Easter, March 27th, 2016
Isaiah 65:17-25, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, 1 Corinthians 15:19-26, Luke 24:1-12
Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND
May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, my rock and my redeemer.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
This is the sermon I am going to preach at your funeral, but since you won’t be here to hear it, I’ll give you a little foretaste of it now. Paul writes: “[Christ] must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” Death is the enemy of all living things. Death is the last, great enemy of God. And death will be destroyed. In his own death and resurrection, Jesus Christ has set in motion the complete, total, and utter destruction of death. Death is a dead man walking. Death doesn’t get the last word. Death is going down.
In the fallen world we live in now, death comes everywhere life does. And death is constantly fighting to destroy life. There’s a reason we call it a “battle with cancer”—when you have cancer, you are directly fighting the old enemy, death, which is trying to drag you down into its clutches. But death comes in many other forms, too. From hunger to heart attacks, depression to drunk driving, brutality to blood clots, abuse to addiction, death comes in many different forms, some of them obvious and overt and some of them subtle and insidious. And sometimes death wins! Each one of us will die in the end, and be laid in the grave. But when Christ comes again the graves will be opened, and we will rise as our Lord did, and death itself will be destroyed.
Christians talk a lot about sin, but if you ask people—even many Christians!—what sin is, or what makes something a sin, you’ll get a lot of different answers. And many of those answers will be incomplete, and some of them will even be wrong. For example, a lot of the time people will say something along the lines of “sin is stuff that God doesn’t like.” But the obvious question, then, is why God doesn’t like it. And the reason that God doesn’t like some behaviors, the thing that makes them sinful, is that they hurt people. They add to the destruction and death in the world. In his letter to the Romans, Paul pointed out that the wages of sin is death. Sin leads to death. And people assume sin leads to death because God doesn’t like those thoughts and behaviors and so he punishes them. No! It’s the other way around! God doesn’t like them because they lead to death! God loves all his children, all living creatures, and God wants us all to be happy and healthy. But there are some things we do, as individuals and as groups, that hurt people. Those behaviors add to the destruction in the world. And it may be our actions leading to our own death, but all too often it’s our actions leading to other peoples’ death. Our sin hurting ourselves and others.
A specific action or thought may not cause a death right then and there. But sinful thoughts and actions add to the unpleasantness of the world. Lies, jealousy, theft even on the pettiest level, abuse, neglect—they all add to the general harshness and evil in the world. They make violence and neglect seem more normal. They make the world a worse place. They make it harder to live in. They make people more likely to lash out at others, they make people more likely to kill, or just shrug and stand aside while others kill. And so we get shocking crimes committed at a few people’s initiative, lots of people’s blessings, and everyone’s passive acquiescence. All these sins, large and small, they add up. They create conditions that make death more likely—the death of hope, the death of love, the death of the soul, the death of the body. And death is the enemy, our enemy and God’s enemy.
Since the time of Adam and Eve, humans have been constantly adding to the death in the world. And sometimes we do it obviously, by directly killing people. Sometimes we do it indirectly, by causing or allowing the conditions that lead to death. Sometimes we do it by creating a world and society where exploitation and violence and strife and oppression and greed and all the worst parts of ourselves are seen as normal, and sometimes even explained away as good. We have been digging our own graves ever deeper.
But through the grace of God, those graves will not swallow us up forever. Death is not the end of the story. You see, God so loved the world that he sent his only son, Jesus Christ our Lord, to destroy death. God sent Jesus into the world to shake things up and overturn the whole system that leads to death. By dying for us and then rising from the grave, Jesus gave a knockout punch to death that will destroy it forever so that it can’t ever enter the ring again.
Now, we still die. Because the destruction of death will not be complete until Christ comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead. You know how sometimes someone gets hit on the head but they think they’re fine until a few hours later, when they collapse and it turns out that blow to the head caused a fatal aneurism, but it just didn’t rupture right away? That’s death, right now. Death is walking around this world thinking it’s the king of the hill, but its time is numbered. Because in his death and resurrection, Jesus has dealt death the fatal blow. Death is a goner, it just doesn’t know it yet. And yeah, death can rage. Yeah, death can do a lot of damage in the here-and-now. Yeah, death can make life here on earth really nasty for a while. But when Christ comes again, death is gonna be toast.
Christ has been raised from the dead, and Christ is the first fruits of those who have died. Christ’s resurrection is not a one-off event, it’s the first sprout in the field, poking up above the earth. The rest, all those who have died, will rise when Christ comes again. All those who now sleep in the earth, and all those who will die and be laid to rest between now and the second coming? They will rise again from the grave just as Christ did that first Easter. We will rise again. The tomb will open for us just as it did for Jesus. And on that day all people, living and dead, will be judged, and God’s kingdom will be established here on earth, and we will all be changed. All of the chaff in our souls will be sifted out and burned, leaving only the good wheat. Evil will be gone. Death, the last great enemy, will be destroyed. A new heaven and a new earth will be created, where all the things that led to death—all the sins that caused pain and suffering—will be gone. There will be no more mourning or weeping, only joy and laughter and delight. There will be no hurting or destruction. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like an ox. There will be only life, no more death, because Christ will have destroyed death forever.
That’s what Easter means. That’s what the resurrection is all about. We don’t celebrate the resurrection just because Christ rose from the grave. I mean, that’s awesome, don’t get me wrong, it’s great, but by itself that would still leave us mired in a world of death. We celebrate Easter because of what it means for us. We celebrate Easter because it has fundamentally reshaped the world, and so death does not get the last word. We celebrate because we know that Christ is only the first fruits of the dead, that we ourselves will be raised from the dead when Christ comes again, along with all our loved ones and every human who has ever died. And then, at that point, death will be no more, and pain will be no more, and all the things that make our lives miserable in the here and now will be destroyed. Utterly, completely, and totally destroyed by God, through the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. No more death, only life. A life better than you and I can imagine.
We are children of the Resurrection. We know that no matter how much death rages around us in the here and now, we don’t have to fear it because it will be destroyed and we will be raised with Christ. All the fears and pains of the world, they’re only temporary. We don’t have to be afraid of all the things the world tells us to be afraid of. We are free, free to spread love in a world drowning in death. Free to spread hope in a world drowning in fear and cynicism. Free to live, in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection. Thanks be to God.