Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text for our sermon meditation is the Epistle of St Paul to the Colossians, the 3rd
“ 1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
So far the reading.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen!
Of all the great days which the Church of Jesus celebrates, the most joyous day is Easter. Personally, I enjoy the Lenten and Easter seasons the most. The hymns and readings all direct attention to the joy of Jesus Resurrection from death. The Easter hymns fill our hearts with joy and anticipation of the believer reaching the goal of faith in Jesus Christ. Consider the words we sang earlier.
Jesus Christ is risen today Alleluia!
Our triumphant holy day Alleluia!
Who did once upon the cross Alleluia!
Suffer to redeem our loss Alleluia! [LSB 457,1]
What is wrong with Easter today? Especially this year there is much that prevents us from celebrating Easter as children of God should. We are in quarantine around our communities, nation and even in the world. Borders of state and nations are closed to travel. Families are separated by the invisible wall of illness. Church communities are separated likewise. We cannot gather to rejoice, as is our habit, in the highest and most holy event, the resurrection of Jesus which is the foundation of our faith.
Yet, there are other things we have added to this celebration that tend to render our celebration shallow. Such additions are placed before us as we enter stores. Easter bunnies, the ever-present Easter grass which we add to Easter baskets to nest the jelly beans, peeps and chocolate eggs. After Easter is over the plastic grass seems to reproduce like weeds.
Lest we forget, we must return to these words of St Paul to remember the message of Easter and recount the great work which is embraced in this Holy Day of Days. St Paul writes the words that give us pause and to urge us to reflect upon right celebration of this day. He writes, “If then you have been raised with Christ ….”
What is embraced in these words? We might understand being raised as meaning being brought up from a young age. Parents raise their children. Siblings are raised together in a household. Cousins spend time with their extended family and share certain common events. We learn to know each other and build a relationship with one another.
Being raised with Christ may then mean we are raised knowing Jesus Christ. We were brought to the services of God’s house and heard the Word of God read and taught to us. We gathered at the feet of God’s called servants and listened with ears ready to hear and hearts ready to receive the message of hope, forgiveness and salvation given to those who are called to be God’s people.
Truly the meaning spoken by Paul is different from the meaning just given. We must first look at who is raised. Jesus is raised first. He is the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. The raising of which Paul writes is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave. When Paul speaks of this raising, he is also referring to the suffering and death of Jesus. For one cannot be raised from the dead unless they first die.
Secondly, in this raising of Jesus we must never forget the element of sacrifice which Jesus made. Sacrifice is the very focus of all that Jesus did in His ministry, life and death. When we look at the life of Jesus, we see this truth placed clearly before us. St Paul writes in another place that the Son of God took on the form of a servant, being made in human likeness and he became obedient unto death on a cross. We may even look at the account of Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. In his struggle, Jesus sacrificed His will for the will of His Father n heaven. Remember Jesus words, “Not my will, but yours be done.”
In our days, the element of personal sacrifice is not always present. It may be more so now because of what we have given up in the face of this pandemic. Yet, we have largely only a distant memory of sacrifice. With everything we have access to today, there are not many people who have to do without. Even those below the poverty line have received blessings and material goods far above those in other countries who are less fortunate. We have turned from thinking such blessings are privileges and turned to thinking of such blessings as our due. We have a right to such things as cell phones, large screen televisions, all manner of electronics, Wi-Fi, internet and fast food.
So we return to Jesus and His sacrifice. In another place St Paul writes, “For even Christ, our Passover, is sacrificed for us….” This is the foundation of our Easter celebration. Jesus is the Passover of God. He is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. He is the first-fruits of those who fall asleep in faith. His life was sacrificed upon the cross to gain for us salvation, forgiveness and eternal life.
Moreover, Jesus was raised from death for our justification. When we consider this truth, we must understand our relationship with God is restored. The death Jesus died, he died to sin.
The life he lives, he lives to God. This means both prior to death and after His resurrection, Jesus lived to fulfill the will of His Father. God holds the resurrection of Jesus before the world as the proof that sin is atoned for, death is subservient, Satan is made impotent, and the grave is but a temporary place.
We now consider our being raised with Jesus. The verses prior to this reading, Paul writes these words “… having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.” [Col. 2:12] In Holy Baptism God worked a miracle in your life. You died with Jesus to sin and death. Jesus’ sacrifice becomes your sacrifice. The blood of the Lamb of God was not painted upon the lintel and door posts of your house. Rather the blood of the Lamb of God was poured out upon your heart and mind. You were marked as one who is set apart by God for eternal life.
Moreover, the resurrection of Jesus from the tomb, is your resurrection from the tomb. You were raised with Jesus in Holy Baptism and accounted justified before God. The guilt of your sins was placed upon Jesus. He took from you the awful weigh of those sins and terrible judgment of God upon those sins. He endured the suffering and punishment of God that you would be reconciled to God and accounted righteous, forgiven and an heir of eternal life.
Each Sunday we recount these truths as we gather in the house of the Lord. The invocation reminds us of our baptism through which we are baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection. Our confession of sins recounts the need for the self-sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross. The Absolution reminds us of the eternal blessing which comes to us from the resurrection of Jesus from the tomb. The Holy Supper gives us the Lamb of God sacrificed for sin. The Benediction reminds us that God placed His name on us in Baptism and made us heirs of eternal life by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
There is nothing wrong with Easter this year. The gifts and blessings of God will never change. The death of Jesus is still the atoning death for our sins. The resurrection of Jesus on the third day is still the justification for our faith in Jesus Christ. The Baptism in the name of our Triune God still covers sinners in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Holy Supper still gives us the body and blood of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. The Word of God still guards and keeps us in true faith and will bring us to eternal life on the day of Jesus’ Return. May God bless your Easter celebration. May it not be diminished by the trials under which we must live. Rather, may your celebration be heightened by these trials that God has counted you worthy to suffer. He is refining your faith and preparing you for a greater weight of glory in His presence.
Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen!
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.