In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
On the hills outside of Bethlehem, as shepherds watched their flock by night, the Light pierced the darkness. An angel appeared and proclaimed to them the birth of David’s greater Son. The sky burst with light as the whole host joined in and sang the first and greatest Gloria. Yet there was shadow upon that Light that holy night in Bethlehem. It shined in the darkness, but the darkness did not comprehend it. His own received Him not. The Savior of Men was born out-of-doors. He had no place to lay His head. His suffering had begun. And for the heart of Mary, the most pointed type of the Church, a sword was prophesied.
That Light shined in the darkness. John bore witness to it. The Apostles confessed it and cast out demons by His Name. He enlightened some and changed the lives of many. But mostly He was denied and hated. Still, He loved this rebel world unto the end, all the way to the cross. There it seemed that Holy Light was defeated. He was extinguished outside of the City of Peace as though He were a traitor and a fraud. The darkness that did not comprehend engulfed the hearts of fallen men. They mocked, spat upon, and beat the meek and unbecoming Son of God. They nailed Him to a cross. With derision they assigned Him David’s Title, “King of the Jews” and fixed it to the instrument of His execution. He gave His mother, most pointed type of the Church, the Apostle John, the one He loved, as a stand-in for Himself, a minister in her waiting grief. The sun went dark. The Light was out. God was dead. The cosmos mourned. And even in death, that Holy Light had no place to lay His head. He had to borrow a tomb from Joseph of Arimethea.
But now, Joseph has that tomb back. The Light shines again. An angel stands in death’s grave. He says: “He is risen!” The stone is rolled away. The guards are struck dumb. There is no longer a shadow on that Light. There is no suffering, no death to come. It is finished. Death is dead. Jesus lives. The darkness is destroyed, whether it knows it or not. Now is the reign of Light that never ends. The Stronger Man has prevailed through weakness and Life has come through death. No stone can hold Him, whom the builders rejected, in. He has become the chief stone through sacrifice, an Altar and a foundation. No door locked for fear can keep Him out. No devil, no man, no terror of the night, can pluck His children from His hand.
He strides forth victorious from the lion’s den, out of the belly of the earth, across the waves, and to the Upper Room: the sign of Jonah fulfilled! His Heel is scuffed, scabbed, but the smudge upon it is from the serpent’s crushed, defeated head. He pronounces peace. He shows His scars. For they are the badge of His Holy Office and His completed work. They recount the price He paid for mankind. For though men in sin denied Him, ran from Him, doubted and betrayed Him, and were even then on the night of the Third Day still afraid and unbelieving, still, He comes in love and in patience, proclaiming peace, forgiving, welcoming, and displaying His blessed scars!
The Scriptures of the prophets told the Truth. Jesus lives. He comes not in terror, not in rebuke or wrath, but with the gentle Spirit of the Lover wooing His beloved: “Come to Me.” He says, “For all things are complete. I was wounded for your transgressions. I was bruised for your iniquities. I give peace by My chastisement and healing through My stripes. I have taken up My Life again, been raised for your justification. I remove your guilt and your sin. I have forgotten your denial. I have bought you. You are Mine. Come to Me. I will comfort you and give you rest. I, your Redeemer, live. And in the end you, too, shall stand upon the earth, and after your skin is destroyed, in your flesh, with your own eyes you shall see Me. You, too, will rise and live. I will bring you home for I love you and have accomplished My Father’s will to save you.”
Your Hallelujahs have returned this day because He was not there on Easter morning. He was not there. But He is here. This is not His grave, the resting place for His bones. This, the Holy Church of Jesus Christ typified once in the Virgin Mother of Our Lord, is the womb of Life and the Bridal chamber of grace. It is His House. He IS here. He is here for you in Word and in Sacrament; alive and breathing, enlightening you through forgiveness. His risen Flesh is presented not as a sacrifice to the Father, but as Food for His beloved and the sanctifying gift of the Spirit
This isn’t a surprise ending. It is what God’s people have always expected and confessed. It is the constant content of His unchanging Word, from the Garden of Eden to Ninevah to Babylon, Jerusalem, and Rome, to Wittenberg, St. Louis, and Fort Wayne. He is the God of everlasting mercy, of perfect love, of forgiveness and hope, who was crucified and is risen. He has ended your warfare. He declares peace in His own Name. He promises the piercing of your heart, like Mary’s before you, will not last forever. In the meantime, in your waiting grief, He provides for you through the Apostolic Ministry until such time as you walk out of your grave. He is here – for you. For He is risen!
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Rev’d David H. Petersen
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Fort Wayne, Indiana