He never turns us away. He never withholds his forgiveness. He never fails to bless us. The Holy Spirit enters into us and breathes new life into us. He forgives us with the forgiveness Jesus won on the cross. He raises us up to heaven. Sunday after Sunday, God renews our lives. Where, but in God’s house, would I want to be on a Sunday morning?
Rolf D. Preus