Easter Sunday Sermon 2004
The mere murder of American
civilians in Iraq would not have gotten the headlines that the recent
atrocities produced. After
all, Iraq is a dangerous place to be.
People get killed there every day.
It was the gruesome way the dead bodies were mutilated to the
undisguised glee of spectators that hit such a deep chord of anger in
our country. Death comes to
us all, but is there not within every human heart a sense of the sacred
that ought to be demonstrated by respect for the dead, at least in their
Death comes to us all, and when
it does it calls for a moment of respect.
It was respect that drew the women to the tomb to anoint Jesusí
dead body. It was more than
respect. It was love. The holiest, purest, and most righteous man who had ever
lived Ė indeed, the only perfectly holy, pure, and righteous man who
has ever lived Ė lay dead in the grave.
His death was to their eyes far more offensive that what happened
recently in Iraq. His
suffering was greater. His
humiliation was deeper. The
undisguised hatred of those who cried out for His blood was more
intense. Those who loved
Him the most were witnesses of a hatred so deep that it chilled them to
But they did not lack courage. The two Marys and Salome saw Him die. They watched from a distance.
They, with Joseph of Arimathea, asked Pilate for Jesusí body
after He died. Pilate
granted their request. Joseph
was a wealthy man. They
wrapped Jesus in linen and buried Him in Josephís tomb where no man
had been buried before. This was to fulfill what Isaiah the prophet had written,
ďAnd they made His grave with the wicked; but with the rich at His
death, because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His
mouth.Ē (Isaiah 53:9) They
rolled a huge stone over the entrance to the tomb.
Later, Roman soldiers were posted to guard the tomb.
On Good Friday, just after Jesus
died, the women werenít afraid of Pilate under whose authority Jesus
had been crucified. And
early on Easter Sunday morning on their way to the tomb they werenít
afraid of meeting any Roman guards though they had seen how brutally the
Romans had beaten Jesus before nailing Him to the cross.
They were not afraid of anything.
They were concerned only about how they would enter the tomb
because the stone that blocked its entrance was too large for them to
roll away. When they
arrived they saw the stone had already been rolled away.
They saw an angel, appearing as a young man wearing a long white
robe. Seeing him, they were
afraid. Then the angel
preached the Easter gospel to them.
Now they are afraid.
They ran away trembling. They
said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.
Does that make sense?
They are not afraid to see Him die.
They are not afraid to ask Pilate for His dead body.
They are not afraid to go to His tomb to anoint His dead body so
that He could at least receive in death the respect denied to Him in
life. They are not afraid
to face death. They are
willing to bathe and to anoint a corpse.
But the gospel, preached by a preacher wearing a white robe,
scares them into trembling silence.
What an amazing thing!
When their hearts are set on death, they are not afraid.
But when they hear the gospel of immortality preached they are
Did you know that people often
mistake the gospel for law? Itís
true. The law is that
doctrine from God that teaches us how we should live.
The gospel is that doctrine from God that teaches us how Christ
lived and died for us. The
law makes demands on us that we cannot fulfill.
The gospel makes no demands on us at all.
The law shows us Godís perfect will for our behavior and
condemns us for failing to do it. The
gospel shows us that Christ has done what Godís will required us to do
and that He has already born our condemnation in our place.
The law shows us our sin and condemns us to death.
The gospel gives to us our Savior and guarantees us resurrection
to eternal life.
Still, there is something quite
perverse within our hearts that will persuade us that the law and death
are preferable to the gospel and life.
St. Paul tells us that the message of the cross is foolishness to
those who are perishing. When
we follow the natural feelings and desires of our hearts we run to
embrace the law and death. We
understand it. The law resonates with our conscience. Death may be cruel and hurtful, but at least heís a
familiar enemy. It is the
message of the gospel that defies what humanity by nature believes about
The gospel tells us that Jesus
was innocent and that He suffered for the guilty.
But our natural human reasoning says this is terribly unfair. The gospel tells us that what we have seen with our own eyes
is false, but that what the preacher in the white robe says is true.
Our eyes have seen the dead body.
Our hands have felt the cold skin.
We are witnesses of death. The
preacher preaches the resurrection to eternal life.
Christ, who bore our sins and death, rose from the dead.
Therefore we who died and rose with Him in Holy Baptism will
through the faith of Holy Baptism rise to eternal life on the last day.
This is the message of the gospel, but we cannot see it or feel
it and so we doubt it. Since
we cannot see it or feel it we begin to think that it is unreal.
We, like the women at the empty tomb, want to live with what we
can see and feel even when what we see and feel gives us no hope.
Consider the reality of death. We are not there at the grave with the women, but death is a
part of our lives, is it not? If
we are to judge by what we see, feel, sense, and experience we must
conclude that death is the ultimate reality in our lives!
Everyone living inside of this sanctuary this morning will die
the common death of all men and thereís nothing any of us can do about
it. Thatís reality! That reality holds a power over us that we cannot resist.
Death not only comes to claim us all, he reminds us of his coming
every time we must witness the death of others, especially of those we
love. To embrace death as
if he is simply inevitable is to embrace hopelessness.
Death is bad.
Life is good. God
did not create us to die. He
created us to live. The
life that God created for us to live is a bodily life.
He did not create us as disembodied souls.
He created us body and soul.
Had the women found the dead body of Jesus they would have found
a dead Jesus. Had the women found what they were looking for they would
have remained trapped in death for time and eternity. All of us would have been trapped with them.
Had they found a dead Lord Jesus He would not have been the Lord
after all but only a man and a rather pathetic and deluded man at that.
What they found was not a dead Jesus but an empty tomb and the words of a heavenly preacher wearing a white robe. The white robe of the angel symbolizes what Christís resurrection means for us. The color white is the absence of all color. Pure white symbolizes the absence of anything at all that is impure. It symbolizes innocence. The innocence comes from the One whose messenger the angel was. Jesus suffered death while bearing the sin of the world. He suffered because He was bearing the guilt, the condemnation, and the deep sorrow that our sins bring. Have you ever felt remorse? He felt it deeper. Have you ever felt guilt? It pierced Him more sharply. He was the sin-bearer, and He bore all the sin of all sinners. He remained pure. He kept His innocence. His innocence confronted our guilt. His righteousness did battle against our sins. His spiritual perfection overwhelmed our spiritual blindness and enmity. It was a life and death struggle, and life won.
The women were trapped by
death. Their hearts were set on death.
They wanted only the comfort gained by honoring that innocent
life that had been swallowed up by death.
What they found was death swallowed up by the innocent man, their
God and brother Jesus. Listen
to how Martin Luther describes Christís victory over death in the
words of his Easter hymn:
Jesus Christ, Godís only Son, to our low state descended,
a strange and dreadful strife when life and death contended.
We do not need to concede to
death its power. Its power
is undone. We will face
death throughout our lives. This
is true. Every death we confront will remind us that we are living in
dying bodies. This is true.
Godís holy word teaches us plainly that the wages of sin is
death. This is true.
And we know that the Catechism speaks truly as well when it says
that we daily sin much and indeed deserve nothing but punishment.
What can we do but agree and confess our sins to God, begging Him
But then we must listen to the
messenger from heaven dressed in the long white robe.
He says to us, ďYou seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.
He is risen!Ē This
heavenly messenger of God did not tell the women that they shouldnít
be seeking Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified.
They were just looking for Him in the wrong place.
We donít find comfort in dying.
We find comfort in Jesus. There
is no joy in death. Heís
a mean and bitter enemy. But
there is joy in the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ.
It is the joy of knowing that our sins are washed away by His
death and eternal life is guaranteed us by His resurrection.
That is a joy that will remain ours in life and in death, because
for Christís sake death is now the door to everlasting life.
Rev. Rolf D. Preus