Preaching on Easter is special, for a number of reasons. First is the extremely compressed preparation time. With all the services & extra preparations for Holy Week, there is necessarily less time for the Easter sermon. This was even more acutely compounded this year, because we celebrated an Easter Vigil for the first time ever. (!!) It was a rousing success, but it also cut into my Easter sermon prep time. I didn’t mind — I felt we gained far more by participating in this ancient ceremony, by recalling the power and fruit of our Baptisms, and by receiving the Lord’s Supper. I’m willing to give up some prep time for those ends. Besides, the Easter morning sermon still turned out great. Being forced to take less time on a sermon is not always automatically bad — it keeps me from thinking that I am effective on my own (I’m not, it’s the Word), and it forces me to tighten up and focus. I still prefer to have more time if I can get it, but I won’t complain if it’s shortened on occasion. Besides, Easter only comes once per year, so who am I to complain? The adrenaline and the vital, life-changing message the preacher gets to proclaim on that day more than compensate. (Then I got to go home and take a nap.)
When I preach for Easter, I get a sense that I’m carrying out the same ministry as the angels in the resurrection accounts — bidding the faithful to come and look at the empty place where He once lay, telling them where they can go to see their Lord. People need to know that death, our last and greatest enemy, has been defeated, and he might get us but he can’t hold on to us. We aren’t his anymore — we’re Jesus’. The resurrection of Christ is the most glorious, consoling, and comforting thing imaginable for a Christian. The more death and illness and sadness you see, the more precious it becomes.
My devotional life and the way we worship really helped me prepare for Easter this year. I pray the Daily Office for myself, which is tied to the church year (among its many other virtues.) When you follow the church year that closely and your prayers and thoughts are shaped by it, you don’t just go through Easter — you experience it. You almost feel like one of Jesus’ disciples, going through it the first time. (Which, come to think of it, we are Jesus’ disciples.) Also, preparing the service for the Easter Vigil helped crystallize the miracle of Easter and bring it into focus for me. They drew out connections between Creation, the Passover, the Exodus, and the resurrection of Our Lord that I had only dimly perceived before, or The wonderful texts associated with that service (particularly the Exsultet) really helped me prepare my heart and mind — which, in turn, helped my preaching. Easter shouldn’t sneak up on you. It’s not something where one day you roll over and realize, wow, today’s Easter. It’s not like Columbus Day, where you go to the post office and you wonder why the post office is closed — “oh yeah, it’s Columbus Day.” Easter isn’t like that. It’s a big day, the biggest day in the Christian calendar, and that should be reflected in our lives and in our devotion. I’m betting that the Daily Office will also help me keep the joy of Easter fresh in my own heart and in my own praises, which in turn will help me keep it fresh for my people. Christ is risen! It’s a season, not just one day (blessed as it is.) Christ is risen, and will never more die!
May the risen Christ make you glad with the yearly celebration of His victory over sin and death, and may He come to you in His holy Word and blessed Sacrament and grant you peace.
“After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (matt 28.1-10 niv)
I don’t know if you’re a morning person or not. If you’re not, I appreciate you being here, on the day when we gather so early in the morning to celebrate our Lord’s resurrection. It’s appropriate that we’re here so early in the morning, because the first Easter took place so early in the morning. By the time the women got to the tomb, Christ was already alive. Sometime between Friday afternoon and Sunday morning, we’re not told exactly when, Christ rose from the dead and His astonished followers were left grappling with that fact.
It’s fitting that the first Easter took place at dawn. In the beginning God started making the world at dawn on the first day of the week. On that first morning He created the world fresh and new, sinless and perfect. That was creation. When Christ rose from the dead, He made us the new creation. He made us who believe in Him sinless and holy. Jesus took away all the power of sin – in us, and in the world. Just as Jesus created all things in the beginning, starting with dawn on the first day of the week, so here He more wonderfully redeems all things from the curse of sin and death by His resurrection from the dead. The morning of the new creation breaks forth and the heavenly light shines bright and clear. Just as the sun rises to illumine us and warm and cheer all things, so Christ the Sun of Righteousness rose from the dead to dispel the gloom and night of sin. The cold black night of death yields sullenly before the risen Lord. He has risen as the sun, and He will set no more. Now begins the endless day for all God’s people, when our joy will have no end.
Going to the tomb with the women on that first day of the week, you wouldn’t have thought it was day. It still looked like night. For those women, it looked like night. Their Teacher, their Friend, was dead. They’d followed Him for three years, caring for His needs, and now He was gone. Mary Magdalene especially had to be sad on that day. Jesus had driven seven demons out of her. He’d done so much for her, and now He was dead. It still looks like night for us too, many times. It looks like night when old age starts getting more bold about what it’s taking from you, and you can’t do anything to slow it down or stop it. It looks like night when the doctor has news you’d rather not hear. It looks like night when you look back on all your failures and your sins. It looks like night when they start to lower the coffin of someone you love six feet down into the ground into a concrete vault. Then they put a lid on the vault, and six feet of earth on top of that, and as you watch that coffin going down for the last time, you know things will never be the same.
But brothers and sisters, it’s not night any longer! Look in the tomb! It’s empty! He is not here! He has risen, just as He said! Come and see the place where He lay. He really was dead, and now He’s really alive again. Even His enemies were forced to admit that His tomb was empty. The chief priests set themselves up to prove Jesus’ resurrection when they put the seal on the grave and posted the guards. Then after Jesus rose, they bribed the guards to say that His disciples had come and stolen the body. They didn’t tell them to say that He was still dead in the tomb. They told them to say that His disciples had stolen the body. They wouldn’t have said that if they still had a body. Jesus’ tomb was empty. There’s no denying it.
Christ has defeated sin and death forever by rising from the dead. If Jesus had stayed dead, His death would have been only for Himself. But since He rose from the dead, it counts for everyone. Your sins are gone because Christ is alive! No more sin means no more death. Death could not hold Christ down. The grave could not hold on to Him! He was too strong for death. Death, the one thing we cannot win over or control, was not able to beat Jesus. He is the Life that cannot die, and now He lives forever. Because He lives, we too will live.
When the women see Jesus and get to clasp His nail-marked feet and worship Him, He says to them, “Greetings.” Jesus basically says, “Good morning.” A very normal thing to say early in the morning, but coming from the risen Jesus, those words are extraordinary. One day we too will see Him, not only by faith but with our own eyes, and then will come the morning that will never end – the endless day of heaven. We too will get to see Him. We will see Him one day when He returns, or we die, whichever comes first. We will get to see Him as He is, and we will worship Him, our living King, because He has purchased with His own blood and redeemed our lives from the power of the grave. We will not see sickness or disease or misery or death any more. We will only see Him, our living and loving Lord. We are His and He will not leave us in death. He has promised that not one of those the Father has given Him will be lost – not even in death.
We taste the fruits of our Lord’s victory at His Table. Our Lord lives to give Himself to us, to promise that all our sins are forgiven and death is dead because He has risen. We come to the Sacrament and we taste His victory, His promise of forgiveness, life, and peace, even when it’s our turn to die. We may die but we will live; God will redeem our lives from the grave. Christ has taken away the sting of death and brought life and immortality to light. Alleluia! Amen.