28 March 2016

Homily for The Resurrection of our Lord

Are You Sure?
Job 19:23-27; 1 Corinthians 5:6-8; Mark 16:1-8 

Listen here.

Christ is risen! R: He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Are you sure about that? Are you absolutely certain that Jesus is raised from the dead? That He has conquered death? That He has brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel? I mean, when was the last time you actually saw someone come back to life after their funeral? Dead people just don’t come out of their graves! This world of death just keeps plodding along through the valley of the shadow of death.

Just this past week, the people of Brussels in Belgium were served a heaping portion of death on a platter of terror. Before that San Bernardino, and before that Paris. And who can count the countless stories of shootings and knife attacks and beatings that leave bodies behind? And we haven’t even touched on the so-called “normal death” that takes its toll on the famous as well as the nameless. Alzheimer’s, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, heart attacks, strokes, various cancers and all the rest take one and all, regardless of class or caste, regardless of fame or infamy.

Are you really sure that Christ is risen? Are you certain that this Easter message, this Easter celebration, this Easter fanfare really makes a difference in life…for you?…for others around you?

You do know, don’t you, that there are various objections to Jesus’ Resurrection out there? Some say that the first disciples really just hallucinated that Jesus had risen. After all, they say, we know how some people in their severe grief can sense or imagine their lost loved one in the home even after the funeral. Some say that Jesus really did not die on that cross, and therefore He could not have been raised on the third day. It’s actually in the Koran. Some say that our enlightened, modern, scientific knowledge rules out any miracles such as the resurrection of Jesus. After all, the thinking goes, the laws of nature cannot be violated by miracles that we enlightened modern people never see anyway. So, how sure are you that you can shout out with confidence, “He is risen indeed! Alleluia!”?

Let’s take up those objections one-by-one. First, some say the grieving disciples only hallucinated, or imagined, seeing Jesus risen from the dead. Yes, it is true that some people can be so grief-stricken that they think they hear or even see their deceased loved one after the funeral. However, psychologists say that only 7% of those who grieve have such a false sensory experience. That’s certainly a far cry from claiming that 100% of Jesus’ disciples merely imagined or sensed that Jesus had risen. After all, He appeared first to Peter, then to the Twelve, and then to more than 500 brothers at one time (1 Cor. 15:5-6). And how could more than 500 people all have the same hallucination, all at the same time? And don’t forget St. Paul himself. He did not grieve the death of Jesus. In fact, he tried to snuff out the message of Christ crucified and risen. And yet, by God’s grace, St. Paul, the former persecutor of Christians, could later boldly proclaim: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins…. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:17, 20).

What about the second objection to the resurrection—that Jesus did not really die on the cross, and therefore He couldn’t possibly rise from the dead? Yes, the Muslims claim this from the Koran, and other skeptics pick it up too. There’s just one problem with it. The Koran also calls Jesus a “great prophet,” trying to give Him some respect. But ponder this. The prophet Jesus did predict and proclaim His horrific death, and He did so very close in time to His death. So, if He did not actually die as He Himself predicted and right after He predicted it, then what does that make Jesus? Not a “great prophet,” but a false prophet! Koran mistaken. And on the other hand, if Jesus did die, as He actually proclaimed and predicted, then once again the Koran is mistaken. In this case, strike two; you’re out!

Thirdly, what about the scientific objection? As they say, we 21st century people now know the laws of nature and how things naturally, normally work. We do not observe miracles happening, therefore they cannot happen. Those 1st century people just didn’t know the laws of nature; therefore they believed in miracles, such as Jesus’ resurrection. But consider this. Laws of nature simply describe how things normally work. They cannot make anything work. Laws of nature can describe how a billiard ball rolls and how it bounces off the bumper at certain angles. But those laws of nature cannot make the billiard ball start rolling. An outside force must do that with a cue stick. Or consider this. Let’s say one day you put $100 into your dresser drawer. Then, the next day, you put another $100 into your dresser drawer. The laws of arithmetic say that equals $200. Then, on the third day, you open your dresser drawer and find only $50! Which laws were broken: the laws of arithmetic, or the laws of the state? Obviously, the laws of the state that say, “Don’t steal.” Again, some outside force had to act. Laws of arithmetic did not change over night. (And laws of nature stayed in tact too; after all, dollar bills cannot sprout legs and walk away! :-)

And this brings us to the whole point of this festive time: Christ is risen! R: He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Are you sure? I hope so! You see, God does not break the laws of nature; after all, He created them. God simply steps in and exerts His life-giving power from outside the normal system, which He also created in the first place. God simply exerts His power—like a billiard player—to get the “billiard ball” of new life rolling. The Son of God Himself has stepped into this dying world of ours, taken our flesh on Himself, suffered death in our place, and has now risen from the grave. The only laws broken are the law of sin and the law of death. And God did not create those.

Can you be absolutely certain that Jesus IS raised from the dead in His body? That He has conquered death? That He has brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel? Yes, you can be! Why else would you be here today? What other message would you expect to hear? What else could give you peace, hope, and confidence in this world of death that just keeps plodding along through the valley of the shadow of death? What else could comfort your troubled heart and steel your resolve as you face the loss of a loved one or even your own mortality? And what else could give you the joy and exuberance to laugh in the face of death with St. Paul, saying, “O death, where your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55).

You see, the women who went to the tomb that first Easter morning were not so sure, even after they heard the angel say, “He has risen; He is not here.” But they did end up telling the disciples. And the disciples were not so sure. But then they did see the risen Lord Jesus—not just an hallucination, but a real body raised from the dead, a real body with wounds that could be poked and examined, a real Man who ate fish and bread, a real Man who breathed on them to give them His Spirit.

You can be as sure as Job—even more sure. Job lived somewhere around 2,000 years before Jesus came and died and rose again. You live about 2,000 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Job trusted and proclaimed God’s promise yet to come. You get to trust and proclaim God’s salvation accomplished as a real historical fact. You can say with absolute confidence: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth” (Job 19:25). You can also say with absolute confidence: “And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” (Job 19:26-27).

St. Paul reminds you: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 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. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Col. 3:1-4).

Before we leave this festive gathering today, we will sing our absolute confidence this way:

Jesus lives! The vict’ry’s won!
Death no longer can appall me;
Jesus lives! Death’s reign is done!
From the grave will Christ recall me.
Brighter scenes will then commence;
This shall be my confidence. (LSB 490:1)

Christ is risen! R: He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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