Preached April 24, 2011
St. John 20:1–10
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Alleluia! Alleluia!! Christ is risen from the dead! Alleluia!! We celebrate the joyful Resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Risen Savior, risen from the grave, breaking the bonds of sin and death forever!! Alleluia!! Christ is risen, He is risen indeed. We know how the story ends, so we are in no doubt about it at all. We look back on the whole picture, seeing this as the high point of the action, the moment of victory when death is eternally defeated and the victory is secured by our Saviour Jesus Christ. We want to rejoice and cheer, to celebrate and feast.
We might do well, however, to recall that, on the first Easter morning, none of this was evident, nothing was clear at all. The followers of Jesus were dejected, bewildered, rather bitter because all of their dreams had come crashing down on Good Friday afternoon. They were trying to come to terms with the end of their expectations and hopes, and they were unable to see the Resurrection, they could not even recognize their Friend. Thus when the resurrected Christ says to Mary Magdalene John 20:15 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away. She thinks Him to be the gardener! On the Emmaus road, the two disciples talk with a Stranger, telling Him about the recent events concerning Jesus whom they had thought was the Messiah until He was crucified, and now His body is missing from the garden tomb. Jesus responds with Luke 24:25-26 Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? and at that point He begins to set them straight about Himself.
The Good Friday death of Jesus Christ and His subsequent Resurrection on Easter morning forces us to think seriously about just what it is we believe about life after death. The common wisdom in our day is that of the secular materialist who says that when you die, your body is returned to the earth, and that is the end of you. There is nothing more, you simply cease to exist completely. But we are not secular materialists; we are Christians, and we believe in the existence of an immortal soul for every person. So where does that put us at the moment of death? The pre–Christian pagans usually considered some sort of life after death, and it seems inconceivable that the soul should simply vanish. We have the words of Revelation 14:13b Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them. This passage from Revelation indicates at least some sort of spiritual existence for those that have died in the Lord. So as Christians, we have no doubt at all about the continued existence of the soul after death; we reject the secular materialist position altogether.
But come back to the Resurrection itself. In His first post–Resurrection appearance to the disciples in the upper room, Jesus said Luke 24:39 Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have. Notice in His statement the emphasis on His physical resurrection body, and the fact that He is not some vaporous spirit but actual flesh and blood. We are all accustomed to the idea that religion deals with spiritual things, and we recall St. Paul’s statement Galatians 5:17 For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. Paul shows us the Spirit and the flesh in conflict, and we see that the resurrected Jesus Christ is very much flesh and bones. Why is the flesh restored for eternal life, the flesh which has been the cause of so much of our stumbling and failing?
But the resurrection of the dead is more than the revival of a corpse, the return of life to an earthly body. There were instances of that sort in the revival in the raising of Lazarus and the raising of the son of the widow of Nain. In each of those cases, the men were simply restored to their ordinary human bodies, with their natural conflicts and failings, to eventually die again. It was a temporary delay of death only, and in nowise a resurrection to eternal life. In the true resurrection, 1 Corinthians 15:44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. This is a tranformation, in which the strife between the spirit and the flesh comes to an end, and the body comes to a clear and translucent expression of the soul. This is the spiritual transformation in which nothing is lost, but everything is made new, to produce the new, eternal spiritual body.
The doctrine of the immortality of the soul, long recognized by wise men before the time of Christ as well as Christians, is of great importance. But we are not pure spirits as the blessed angels are. No, we are made of flesh and bones, and our complete salvation requires that our flesh be saved as well as our souls. This means that all of its weaknesses and perversities must be overcome, all be made new and perfect in the transformation that occurs at our resurrection. Our expectation in eternal life with God is physical bodies made perfect, recognizably ourselves but made unimaginably new and perfect. As St. Paul says, 2 Corinthians 5:2 For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven:
Resurrection comes at the completeness of our salvation, as we are ready to enter into Heaven. The reality of the resurrection was evident even to the ancient Hebrew Job, Job 19:26 And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Job knew that when we eventually come face to face with God, it will be in the flesh of our resurrection body.
Resurrection is a difficult thing for us today, really no less and no more so than it was for the disciples on that first Easter morning. The question was asked of St. Paul 1 Corinthians 15:35 But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come? If someone asks us this question today, we are not able to give them a simple answer, because it is a truly mysterious matter. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the only example that we have, which makes the details that are recorded in the Scriptures matters of extreme importance. There are the matters about finding the stone rolled away, the position of the grave clothes, Jesus speaking with various people, people touching Jesus’ hands and side, His eating and drinking with the disciples, and so on.
Our Church is founded on the witness of the Apostles who were among the first witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The victory of Jesus Christ over sin and death by rising from the grave is the whole basis for the Christian hope that we, too, may be heirs to life eternal in Heaven with Him. He has given us the sacrament of His Body and Blood, the Bread of Eternal Life and the Cup of Everlasting Salvation, to preserve us both in body and soul for all time and beyond.
This is the day when we celebrate the resurrection of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, now fully restored to eternal life after going to death by Crucifixion for our sins on the Cross, to live and reign forevermore at the right hand of God the Father. His rising from the grave is the final victory over sin, death, and the grave. These no longer have power over Him, and because of the fact that He has borne our sins, they no longer have power over us if we believe on Him. For this we can only offer thanksgiving and glory and honor forever and ever. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.