The Resurrection of our Lord
April 12, 2020
“Where, O Death, Is Your Victory?”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
It sure doesn’t seem like Easter, does it? Today I was expecting to add chairs down the aisles and in back. The brass and timpani were going to cut loose on “Jesus Christ is Risen Today”, and I was going to sing as loud as my voice could holler. The Fellowship Hall was going to be all set for hundreds of people and we were going to have the best Easter breakfast ever. Hugs and smiles – no social distancing – would make up the day. Our families from all over the country were going to be here today.
But you’re not here. You wanted to be. You wanted to dress up and arrive early to save a seat for your relative who always shows up late. But it is still Easter, even though we’re not together. It is Easter even though your table is smaller this year. Sherry Hitztaler, Dave’s wife, gave me this quote a few weeks ago, when Dave was in the hospital with COVID-19, “There will always be Easter, one way or another.”
It is still Easter. And He is risen. Indeed!! Beau and Annette Wolfer’s daughter, Sue, sent this to me. It was written by her Pastor down in the Springs, “The first Easter didn’t happen in a church. It happened outside of an empty tomb, while all the disciples were sequestered in a home, grief-stricken and wondering what was going on. So, we’re all going to be keeping things pretty Biblical this Easter.”
It’s Easter even though it doesn’t feel like it. That first Easter was all about death. That is how it all began. The women were going to the tomb – not anticipating a miracle but going there to continue the mourning that began on Friday.
I think I have spent more time thinking about death over this past month than I have in a long time. Every day the paper puts the number of dead in Colorado in bold letters. How many more than yesterday? How many took their last breath this week in New York or around New Orleans? Italy? Spain? Ecuador?
In light of this reality that will be with us for some time I have chosen the words from the Revelation of John as our text, “When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, ‘Come!’ I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.” (Revelation 6:7-8) This book of Revelation, which tells us about the time of the church from the Ascension of Jesus until His return tells us about the four horsemen of tyranny, warfare, famine and death.
Death is hard enough to face for anyone, but now it is harder to face because so many folks have to face it alone. Family isn’t allowed into the hospital or care center when a loved one is admitted. One of our folks asked prayers from me on Tuesday. The request was for Kristina and her father. He is 86, in a nursing home, has dementia and has COVID. The prayer request said, “It is so hard on the family that they cannot be with him in his final hours.” That pale horse, the one called death, has been showing up much too often in these days. Too many people are dying alone these days.
But today is Easter, right? This isn’t Good Friday. This isn’t Jesus on the cross, the sky black and folks begging Pilate to hand over the corpse of their Lord to them. This is Easter. This is when we hear the question, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!” (Luke 24:5b-6a) Paul would boast about Easter’s truth, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” I titled this sermon, “Where, O Death, Is Your Victory?” It is the confident and sarcastic word that boasts that the pale horse called death that showed up then, and shows up today, doesn’t win the battle. This is the word from the resurrection chapter, I Corinthians 15, “When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (Verses 54-55)
This is Easter and there was no victory for the devil and death on Easter. Jesus rose. He was the victor. He won. The pale horse of death was sent on its way.
Pastor Ginkel sends his newsletter from Church Press to me every month. This month he has a section titled, “Crazy Things that Happened at Funerals”. He gives these accounts, “The pastor was interrupted during the funeral and asked to adjust the deceased in the casket because she did not look perky.” “The funeral home showed up with the wrong body.” “There were two funerals close together. They finished at the same time. One funeral released doves. The other funeral had a salute with several guns. You know how that ended.”
Talk about crazy things that happened at funerals – look at what happened at Easter. Paul of this says, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” (I Corinthians 15:3-4) The death and the resurrection of Jesus is a matter of first importance.
There are some people who have no idea what is going to happen to them when they die. They know that the pale horse, the one called death, will come…someday. But they haven’t prepared for what will happen to them after that point. Maybe I’m talking about you. If there is the right moment to consider your eternity it is today, on Easter. The book of Revelation speaks of a first death and then also of a second death. Everyone goes through a first death. Everyone will die. But many will never experience the second death. The second death is eternity without God, without joy, without heaven. Revelation 20:6 says, “Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.” (Revelation 20:6)
How do you avoid the second death? You trust in the One – Jesus – who would say on the cross, “It is finished.” You believe in the One who could say, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O grave, is your sting?” Listen to what faith in Jesus says and what it receives, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” (Romans 10:9-10) In this time of our history that counts death daily, keeping a scorecard of every country, state and county, I want you to know that death isn’t the end of life. Whenever you die you will live in faith, in confidence, with a holy boast that Jesus is Lord of all things. He is Lord over sin and death. He is your Lord and you are in His hands.
But Easter isn’t just about dying, it is about living. This time of isolation and social distancing has been tough on some folks. One “You Tube Video” has put together an instructional, “How to avoid wanting to divorce or murder everyone you’re stuck in lock-down with.” With no baseball to watch today I think I’ll watch that one!! Another picture I saw was a mom with her kids, who had all of the children tied up on the floor, with the caption, “3 hours into home schooling and one is suspended for skipping class and the other has already been expelled.” I think there are going to be a few parents who will be forced to find the antidote for the virus before the scientists!!
Jesus lives and He lives to give us strength and joy and peace and patience. The book of Revelation is a mystery in much of what it says. It can confuse us. But it shouldn’t. You know what the whole book of Revelation is about, don’t you? I bet you do. It is this – Jesus wins!! In the first chapter Jesus speaks, “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” (Revelation 1:17b-18)
There is an answer to death. It is Jesus. Eternal death. Physical death. Daily death. Jesus wins. We win. “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (I Corinthians 15:55-57)
He’s risen. He’s risen, indeed!! Amen!!