Resurrection of Our Lord – Chief Service
“The Opening Between Life and Death”
St. Mark 16.1-8; Job 19.23-27; 1 Corinthians 5.6-8
21 April 2019
Reverend Jacob Sutton, Pastor
+ In the Name of Jesus +
When viewing the stunning pictures of the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris burning down earlier this week, one could not help but wonder what it all meant. What is God doing? How is God at work in so great a tragedy?
In France, being traditionally a Roman Catholic nation, the average age of a Roman Catholic priest is 72 years old. As of seven years ago, just fifty-six percent of French people declared themselves to be Catholic, and forty-seven percent of those aged 18 to 24 said they were “of no religion.”
This is not to say the Church is dead in Europe. There are Christians. Our brother Lutheran pastor Gottfried Martens in Berlin continues to baptize Muslim immigrant converts at an amazing rate, teaching them the same Small Catechism and the Scriptures we learn. He reported on social media that fourteen converts were baptized at the Holy Trinity Church in Berlin last night. The German people did finally rebuild the magnificent Lutheran Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady – the German “Notre Dame”) destroyed by the allied fire-bombing of Dresden, and according to the German Lutheran reporter Uwe Siemon-Netto, the pastors of that great church are teaching the Small Catechism again.
But the Church in Europe is hurting. Across the English Channel from France in Britain, only forty-six percent of people identifying themselves as Christians in Britain say that they believe the statement, “Jesus died on the cross and was resurrected at Easter so that you can be forgiven for your sins.” Forty percent of all British citizens do not believe at all in Jesus’ death and resurrection. And for those who attend Christian services in Britain at least once a month, only two-thirds say they believe the Easter story is historically true.
We should be well acquainted with our own social and cultural problems in this country. We need to understand that the Gospel was taken for granted and then ignored over time in Europe, and so God has removed the rain cloud of His Gospel from watering the ground there, leaving a remnant of believers, leaving museum piece churches and burning cathedrals behind.
What is God doing, how is He at work in so great a tragedy?
Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome and other followers of Jesus surely asked such questions, having witnessed the most earth shattering and sun-darkening of tragic events in all of human history, the crucifixion of the innocent Son of God. How is God at work there at the cross, how does God allow an innocent man to suffer such a cruel death? What is God doing?
The women came back on Sunday morning to the tomb where three days earlier they saw Jesus quickly laid, and the tomb sealed with a great stone. “Who will roll away the stone?” They came to see a dead body, and to apply proper burial spices per the custom of the time to that body.
Yet, they arrive to find God has been at work doing great things:
And after [the three women] looked up, they observed that the stone had been rolled away, for it was exceedingly great. And after they had entered into the tomb, they saw a young man who was sitting on the right, who was dressed in a white, flowing robe. And he said to them: “Do not be alarmed. Jesus you are seeking, the Nazarene, who was and is the crucified one, He has been raised, He is not here. Behold the place where they laid Him.” (Mk. 16:4-6; my translation)
The angels says, “You seek Jesus the Nazarene, the Crucified one.” The angel’s words are not merely “who was crucified” as if reporting an historic event, as many of our commonly used English translations of the Gospels render these words. Here the angel gives us a title for Jesus, one which the Apostle Paul will use in 1 Cor. 1:23, “But we preach Christ Crucified” – the One who was and is Crucified. Jesus was crucified, and if that’s all the angel meant to say, we could say that about countless people executed by the Romans. And if it remains in the past, just another man crucified on another cross, then we all remain lost in our sins. There is no reason to build or rebuild any cathedrals to worship such a person.
But Jesus is still and always is the Crucified – even as He lives on. “See my hands and side,” Jesus will say on Easter evening to His disciples, and shows them the glorious scars that signify His victory over sin and Satan. Fourth century pastor John Chrysostom comments on this passage, “‘I know that you seek Jesus the Crucified.’ And [the angel] is not ashamed to call Him ‘crucified;’ for this is the chief of the blessings.” (Homily LXXXIX on Matthew 27:62-ff; NPNF 1-10, pg. 508).
The crucifixion of our Lord is the work of God to save and deliver the world. He does something, He does it right, and it lasts. It doesn’t have to be repeated. The effects of His work endure. From the cross Jesus has said τετέλεσται, “It IS FINISHED!” Salvation was accomplished, and it stays accomplished, such that two thousand years later we are recipients of that salvation.
Now we see and hear with the women at the empty tomb the answer to many questions. The grave itself has been opened, the stone remains rolled away, and is shown to be defeated. There is no body there. Christ is the Crucified one, and He is the Risen one too. How was God at work in the crucifixion of our Lord? How is He at work in tragedy, in disaster, in death, in all the cruel effects of our sin in this life? He is at work bringing life out of death. He is at work providing the opening between life and death, such that we too can pass with Jesus from one to the other.
Did our Lord’s crucifixion accomplish its goal? Did Jesus succeed in taking away the world’s sin? What His obedience good enough? Was His suffering sufficient? Jesus you are seeking, the Nazarene, the one who was and is the crucified one, He has been raised, He is not here. What does this mean? It can only mean that He succeeded in doing what He set out to do when He went to the cross to suffer for our sins. Had He not removed our sins He would have stayed dead. Had He not succeeded in justifying us by His bitter suffering and death, He would have remained in the grave. His resurrection is God absolving all those for whom He died. Here is how St. Paul puts it in Romans 4:25,
[Jesus] was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.
Sin brings death. Forgiveness brings life. The connection is undeniable. Where there is forgiveness of sins, there is life and salvation. As we’ve detailed this morning, too many live lives without knowing of or believing they have forgiveness. They do not believe in the gospel of the free forgiveness of all our sins for Christ’s sake. The life they live is a living death. There is no lasting peace, no true joy, no real hope. There is only the satisfaction of whatever cravings can be satisfied for the time being until they eventually lose the ability to enjoy life and face eternal death all alone and afraid. And we see this when such people grieve – they grieve, as the Apostle Paul says, as people who have no hope.
But Easter is new hope, new life, it is the open, defeated grave that will come at the Last Day for every believer. So we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead this morning and every Sunday morning because this miracle defines our lives. Your lives gain their value from the forgiveness of your sins. You are righteous before God because Christ took the blame for your sins and gave you the credit for His obedience. This wonderful exchange – your sins for His righteousness – was accomplished in Christ’s death and resurrection, given to you in your baptism, and is received by you through faith – by simply believing God’s promises for you in Jesus Christ.
Such a deal for you. It means that you are friends of God. He doesn’t treat you as your sins deserve. He forgives you. Every time you come to confess your sins He forgives you freely for Christ’s sake. When you face sickness, you know He is not punishing you. When you face death, you know you have nothing to fear. When life deals you losses, you know you cannot lose what matters the most because He who died for you is risen from the dead and intercedes for you at the right hand of God, He is your advocate and defender before the throne of the Father in heaven.
What is God seeking to do, how is He at work in the tragedy and devastation we experience in this life? He is pointing us to salvation in Jesus Christ alone. He is pointing us to the open door from death to eternal life.
Three major things it seemed survived that fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, from what I can see and read from reports. The pipe organ was saved intact and will be there to be used to lead the praises of the Triune God. More important, the high altar with the stature of the Pieta behind it, depicting Mary holding the crucified Lord Jesus in her arms after He was brought down from His cross, and the large golden altar cross, both survived. The altar – the place at which heaven meets earth and the Crucified and Resurrected Jesus gives freely His forgiveness at His Word under bread and wine. That is there in Paris. Almost all else is gone.
Perhaps then the tragedy of Notre Dame reminds us this Easter Day: seek Jesus of Nazareth, the Son who He sent to be your savior, who was and is the crucified one. Repent and believe the Gospel. Jesus is risen. He defeated sin and death and devil. He is not in that tomb. He is alive and rules and reigns. He is here in His holy church to deliver to you the forgiveness of sins and the opened gateway to eternal life. Here God removes all fear and sets your hearts at peace.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +