Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Easter Day (Colossians 3:1-4)

(Both the introduction and conclusion of this sermon are adapted from St. John Chrysostom's paschal homily)

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this beautiful Easter morning comes from the Epistle lesson read a few moments ago from the third chapter of Paul’s letter to the church in Colossae. Dear friends in Christ: Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia! If any man, woman, or child is a lover of God, let them enjoy this radiant and triumphant feast. If any are wise servants, let them rejoicing enter into the joy of their Lord. If any have labored long, let them now receive their wages. If any have worked from the first hour, let them today receive their just reward. If any have come at the third hour, let them not be dismayed, they will not be deprived. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let them draw near, fearing nothing. If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let them, also, be not alarmed at their tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of His honor, will accept the last even as the first; He gives rest to those who come at the eleventh hour, even as to them who have worked from the first hour. And He shows mercy on the last, and cares for the first. And He both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honors the acts and praises the offering. Dear Christians, enter you all into the joy of your Lord; come to the feast and receive your reward.

For Christ has risen, and you are raised with Him! His death was the death of death, His sufferings were the crushing of Satan, His blood paid the price for all sin. You were dead in your trespasses and sins, you were dead forever in tragic separation from your Creator, there was no hope. But all that has changed on this day. Rejoice, for Christ is risen! He who died for you has been raised for you! Christ has died, and His death is your death; Christ has risen, and His empty tomb is now yours. Your future changed from a destiny of death and hell to the promise of life everlasting. “When Christ who is your life appears, you also will appear with Him in glory.” In Christ you died, for you are baptized into His Name. He has washed you in holy water, water sanctified with His Word. He pushed your head beneath those waters, putting you to death, and He brought you back out again, giving the life that only He has to give. “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross.” Christ is risen, and He left your sins nailed to the cross! Christ is risen, and your life is with Him! You have a treasure, stored up and belonging to you forever. You have a treasure safe with Jesus, a treasure of life everlasting and the very glories of heaven.

This treasure is yours even now; your eternal life began the moment you were baptized. But you don’t see it. “You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” You have life, but it is hidden in death. You have forgiveness, but it is hidden in your Old Adam. You have a treasure, but it is hidden in suffering. You cannot see the treasure that is yours; all you can see are the things of this world. You have an eternal inheritance, you have all that heaven has to offer, but you cannot see it, and so do you still live like those who are of the earth? Christ is risen, but do you live as if He is still in the tomb? You are baptized, you have died and risen with Christ, but do you live as if that day never happened? “Set you mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” Christ has risen, but does it make any difference in your daily life? Do you still live like those who don’t believe? Are your eyes fixed on the things of heaven, or on the things of the earth, the practices and behaviors of men that you have been called on to destroy: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” Your treasure is hidden, and what is out of sight is also out of mind. It appears that Easter hasn’t changed anything.

But that’s not true, is it? Easter has changed everything. Your treasure may be hidden under a cloak of suffering in this world of sin, but it is yours, more real than anything else that you can see with your eyes. That treasure will be revealed when Christ is revealed; when He returns, your treasure will come with Him. “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” Christ is risen, and His glory will be yours; Christ is risen, and the day of His revelation will be the day your treasure is revealed. You died with Christ in the waters of Baptism, you were been raised with Him in the font, and on the Last Day, you will be glorified with Him forever. Your treasure is hidden because it is kept safe, it is held by Christ in His nail-pierced hands, and He will not cast it away. In this life, it seems that the baptized are no better off than anyone else; in fact, it seems that they are worse off. But on the Last Day, that illusion will be destroyed, your treasure will be revealed, and you will enjoy it for eternity. Christ is risen, and you will rise too. Death will not conquer you, the grave will not hold you, you will rise with your Lord.

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” Your treasure is in heaven; don’t live as if it is found on this earth. Seek the things that are above, set your mind on the things of heaven, for there your treasure is found. You were declared to be a child of God, you died to the things of this earth and were raised to the things of heaven when you were washed by those waters: be who God has made you to be. “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” Live as one who knows Easter, who knows what Easter has done for you, who peers into the empty tomb and does not remain unchanged. You have been delivered from the evil of this world; do not wallow in it any longer. “You have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator.” Be who you were declared to be—a child of God—not a person of this earth any longer, but a citizen of heaven. On this day, cast the practices of the world, the behaviors of your sinful nature, onto Christ, and hear His beautiful words of Absolution. The cross is for you; so is the empty tomb; when you died and rose again at the font, all of your sins were washed away. Your sins are forgiven—Easter is the proof, God’s seal and guarantee! Repent at the door of the empty tomb, and enter its sacred space with the joy of Christ’s forgiveness.

Enter into the feast; rejoice with great joy on this triumphant day! You rich and poor together, hold high festival. You sober-minded and you reckless, honor this day. Rejoice together, both you who have spent this Lent in prayer and those who have not. The table is full; feast upon it! The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry. Enjoy the feast of faith: receive all the riches of loving-kindness. Let no one complain about their poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one weep over their sins, for pardon has shone forth from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free. He who was held prisoner of it, has annihilated it. By descending into hell, He has made hell captive. He angered it when it tasted His flesh. It was angered for it was abolished. It was angered, for it was mocked. It was angered, for it was slain. It was angered, for it was overthrown. It was angered, for it was fettered in chains. It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen. O death, where is your sting? O hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one of the dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, has become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia! In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

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