Luke 24:1-12; I Corinthians 15:12-26
The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
That is our glad confession of faith this day. The Lord is truly, literally risen. But there are many who do not believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. They love that today is April fool’s day, because they think that it’s stupid and irrational to believe in such fairy tale nonsense. At best, they see Easter as a pious myth that has only spiritual, symbolic meaning that isn’t meant to be taken literally. Christians are the fools.
And besides, the world would say, what good is a fleshly resurrection anyway? In good new age fashion, they believe that the body and material things are lower level stuff, even evil, and our spiritual existence is where it’s really at. Our culture tends to look at the body as little more than a container, and all that truly counts is the inner, spiritual aspects of who we are. Your outward gender and sex are supposedly irrelevant to who you truly are. Reincarnation is based on this faulty thinking. You supposedly keep coming back in a different body, until finally you get it right, and then you are able to escape the body and leave it behind permanently and join the one spirit of the universe.
Even many Christians are tempted to think this way about the body. They think that the goal is for the soul to go to heaven, and the body then is pretty much out of the picture. A recent survey revealed that only about half of the Christians questioned said that they believed in the resurrection of the body. That’s horrible! For we confess the resurrection of the body here every week. We believe in the God who is the Creator of this material world and of our bodies. It is true that God’s physical creation has been corrupted because of sin. But the problem is sin, not God’s bodily creation. The goal of salvation is the restoration of God’s creation and the redemption of our bodies together with our souls.
In today’s Epistle St. Paul speaks of the marvelous reality of the resurrection, the actual, literal raising of the dead body of Jesus to life again, a body that still bore the glorious marks of His sacrifice on the cross. Easter is not just about Jesus living on in our memories or being alive in our hearts. It’s about the truth that He who was indisputably dead, speared in the side and into the heart just to be sure, is risen in glorified flesh–touchable, tangible, and real.
Today the church proclaims that it is a fact of history that Jesus the crucified One lives. Earlier in I Corinthians 15 Paul laid out the evidence and eyewitness testimony for Jesus’ resurrection. The Lord Jesus appeared risen from the dead to Mary Magdalene, to the apostles, to those on the road to Emmaus, and to more than 500 others–men who were still alive when Paul wrote these words, who could be asked and who did verify these claims, that the same Jesus who was nailed to a cross, was seen and heard and touched by them, raised from the dead.
And remember this, too. If there had been a dead body to produce, the Roman and Jewish authorities would have produced it, and put it on public display, like our government sometimes has done to prove a terrorist has been killed. They had every reason politically to do everything they could to silence these rumors of resurrection. That was the point of having Jesus’ tomb securely guarded in the first place.
And if you think about it, why would the disciples want to make this up, anyway, and risk punishment and crucifixion themselves? They’d be next on the arrest list. The disciples showed clearly they weren’t exactly a bold and faithful bunch when threatened with suffering. And yet after Easter, when faced with persecution, they consistently preached the risen Jesus and the church grew through much affliction. Several other supposed messiahs had appeared on the scene and faded away. But not Jesus. His bodily resurrection isn’t a myth; it is a matter of history, a matter of fact.
Now imagine for a moment if the resurrection were not true. What then? That’s the terrible question that St. Paul raises in the Epistle for the sake of argument. Suppose that there is no resurrection of the dead. Suppose that dead bodies do not rise from the grave. What would that mean for our faith and our life?
Well, if Christ is not raised, then my preaching is empty and your faith is empty, Paul says. Then it really is an April fools, and you and I are wasting our time here this morning. For then that would mean that Jesus’ death on the cross didn’t really do the job on sin. The curse of death would still remain on us.
If there is no resurrection of the body, then all those who claim to be Christian but go to church only rarely are right on in their thinking. After all, it’s only what’s inside that counts, right? If there is no resurrection, then there is no real need for Baptism, or Absolution, or the Lord’s Supper, or preaching. Those are all things that go on with the body–with the ears and the mouth and butts in the pew. If there is no resurrection, then we can have a spiritual life apart from our bodily life. All this stuff at Church, it’s just outward stuff. Some of you who skip divine service most weeks have been infected with that worldly false teaching and are being lured to trust in something inside of yourself rather than outside of yourself in Jesus. You’re being tempted to change the 3rd Commandment to “Remember the Sabbath day whenever there isn’t something else you want to do.” One of the best tests of faith in the resurrection is what happens the Sunday after Easter.
If soul and body are not intrinsically connected, then what goes on with our bodies has very little to do with our faith. You can be a Christian on the inside and live and dress and act however you please on the outside. You can talk about the faith that you have in your heart and then conduct your physical life no differently than the unbelieving culture. It doesn’t matter, if there is no resurrection of the body.
But of course that way of thinking is pure foolishness; and those who live believing that they can separate body and spirit are deceived. For it is written, “Honor God with your body.” On the Last Day all the dead will rise, some to everlasting life and joy, others to everlasting death and torment. Let each of us, then, repent this day of our sin and false belief, and let us cling to the truth of the living Jesus, our Savior.
For Christ has indeed been raised from the dead. As the angels announced at the tomb, “He is not here, He has risen!” Jesus Himself said it on Easter evening, “Why are you troubled? . . . Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.” Jesus’ rising from the dead is our deliverance from the powers of darkness. It is the Father’s seal of approval on the work of His Son. By raising Him from the dead, God showed that He was pleased with the death of His Son, that He accepts it as the redemption price for the world, that your sins are covered and forgiven by His blood. You are now reconciled to God in Christ. Nothing in all creation can undo what Jesus has done. You who trust in Christ are fully redeemed. You have new life in Him.
Jesus is the first-fruits of the dead, which means that He is the beginning of the harvest, the first of many more to rise through Him. That’s why Easter is such a big deal–it’s not only His victory, it is also your victory, too. Jesus is the source and spring of our bodily resurrection. For the Scriptures say that those who believe and are baptized are members of His body. And where the head goes, the body must surely follow. Jesus’ resurrection stands at the beginning of this New Testament age, ours comes at the close of the age. But through our baptismal union with Him they are inseparably connected. Jesus said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in Me will live, even though He dies, and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die.”
Jesus alone can be trusted with our death, for it is written, “Death no longer has mastery over Him.” And death therefore no longer has mastery over anyone who is in Him by faith. Jesus’ death is our death to sin. His life is our life before God the Father. The preaching of His death and resurrection is not some pious hope or merely some inspiring religious message, but it is the power of God for salvation to all who believe.
Christ has glorified your bodies. For not only did He purify you by taking on your very flesh and blood in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, not only did He bear your sins in His body on the tree, but He has broken the curse of death by rising in the flesh on the third day. And now He baptizes your bodies into His death and life. He speaks His Word of forgiveness into them. He feeds your bodies with His own life-giving Body and Blood. God claims your bodies as His temple. He honors them with His presence and works through them to bless others. And though these bodies will one day die and decay, God has promised to raise them and glorify them at Christ’s return. He will change our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him to subdue all things to Himself.
So do not be led astray by all of the real April fools who would try to get you to doubt the Word of Christ and His resurrection. The devil will continue flinging such excrement until the day of Judgment. If there is no resurrection, if the body isn’t saved, then neither is the soul. And so St. Paul says, “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied.” If Christianity is only good for this life, if all Jesus is good for is to help us feel good about ourselves, cope with life, give our kids a little morality, then we are of all people the most pitiful.
But Christ is risen from the dead. Your greatest enemy has been defeated by the cross. What’s the worst that can happen to you? What is there left to be afraid of in this world if death is defeated and all sin is forgiven? What do you have to fear of poverty, sickness, violence, cancer, hunger, persecution? Christ has conquered and overcome it all for you.
There is now great meaning to your life because Christ is risen. There is meaning even in suffering and sorrow and affliction. And because of what we celebrate this day, your future is bright in Christ; it is brimming with promise. Suffering will give way to resurrection. Jesus Christ is risen today. He is alive and among us to give Himself to us, even from this very altar. He is our meat and drink indeed. Faith lives upon no other. Truly, this is the day which the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!