March 26, 2016 A+D
In the Name of the Father and of the X Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
When it was evening, when Jesus was dead, they took His lifeless body down from the cross, dressed it with a linen shroud and spices, and laid it in a tomb. Then they rolled a stone in front of the tomb and went away. It was the preparation day for the Sabbath. The Lord of life, the light that came down from heaven into the world had been extinguished. The wages of sin is death and since our Lord took upon himself our sins and the sins of the whole world, He died. The stone they rolled in front of the tomb may as well have been the stones on which God wrote the Law at Sinai. It was final. The darkness of our death seemed to have overcome the Light. Every glimmer of hope held by the disciples and the women who followed Him was extinguished when He was nailed to the cross, gave up His spirit, and the tomb was sealed. He saved others, but apparently He could not save himself. He raised others, but apparently He will not raise himself. That’s what they thought. That’s what their eyes told them. They did not yet have eyes to see or ears to hear, but their lack of understanding did not change the plan or purpose of God.
Our ceremony of the kindling of new fire in the Narthex is a beautiful ceremony showing that the Light of Christ was not extinguished forever; Thanks be to God. He suffered and died, yes. From Friday evening until early Sunday morning, the earth was dark and offered no hope. But no matter how dark the world gets, God’s Word remains true. Jesus told His disciples no fewer than three different times that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. Despite their inability to believe His Word, it remains true. He will not leave them as sheep without a Shepherd. He must give His life as a ransom for the sheep, but He will take it back again.
He who died is not dead. “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:56). Beloved in the Lord, on this most holy night, our Lord Jesus passed over from death to life. We are gathered here in vigil and prayer to hear His Word and receive His Sacrament. We gather tonight, because we share in His victory over darkness and death (Easter proclamation). If the Shepherd raises himself from the grave, so too will He raise the sheep from their sleep in death. His death changed everything. Atonement had been made for the sins of the whole world. But His rising again colors your future, giving you the hope of everlasting life. In His death you died, never to die again.
You “were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, [you] too might walk in newness of life. For if [you] have been united with him in a death like his, [you] shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. [you] know that your old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that [you] would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if [you] have died with Christ, [you] believe that [you] will also live with him. [you] know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:4-11).
The Word of God rings true. The Light of Righteousness shines forth. Darkness was put to flight when the Son of God rose. Never again will darkness cover the earth, to consume it.
The Liturgy tonight is really six consecutive services of Light, Readings, Holy Baptism, Prayer, the Word, and the Sacrament. In the Service of Readings, we read from four portions of the Old Testament. The creation account (Gen. 1-2), the Flood (Gen. 7, 8, 9), the Exodus (Ex. 14), and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace (Dan. 30). We could have read from any number of other OT accounts that show God’s divine plan for deliverance to include the testing of Abraham (Gen. 22), Isaiah’s record of Salvation offered freely to all (Is. 55), Ezekiel’s prophesy of a new heart and new spirit (Ez 36), God’s faithfulness to Israel in Deuteronomy (Deut 31), the valley of dry Bones from Ezekiel (Ez 37), Job’s confession that his Redeemer lives (Job 19), Jonah preaching to Nineveh (Jo 3), the prophet Zephaniah preaching that God will gather His people (Zeph 3), the accounts of the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, the Judges, David, the return from Babylon, or virtually any other account in the O.T. They all follow through with the singular mission of God rescuing His people and being their living God forever.
Death had to be conquered. The Law demanded it. But in Christ it was conquered by His dying. He paid the price. He gave His life, but He took it up again. The Law was fulfilled. It still stands, but it no longer stands in taunting condemnation for those who believe. So after Christ rested, after He had risen, the angel rolled back the stone. For in the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Law convicts you no more. So the slab of stone is removed. It is not removed to let Christ out. He had already risen. He had taken up His life, He had already descended into hell and proclaimed victory. No, the stone was not removed for Him. It was removed for you. It was removed that you would know that believing in Him, the Law is fulfilled for you. It was removed that you might know that believing in Him, death cannot hold you. That tomb was opened as proof and proclamation of life exactly in the place of death; that you could hear the heavenly words of angels in the face of death that Christ is risen!
There is no more reason to be afraid. Faith saves you. This is why He was crucified. That is why He lay dead in the tomb. That is why He rose again. That is why the stone was rolled away and the Angel announced the resurrection to the women, so that you might believe and be saved.
The progression of this Easter Vigil worship service is also the progression of your Christian life. The light came, the Word shined forth, you were washed in Baptism—dying and rising in Christ, you were given access to God in prayer as His children, His Word is preached to you as His beloved Bride, and you proclaim His death by receiving His body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar as participants in the heavenly banquet.
The darkness is shattered, the Light is come. Christ is risen, as He said. Light and Life have prevailed. In Him, your sins are forgiven. In Him, you will rise from death to life. For when Christ our Life appears, then you will also appear with Him in glory.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!)
The Rev’d Michael N. Frese
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Fort Wayne, Indiana