In the Name of the Father and of the (
) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In the beginning, when the Word was with God and not yet made flesh, and the Spirit of God hovered over the waters, the first recorded divine words were, “Let there be light,” and there was. By merely thinking and saying, God creates reality where there was void. He makes the good and the very good—even the perfect—arise out of chaos and darkness. His power is such that He did not require theoretical billions of years to get things right. In an instant, His omnipotence makes “is” what “is not”. Light and dark, waters above and waters below, dry land and plants, birds and fish, animals of all kinds, and finally mankind—male and female—He created them all.
All but the latter He simply spoke into existence. But humanity was different; us He made to be not just by the speaking of words, but by forming us from the dust of the ground and infusing us with the breath of life. We are unique among all His creatures. We are made in His image. What began with the creation of light is cap-stoned by His children of the light, though we would soon choose to be people of darkness instead.
Yet even after our fall into sin, God would provide our ancestors with the light of hope. In the midst of their fear and the origin of death, there was the comfort of His Word once again—a word of promise. One would come forth from the woman’s seed, He said, to crush the head of that prince of darkness who had led His people astray from the light.
Within a few generations, though, the promise was largely forgotten. The darkness had become so great that God would cover the earth with an even greater darkness. The sun was blocked by clouds as the skies burst forth with 40 days of rain and the fountains of the deep flowed upward, covering the earth. All humanity but chosen Noah and his family would find themselves swallowed up, drowned and destroyed by a new chaotic deep—a deep like that which existed before the light was first called forth by God’s Word.
Many years later, those who had become fruitful and had multiplied from the remnant of Noah and the promises made to Adam, Noah, and Abraham found themselves in great darkness once again. In bondage of slavery in Egypt, they were passed over by death; preserved by the blood of an innocent, flawless lamb.
Meanwhile, their unbelieving oppressors suffered death and destruction in the darkness of the night. The Lord led the Israelites out of Egypt and into freedom by a pillar of cloud and light to safety, with the Angel of the Lord—He who is God of God and Light of Light—both going before to lead them, and being their mighty fortress behind them against the pursuing Egyptians. Once again, by water and Word, life is preserved and evil is destroyed. The Light triumphs again.
God alone saved Moses and Aaron, Miriam and all the Israelites, just as He had previously saved Adam and Eve; had previously preserved Noah and the small remnant of His Church. Similarly, He does not need our efforts, our good intentions, or our sincere earnestness to save us. The Light of His Word makes right what is wrong, fixes what is broken, declares clean what was filthy, adopts what was lost and orphaned, makes alive what was dead.
He has already done so this evening for Coy; for Evelyn and Lauren; for John and for William at the font. He has done so for you in your hearing of the prophecy of Ezekiel. There you heard the promises that you will be cleansed from all your uncleanness; that your stone hearts will turned back to flesh; that your evil spirit will be replaced by God’s own Spirit which He places within you. And now, in newness of life, you await the coming of the unending heavenly banquet—a foretaste of which we will partake in a short while. All He requires is that you believe, making use of the faith that He has given to worship Him and serve your fellow man and woman. That you trust His Word of promise. That you receive the Light He sends to you.
On the hills outside of Bethlehem, as shepherds watched their flock by night, the Light pierced the darkness once more. An angel appeared and proclaimed to them the birth of David’s greater Son. The sky burst forth with light as the whole host joined in proclaiming the first and greatest Gloria on earth.
Yet there was still shadow upon that Light that holy night in Bethlehem. It shined in the darkness, yes; but the darkness did not comprehend it. His own creatures—even His own chosen ones—received Him not. The Mighty Fortress was laid in a manger. He had no place of His own to lay His head. His suffering had already begun. As for Mary, she who is an image of the Church, a piercing sword for her soul was prophesied.
And yet that Light still shined. John the Baptist 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 dark rebel world unto the end, all the way to the grave. There it seemed that Holy Light was defeated. He was extinguished outside of the City of Peace as though He were a traitor, blasphemer, and fraud. The darkness that did not comprehend the Light engulfed the hearts of fallen men. They mocked, spat upon, and beat the meek and seemingly inglorious Son of God.
Then they nailed Him to a cross. With derision and ridicule they assigned Him David’s title, “King of the Jews” and Pontius Pilate fixed a sign bearing its inscription to the instrument of His execution. He placed His mother into the care of 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 whole creation mourned. The curtain on the Most Holy Place was torn asunder, as if God was rending His garments at the torment and injustice of it all. And even in death, that Holy Light had no place to lay His head. He had to borrow a tomb from Joseph of Arimathea.
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 mute. 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—no monolith of lifeless dust—can hold Him, the stone whom the builders rejected, in a light-less cave. He has become the chief cornerstone through sacrifice. 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 into the Upper Room: the sign of Jonah—three days in the belly—is now fulfilled! His Heel is scuffed and scabbed, but that dark, bloody smudge you see upon it now is from the serpent’s crushed, defeated head. He pronounces peace to the fearful. He shows them His scars. For these blessed wounds are the marks of love, the badge of His Holy Office, and the proof of His completed work. They give a full accounting of the price He paid for mankind.
For though we in our sin have often denied Him, ran from Him, doubted and betrayed Him, and might even on the night of the Third Day still be afraid, hiding in unbelief in our locked upper rooms—He comes to us. He comes in love and in patience, proclaims peace, offers forgiveness, welcomes us, and displays His blessed scars! His body, broken and bloodied for you, yields life.
The prophecies of the Scriptures told the Truth. Jesus lives. He comes not bringing terror, not in rebuke or wrath, but with a gentle Spirit. He is the great Bridegroom, wooing His beloved with a soothing: “Come to Me.” He says, “All things are complete. I was wounded for your transgressions. I was bruised for your iniquities. I give you peace by My suffering 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.”
He speaks the Word first prophesied by Job, but He can do so in the first person, not the third: “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, because I love you. I have accomplished My Father’s will to save you.”
Our Hallelujahs have returned 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, is the womb of Life and the Bridal chamber of grace. It is His House. He IS here, each time we gather. 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 message of His unchanging Word, from Eden to Canaan to Egypt to Nineveh to Babylon. From Jerusalem to the roads to Gaza and Damascus. To Alexandria and Antioch and Ephesus and Rome, to Wittenberg, to St. Louis and Fort Wayne, to Austin and Hong Kong.
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. Your darkness and suffering will not last forever. In the meantime, in your times of grief and fear and despair, He provides for you through His one, holy, Christian and Apostolic Church, from life into death, from death to resurrection to life everlasting. He is not in the grave; He is here among us—now and forever. He is here, for you. For He is risen!
) Jesus’ Name. Amen.