22 April 2014

Homily for Easter Vigil (19 April 2014)

Your Life is Hiding

Last night we ended in the cold hard reality of death, and we left in darkness and silence. Our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified, died, and was buried. If we stop there, the wind is taken out of our sails, our breath is brutally knocked out of us, our energy is zapped and lost.

But we don’t stop there. Don’t get me wrong. Good Friday is the holiest day we have. It is the victory day--the one day that changed all of human history. On Good Friday God the Father sacrificed His own Son to rescue you from your lifeless wandering in sin and death. On Good Friday your Lord Jesus spoke the best words you can ever hear: “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30). The slavery of sin is finished. The dungeon of death is finished. God’s will of saving sinners by forgiving them is finished … accomplished … completed … a done deal … forever. “For our sake [God] made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

By the ancient reckoning of time we are now in the third day. The first day started with Jesus eating the Passover with His disciples and giving us the Lord’s Supper. It ended with Jesus hanging dead on His Cross. The second day started and ended with with Jesus buried and resting in the tomb. His followers also kept the Sabbath Day sacred by resting. Sundown this evening marks the beginning of the third day. The Lord of life went into death and was buried. He rested in the tomb. But then He came out alive! Tonight the darkness of Good Friday gives way to the light of Resurrection. The cold, hard reality of death gives way to the bright, blessed reality of new life.

Tonight let the words of St. Paul encourage you: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:2-3). This is especially meaningful for you who have just been confirmed. It’s also good refresher for all of us. Tonight, tomorrow morning, and for the rest of your lives, set your minds on things above. Set your minds on the things that bring you fellowship with Christ. Ponder the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross—Jesus conquers death by dying. Meditate on His Sabbath rest in the tomb—even Jesus trusted God to work the work of life in Him. Rejoice in the Lord of life rising on the third day—Jesus gives you His victory over sin, death, and grave.

Now you are people of new life. So do not set your minds on things that are on earth. Do not try to find your life in things that hinder fellowship with Christ. Do not try to find your identity in earthly success, in worldly fame, in money and possessions that decay and break. Do not try to find your meaning in the opinions of people around you. These things may be necessary for life in this world. But for life with Christ, you have a different source of identity and meaning—Christ Jesus Himself.

The tricky part is: your new life is hiding.

You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. You need not fear death. You’ve already died in Jesus. In your Baptism, you’ve died the “big death.” God baptized the Israelites by leading them through the Red Sea. He gave them the victory by drowning their Egyptian foes (Ex. 14). God has also led you through the Red Sea of your Baptism. There He drowned your foes of sin, death, and the devil. Now you live. Even when you die physically, you still have the life of Jesus and His resurrection. Your new life is hiding … in that water.

You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. Your new life comes to you in the free banquet God has prepared for you. On the surface, the Lord’s Supper appears to be only bread and wine. But your hidden life is there. It’s the hidden life of Jesus’ very own Body and Blood. “Eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food” (Is. 55:2). In tonight’s rich banquet Jesus gives you His life. The Lord endows you with the splendor of forgiveness so that the world may see your new life, so that you may summon the nations to the life of Christ. Your new life is hiding … in that meal.

You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. God gave the promise to Ezekiel, and He has delivered it in Jesus. God always keeps His promises. “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you,” He said. “And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezek. 36:26).   Here’s what  St. Paul means by, “your life is hidden.” Your new, fleshly, warm, beating, loving heart is hidden from the world’s eyes. When the world looks at you, it sees ordinary people—outwardly no different from anyone else. Your new heart is even hidden from your own eyes. You see the sin that still clings to you. You see your weaknesses and failures. But rest assured. Be comforted. You do have the life of Christ—His new heart—living and beating in you. You have it right now. You may not see it, but you have it by faith. Your new life is hiding.

You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. In all the trials and sufferings, you still have new life in Christ. Nothing will ever change that. For all of their suffering and misfortune, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego still had the life of Christ. Even with the governing authorities and the pagan culture set against them, and even as they were cast into the fiery furnace, the living Christ was with them. They walked unbound in the midst of the fire, and they were not hurt. The same holds true for you. The flames of trials and sufferings, the blazing furnace of persecutions, cannot overcome the life of Christ in you. Your new life is hiding.

You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. Yes, you are joined to Jesus. In Jesus you die to yourself and to your sin. In Jesus you live to God. Now all of your earthly life is devoted to trusting and confessing this heavenly reality. Yes, for now it is hidden. But soon it will be revealed. The Lord will gather you, His living people, to live with Him eternally. “The LORD has taken away the judgments against you; He has cleared away your enemies…. The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by His love; He will exult over you with loud singing” (Zeph. 3:15, 17). Amen.

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