In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied, we are of all people most miserable” (1 Cor 15:19). Thus the Apostle Paul at the start of our text. The women who went to the tomb of Jesus early on the first day of the week were certainly miserable. In the previous days, they had witnessed the bitter suffering and cruel death by crucifixion of Jesus, their dear Master. These women in their misery no doubt had the same thoughts as those two disciples on the Emmaus Road who spoke with great sadness and downcast faces of “Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered Him up to be condemned to death, and crucified Him. But we had hoped that He was the one about to redeem Israel” (Lk 24:19–21). The women, like the rest of Jesus’ disciples, had lost hope. They fully expected to find a dead man still in the tomb. They were taking the spices they had prepared to anoint Jesus’ body. They believed in the Resurrection on the Last Day, but they certainly didn’t expect the Resurrection now.
They had forgotten Jesus’ words: “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men” (Lk 9:44) “and they will kill Him, and He will be raised on the third day” (Mt 17:23). They also forgot the words of the Prophets. The LORD spoke through Isaiah, as we heard on Good Friday, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not. … But He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; … and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isa 53:3, 5a, 6b). Jesus “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Rom 4:25)—the reason for Jesus’ suffering and death, as well as His resurrection. Jesus’ suffering, wounds, and death on the tree of the cross had been ordained by God from eternity. Did these words sink into the ears of Jesus’ disciples then? No, and they don’t easily sink into our ears, either. We still struggle just as those women did, just as the Twelve did, to believe and accept the Word of Jesus. Was He really so despised, rejected, and abused? Was His death really for me, to pay for my sins? Are my sins really that serious?
The Apostle Paul was running into that very problem among the Christian churches in Corinth. They had at first heard and received the Gospel of Jesus Christ as Paul had proclaimed it to them, and they believed it. Then they started to mix ideas from Greek philosophy into the clear Gospel teaching, and so their thinking and their faith became a muddled mess. The ancient Greek philosophers, by and large, asserted that only the spiritual was important and divine, but the physical mattered not; the physical might even be evil. At the very least, the body was a prison to the spirit, the “divine spark” within, and the death of the body meant the release and freedom of the spirit. Some of the Corinthians were saying that there is no resurrection of the dead, no raising of dead corpses to new life. Our bodies are just shells. Our souls will ascend to God at death; that’s our hope, a spiritual resurrection. The first part of that is true enough, though it describes only the intermediate state of those who have fallen asleep in the Lord Jesus Christ. The last part, though, is terribly wrong. Sadly, it is the false hope held by many who call themselves Christians to this day.
As it is, this Creation, originally made good, is the work of the only true God. By His making of this material creation, God showed that matter matters. By His Incarnation, His coming in human flesh, God the Son shows that matter still matters. This material universe, including your body, are important to God. He proved it by taking on a body for Himself! Though we, His creatures, turned against God, He did not abandon us. He did not say, “That’s it! I’m through with this world. Let them try to make it on their own without Me.” No; for right after Adam rebelled against the LORD, the LORD God promised a Savior, the Seed of the Woman, a man who would in fact be the LORD.
Not many months ago, we were in the season of Advent, and then Christmas, the feast of Jesus’ birth. At that time, we sing “Savior of the Nations, Come”:
Not by human flesh and blood, By the Spirit of our God,
Was the Word of God made flesh—Woman’s offspring, pure and fresh.
Here a maid was found with child, Yet remained a virgin mild.
In her womb this truth was shown: God was there upon His throne.
Then stepped forth the Lord of all From His pure and kingly hall;
God of God, yet fully man, His heroic course began.
God the Father was His source, Back to God He ran His course.
Into hell His road went down, Back then to His throne and crown.
(LSB 332, sts. 2–5)
Ambrose of Milan beautifully conveys the “heroic course” our God and Savior took, from Incarnation and birth, “the Word of God made flesh,” “God of God, yet fully man” who went into hell to proclaim His victory over sin, death, hell, and Satan after He was glorified on the Cross. At His birth, an angel proclaimed the Good News to shepherds, that they would find a Babe wrapped in cloths by His virgin mother, Mary, and laid in a manger. At His death, He was wrapped in linens and laid in a tomb. Now several Marys come to the place where He was laid. The linens are still there, but He is not! Instead, two angels proclaim the Good News to the women, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen” (Lk 24:5–6). A manger, an animal feeding trough, hardly seems a fitting place for a newborn baby. A tomb for dead men hardly seems a fitting place for the living God. Yet God chose those places, just as He chose human birth and a gruesome death, both of which are “messy” events, far from neat and tidy. Neither shepherds nor women were regarded as reliable witnesses in ancient times, yet it was to these witnesses that God chose first to reveal His Good News of Jesus’ birth and resurrection. To save us, our God chose not the neat, easy way.
Sin, trespass, transgression, iniquity, rebellion—it’s a messy business. We’re the ones who made the mess of it. There is no nice, neat fix. To cover sin, even the first sin of Adam and Eve, God required the shedding of blood. He gave them coverings of skin. They witnessed the death of an innocent animal to cover their sin. Later, they would witness the death of their son Abel at the hands of his brother Cain. “By a man came death,” so, “in Adam all die,” St. Paul says. In answer to Adam’s sin and death, to our sin and death, God determined the answer from eternity, before sin and death came: “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor 15:21–22). “All” of the human race is “in Adam” and bound for the grave. All who believe and are baptized into Christ are “in Christ” and so shall be raised to eternal life. From His incarnation and birth to His death and resurrection, Christ Jesus has come full circle for our salvation. Drawing a circle in geometry is nice and neat, with a compass. Jesus’ full circle for us is messy, and it always includes the Cross. By the course of His life and death and new life, He hallows the course of our life. Our life in Him reflects His own; ours is never neat and tidy, and it always includes crosses (as is seen in the news from Sri Lanka, where this morning bombings in four or five churches killed over 200 people during Easter services). From the Creation and the Fall, sin and death by the First Adam, to the Rising and the New Creation, resurrection and life by the Last Adam, Christ Jesus brings all things, all creation, full circle. His death and resurrection encompass the whole human race; indeed, He encompasses the whole creation, as He declares through Isaiah, “Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth … be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create” (Isa 65:17–18). That new creation includes you. You will be raised you, but new!
I mentioned one hymn that tells of Jesus’ “coming full circle,” from heaven to birth to death to resurrection, to accomplish our salvation. We sang another such hymn on Good Friday, “Sing, My Tongue, the Glorious Battle” (LSB 454), a magnificent work by early church hymnodist Venantius Fortunatus. I wish we could’ve sung it again today, but commend it instead to your further meditation. Another of these hymns we do have for Communion distribution today. Originally written as an Easter hymn by the royal Danish hymnodist Thomas Kingo, we have it as “Thanks to Thee, O Christ, Victorious” (LSB 548). The last stanza rehearses the circle of Christ’s life and death and resurrection, and the gifts He won for you and which He gives to you, the gifts of His grace through which He delivers to you the benefits of His material, wooden cross and material, bodily resurrection, His grace through material means of book, water, bread, and wine:
For the joy Thine advent gave me, For Thy holy, precious Word;
For Thy Baptism, which doth save me, For Thy blest Communion board;
For Thy death, the bitter scorn, For Thy resurrection morn,
Lord, I thank Thee and extol Thee, And in heav’n I shall behold Thee.
Receive the gifts of His cross and the power of His resurrection for you, here and now, for here and now, as well as for the life to come.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in ✠ Christ Jesus. Amen.
During the Offering this morning, we have settings of O Filii et Filiae, a French hymn, “O Sons and Daughters [of the King],” which is traditionally sung as the Easter Processional Hymn at Notre Dame Cathedral (a place which is in our minds, given what happened there last week). Keep in your prayers the people of the church at Notre Dame, those who minister there, and the people of France who do not know God in Christ, for it is one of the most secularized nations on earth. After all, this is the Day of Hope and Resurrection unto newness of life.