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Easter Sunday Sermon 2020

First Reading                                                                          Acts 10:34-43

34 So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), 37 you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. 43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Psalm                                                                                                 Psalm 118:15-29

15 Glad songs of salvation are in the tents of the righteous: “The right hand of the Lord does valiantly, 16 the right hand of the Lord exalts, the right hand of the Lord does valiantly!” 17 I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord. 18 The Lord has disciplined me severely, but he has not given me over to death. 19 Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord. 20 This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it. 21 I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. 22 The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. 23 This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. 24 This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. 25 Save us, we pray, O Lord! O Lord, we pray, give us success! 26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  We bless you from the house of the Lord. 27 The Lord is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us. Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar! 28 You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God; I will extol you. 29 Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!

Second Reading                                     1 Corinthians 15:51-57

51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”  55 “O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?”

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Gospel                                                                                                 Mark 16:1-8

1 When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Through Angel’s Eyes

Grace, mercy and the peace of our risen Lord be with you this Resurrection Sunday from God our heavenly Father and from His Son, Jesus Christ our risen Lord.

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!  What a wonderful and reassuring proclamation not only for today but every day.  One could easily say that every Sunday is a “little Easter,” but the festival of the Resurrection of Our Lord is the high point of the Church Year.  Not surprisingly, the Readings for today are wonderfully oriented toward the proclamation of Christ’s resurrection—and ours.  “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).  First Corinthians 15:51–57 is the climax of the great “resurrection chapter,” celebrating the defeat of sin, death, and the Law and the victory we have been given through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Additionally, Job 19 confesses the glorious truth that our Redeemer lives, and that we will see Him with our own eyes, even after worms have destroyed our mortal remains.  We truly are resurrection Christians, because without the resurrection, as Paul so eloquently put it, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor 15:19).

I read a statement the other day made by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and I couldn’t help but think of Easter.  Dr. Fauci said, that because of the Covid-19 virus, life, moving forward, will not be the same.  Of course, he was talking about the effects on our lives after such a significant event as the Corona virus pandemic; the added caution against the spread and contraction of the virus, the effects of social distancing, the closing of businesses and areas where people gather socially and being forced to stay at home.  Now I’m not sure how right he is, or will be, about that; people are social by design as well as creatures of habit.  However, in thinking of life after a historical event, his statement is absolutely true when you consider the impact of the Resurrection, not only on the disciples, but on humankind as a whole.  The resurrection changed everything.  No longer does death have power over us.  Jesus defeated not only sin and satan on the cross, but death in the Resurrection as well.

Over these past few weeks, we’ve been concentrating our attention on Jesus’ life and Passion by focusing on certain people and looking at the events through their eyes.  Today is no different.  Today we want to see the resurrection through the eyes of the angel at the tomb.  “Angel eyes”, that’s a phrase that may conjure up different thoughts based on your age and interests.  

For our more mature music lovers, they might recall the 1946 jazz standard popularized by Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra.  Those of my generation will likely think of the power ballad of the same name released by The Jeff Healey Band in 1988.  Listeners to modern country radio will think of the 2012 song “Angel Eyes” by the band Love and Theft.  And not to leave out our animal lovers, those who appreciate dogs will recognize “Angels Eyes” as the brand name for products that help clear up tear stains around the eyes of dogs.  But for now, push all those other kinds of angel eyes out of your mind, since today you and I should focus on only one set of angel eyes, and through those eyes see the greatest sight this world has ever seen.  I’m talking about the eyes of the Easter angel in the empty tomb of Jesus.

It’s funny that we call it the “empty tomb,” since St. Mark’s account depicts the tomb being a bit overcrowded on the first Easter Sunday.  The two Marys and Salome were shocked to discover the large stone rolled away from the tomb, and they went inside to investigate.  They were startled to find, not a dead Jesus inside, but a young man dressed in white, an angel of the Lord.  Their alarm was most likely twofold:  first, they were distressed that no Jesus was to be found, and second, angels of the Lord can be a disconcerting sight!  

Despite what we see in figurines and artistic depictions, God’s angels usually appear as majestic creatures who strike fear into the hearts of onlookers.  That’s why the first words out of the mouths of angels are often “Don’t be afraid!”  On Easter morning, this is exactly what happened.  The angel says to the terrified women, “Do not be alarmed” (Mark 16:6).  They don’t need to fear this angel, since he has come in peace to be the bearer of Good News.

The word we translate as “angel” means “messenger,” so bringing the Gospel is his main job!  He announces that they don’t need to fear what happened to the body of Jesus, because He has risen indeed!  The angel continues, “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He has risen; He is not here.  See the place where they laid Him.  Now go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee.  There you will see Him, just as He told you” (vv. 6–7).  The angel directs the women to see with their own eyes that Jesus isn’t there, and then he explains what his own eyes have witnessed.

The angel knows they’re looking for Jesus of Nazareth, “who was crucified.” Another way of translating this is “the Crucified One,” and this is very significant.  The women had been witnesses to Jesus’ suffering for the sin of the whole world under His Father’s wrath on the cross, and they had looked on as Joseph of Arimathea buried Jesus, but that’s all they had seen.  The angel, however, has seen the resurrected Jesus with his own eyes, but still calls Him “the Crucified One.” 

Later that afternoon, Jesus appeared to ten of His apostles and proved His identity by showing them the nail and spear scars on His hands and side.  The next Sunday, Jesus invites doubting Thomas to touch those scars, which turns him into believing Thomas as he cries out to the Crucified One, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).  Still later, St. Paul would encounter the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus and then write to the Corinthians, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).  Paul characterized his preaching to the Galatians this way: “It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified” (Galatians 3:1b).  Now you may at this point be thinking, Good Friday is past, this is Easter, why are we still so focused on the crucifixion?  Because the cross must also be at the center of our theology, our focal point of life.

A God who has not been crucified on our behalf would do us no good.  Look through the angel’s eyes and see that Jesus is the Crucified One, put to death for our sins.  The cross is our life!  St. Paul wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20); and “far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (6:14).  The cross is crucial to our salvation and so is the promise given in the resurrection.

We also need to see through the angel’s eyes that Jesus was raised on Easter for our reconciliation.  Good Friday and Easter are like two sides of the same coin.  You can’t buy anything with a one-sided quarter.  Jesus couldn’t pay for our salvation only by dying or only by living but by both.  He had to actively obey God’s Law on our behalf and suffer for our sins against the Law.  He had to actively defeat satan, whom we cannot defeat, and die for all the times we have fallen for the devil’s temptations.  Jesus had to go into the cross and deposit all of our sins there, and He had to come out of the tomb alive in order to win for us forgiveness of sins and give us His own righteousness.

After His resurrection, Jesus continues the pattern established on the first Easter by hiding Himself from the sight of His disciples and by using angels to proclaim His death and resurrection.  Although we are like the women at the tomb and cannot see Jesus with our own eyes, the reliable testimony of the Easter angel recorded in Scripture is the precious Gospel that we should keep before our eyes at all times.  Although Jesus remains hidden from our physical sight, He has continued to send us angels to testify to His presence among us.  I’m not talking about angels from heaven, but earthly angels who proclaim the Gospel.   Remember, angel means “messenger.”  In the Bible, “angel” doesn’t necessarily imply a heavenly being.  The very human and mortal John the Baptist, for example, is called God’s “angel,” or messenger (Malachi 3:1).

After His resurrection, Jesus sent His apostles out to be His angels, His messengers, to preach the Gospel to the whole creation.  And those angel apostles appointed pastors and teachers everywhere they went to continue sharing the Good News of Jesus’ life, death and Resurrection.  Just as the heavenly angel Gabriel visited Mary with the wonderful news that the Lord was with her in the incarnation, now earthly angels or messengers proclaim, to all who believe and are baptized, (Mark 16:16) that the Lord Jesus is with them until the end of the age.  Just as the angel of the Lord brought glad tidings of great joy for all people to the shepherds at Christmas, now earthly angels proclaim the glad tidings of great joy that Christ has died for all, for the sin of the whole world, and has risen to declare all humans righteous so that they may be saved by believing this message.

There was nothing particularly angelic about Jesus’ apostles then or about Christian pastors today.  We’re a pretty sorry lot, really.  Nobody would look at me and say, “He’s got angel eyes.”  But what disciples and pastors of Jesus do have are beautiful feet.  Not literally, but according to the prophet Isaiah and the apostle St. Paul, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:15).  In other words, the footsteps of angels who share the Gospel are beautiful because they proclaim the lifesaving message of Christ, and Paul continues, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).

Today you have received this lifesaving word of Christ through the messenger He has called to preach to you at here at Bethel, and for the sake of Jesus Christ, our sins are forgiven.  Baptized into His death and resurrection, we are now clothed with His righteousness, which grants eternal salvation.  We don’t see Jesus with us, but through His messengers and the Sacraments, He announces that He has promised to be here, so we see Him through the eyes of faith.  

On Resurrection morning, the angel told the women where they could find Jesus; likewise, today I have the same message:  Jesus has promised that we can find Him in the proclamation of His Word and Sacraments.  May our eyes always stay fixed on Jesus Christ, crucified for our sin and raised that we might have eternal life.  Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!  


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