A Taste of Easter
2/15/04ArialTimes New Roman
The 3 Sundays before Lent have the Latin names Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima, that is 70, 60, and 50. They refer to the fact that the 3 Sundays before Lent are 70, 60, and 50 days before Easter. Before Lent even begins the Church counts down the number of days till Easter. Why? Because in the midst of deep winter we all need a taste of Easter.
In the depths of winter, doesn't it seem that death rules? If you had been with me in Indiana this week, you would agree with me that winter preaches the message that death reigns. Cold snow blanketed the woods. None of the trees had buds on them. It looked as if they would never live again. They looked stone, cold dead; God must be done with them! Even here during the cold, grey days of last week, some of our trees looked dead for good.
It's not only the realm of botany that preaches death to us. The world of amphibians and reptiles does too. Ever turn over a board or stump and found a snake in deep winter? It got more of a response out of you then you got out of it. Ever find a toad in winter? I found one half buried in dirt with no sign of life in it whatsoever.
In the midst of winter, death reigns. Nature preaches death to us, and so does the world. The situation is no different today than it was when Paul wrote the Corinthians. The world has never believed in the resurrection of the dead. Just watch a celebrity funeral. You'll hear how beautiful the person was, how he's gone to a better place, but you won't hear that their bodies rise from the dead except in the funeral liturgies of the Church. The world has never believed that dead bodies can be raised. Once they breath their last, they are no more. O the world may talk about a life everlasting, but it's always without this body of flesh and blood. And you know what? Our Old Adam, our sinful nature agrees with the world!
Winter and world don't tell our sinful natures anything they don't already believe. Sinful reason says there is no way that dead bodies can live again. There is no way that bodies decomposed into dust and ashes can come back from that. There is no way hearts that have stopped beating, lungs that have stopped breathing, and brains that have stopped thinking can beat, breath, and think again. Yes, our sinful nature can believe departed loved ones are someplace right now, but it can't believe they'll ever be back in their bodies. And winter and the world shout AMEN!
But the Church does not. Death may rule in winter, in the world, and even in our sinful flesh, but it doesn't reign in Church. Every Sunday we boldly shout to the world even in the midst of winter, "I believe in the resurrection of the body." "I believe in the resurrection of the flesh." We can say one of these every Sunday because we first say, "I believe Jesus Christ rose on the third day." Every Sunday we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus.
There's a connection between Jesus' resurrection and ours, a connection that some in Corinth forgot and some among us forget. Christians can sing about, thank God for, and believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, but still think other bodies don't rise. They forget there is a necessary connection between the two. Christ is the Firstfruits of the resurrection; He's not the whole harvest. His resurrection is the first not the only one. Christ is the Head of the Church; we are the body. The Head can't rise and leave the body in the grave. Ah but how do I know that Christ rose?
What does the Church do every Sunday? We eat the very body that Christ gave over to death on the cross. Do you think we partake of a dead body? But Paul says Communion is a proclamation of the death of Christ. But why do we proclaim His death? Why do we purposely show Him in paintings, on jewelry, and on our altar hanging lifelessly on a cross? Because He died for our sins never to see the light of day again? No! because He rose again from the grave never to die again. The only reason the death of Christ is a comfort to Christians is because He rose from the dead.
What else happens ever Sunday morning? Your sins are absolved. We sing praises to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. We celebrate the fact that we are not in our sins. Such expressions of faith would be futile, empty, pointless unless Jesus really did rise from the dead because if Christ did not rise from the dead we would still be in our sins.
How come? Well, what reason does Scripture give for Christ dying? For our sins. The only reason He died was for our sins. His human flesh and blood was joined to God; therefore, death had no power over Him. He only allowed Himself to die to pay for sins. Once those sins were paid for, death had no claim, no hold on Him. So if Christ didn't rise it would mean your sins couldn't be forgiven because they were not yet paid for.
But they are, aren't they? Otherwise, your burden wouldn't be eased when I forgive your sins. Otherwise, your conscience wouldn't sing when it hears that no matter what your sins are they were paid for by Christ. Otherwise, you wouldn't rejoice at being free from guilt. But you have felt sin's heavy burden lifted from you before. Your conscience has sung after being released from some sin. You have celebrated being freed by the Absolution from the guilt and shame of some wrongdoing. Those feelings, that sense of relief, that strange joy could not be there if Christ hadn't been raised from the dead.
And where do you think things like hope in the face of hardship, willingness to be poor, to be hungry, to weep, and to be insulted comes from? Where do you think that pity in you for those around you who find their treasure, their reward, their goal in this life comes from? It all comes from the resurrection of the dead.
You know that Christ rose and so therefore you will too. You know that this life is but the prelude, the real symphony is yet to begin. You know that the sorrow, the sufferings, the sadness here is not worth comparing to the unspeakable joy that will be revealed to you and in you. You know that there is no need to eat, drink and be merry as if there were no tomorrow for your body, because in fact there are endless ones in store for it because the dead do rise. You know, as the Church proclaims every Sunday in her prayers, that there is not just a now, but a "forever and ever." There is a "world without end."
Death may reign in winter, world, and in our sinful flesh, but it doesn't reign in the Church of Christ; His resurrection does. More than that, His resurrection reigns in you. That's why you can find rest from your sins; that's why you don't indulge your body as if this life is all there is. And that's why you don't have to be discouraged at what you see in winter, world, or even self. The reign of death is only apparent not real.
Look closely at winter. Even if our winters were as deep and dark as Indiana's, still you would know with spring comes resurrection. Don't look past this. Don't think it's by chance that spring illustrates resurrection from the dead. No, in the words of Luther, "Our Lord has written the promise of the resurrection not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime."
Faith hears springtime speaking the promises of God. When the trees that were stone cold dead leaf out, hear God whispering to you, "Your dry bones will live again." When that flower first pushes through the damp ground of spring, hear God whispering, "The body of your loved one will again push through the earth as wonderful, as whole, as perfect as a springtime flower."
And remember how very different that flower looked before it sprouted, how dead that tree looked before it leafed out, how lifeless that snake or toad looked before it suddenly resurrected one spring day. God is preaching to you here too. Don't be put off by appearances. Don't think that God cannot raise bodies that are lifeless or formless. Yes He can. God is able to bring life to the deadest of bodies even as He is able to bring flowers, leafs, and life to what winter kills so completely.
Take the faith that the Church proclaims - the resurrection of Christ and therefore the resurrection of all the dead - and look at the world. Even here you see signs of resurrection. The world will never confess that God brings the bodies that go into the grave back out. But most of the world believes there is something like a resurrection. That's why some think their loved ones become angels. Others think they're reincarnated in another body. Still others pay to have their body frozen for future use. But believing that the dead become angels, that bodies reincarnate, or that frozen bodies can be reused isn't more reasonable than believing in the resurrection of the dead.
But what troubles you most isn't that winter and the world preach against the resurrection of the dead but that your own sinful self agrees. This is where your new man created by Christ in Baptism is to speak up. The presence of the new man in you is proof that you're over halfway to the resurrection already. The greater miracle has already happened to you. Think about it; which is the greater miracle? Creating out of a nothing a new person holy and righteous as Christ is, or recreating a body that is dead and decayed? What is greater, giving faith and salvation to a sinner who rejects it every step of the way or giving new life to a lifeless body that can't reject anything? What is harder turning a heart of stone into one of faith or turning a heart full of death into one full of life?
The greater miracle has already happened to those who live in Christ and to those who've died in Him. Whether alive or dead if you're in Christ you're where He is: in heaven. Having got your soul there through faith or through death, what is so difficult about getting your body out of the ground and into heaven too? It is no more difficult for God to do that, than it is for Him to bring a flower from the ground or a leaf from a winter tree. So there's a taste of Easter in every sprouting flower you touch and every leafing tree you see. So taste and see that the Lord IS good. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Epiphany 6 (2-15-04); I Corinthians 15: 12, 16-20