BULLETIN

SERMON TEXT BELOW

Epiphany 6 2022
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
February 13, 2022

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            What do these places have in common?  Cambridge, Massachusetts, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Pingliang, China, Nauvoo, Illinios, Medina, Saudi Arabia?  In each of these places you can visit the graves of dead religious leaders.  Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science in Cambridge, Charles Taze Russell, the founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Pittsburgh, the cremated remains of Siddhārtha Gautsama, the Buddha, in Pingliang, Joseph Smith the founder of Mormonism in Nauvoo,  and Muhammed’s body in Medina at the Islamic Green Dome.  You could make a pilgrimage to any and all of these places and visit the graves containing the dead remains of the founders of various religions. 

            There is another grave of the founder of a religion in Jerusalem in Israel.  It is the grave of Jesus of Nazareth who founded the religion of Christianity.  I got to visit this grave in July of 1991. This grave is different from all the others I listed.  What is the difference?  Jesus’ grave is empty.  Jesus rose from the dead.  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed, alleluia!

            And because Jesus rose from the dead, you will rise from the dead.  You confess this each Sunday in the creed — I believe…in the resurrection of the body. This confession refers to your body. In the end, death will not be victorious.

            This is what you confess together each week here at church even though you live in a world that denies the resurrection of Jesus’ body and denies the resurrection of your body because resurrection flies in the face of experience.  Folks know birth, they know life, they know death, they know dead is dead.  They have seen it. 

            But that is not true.  Dead is not dead.  Jesus of Nazareth was executed on a Roman cross in Jerusalem.  Before dying He cried out, “It is finished.”  The Romans soldiers overseeing the crucifixion were death experts, they made sure Jesus was dead by spearing Him in the side.  Blood and water flowed forth from the wound.  Jesus of Nazareth was certainly dead.  He was taken down from the cross and wrapped in a linen shroud with spices and laid in a nearby tomb.  Jesus died in public at Calvary, also called Golgotha, just outside the walls of Jerusalem.  Two prominent men, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, took Jesus’ dead body and buried Him in an unused tomb.  Jesus death and burial on that Friday were done in a very public way; no one doubted what just happened.  Jesus’ disciple John was present at the cross, the other disciples, likely watched in fear from a distance.  A group of women that followed Jesus from Galilee were at the cross and went to the tomb and watched as Jesus’ body was place in the tomb, the tomb was sealed with a stone, and a guard was set to make sure no one steals the body.  It is over.  Jesus was dead and buried. 

            Come Sunday morning the women went back to the tomb to bring spices and discovered that Jesus has risen from the dead.  They reported it to the disciples who came to see the empty tomb with the grave clothes neatly folded.  Jesus appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus.  That night Jesus appeared to the disciples who were hiding in a locked room.  A week later He appeared again when Thomas was back with them and he touched Jesus’ wounds. The disciples touched Jesus.  Jesus ate with them. 

            Jesus really did die.  Jesus really did rise from the dead.  These are both true even though it does not make sense. 

            In our Epistle lesson today St. Paul is writing to the Christians in Corinth near Athens in Greece.  Greek society did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. In the Greek city of Corinth, everyone would have known that once you die, only your soul makes the trip across the River Styx into the underworld: No bodies are allowed. And it is likely that the culture of Corinth would have been very skeptical of the idea of resurrection. One famous Greek playwright wrote: “When the dust hath drained the blood of a man, once he is slain, there is no resurrection” (Aeschylus, Eumenides, 647-48; ca. 458 B.C.).  The Greeks believed dead is dead. Period. End of the story.

            Not much has changed in our times.  There is a strong sense that death is the end; there is nothing after death, dead bodies have no future.  We tend to imagine our souls after death like the life force of Obi-Wan Kenobi or Yoda after they die; a kind of glowing version of our physical selves. Remember how neither Obi-Wan nor Yoda left an embarrassing corpse behind when they died? Neither did Master Oogway, from Kung-Fu Panda. In fact, in entertainment for young and old, we Americans seem to be content with the soul living on without a body (if it is a family movie), or souls living on in dead bodies (if it is a zombie movie). But we do not imagine that something as vulgar as a corpse has much of a future.

            Jesus really did die.  Jesus really did rise from the dead.  These are both true even though it does not make sense. 

            Even in the Church there can be a strong sense that our bodies are just a shell and once the spirit leaves the body it is a useless husk with no future.  This way of thinking is what St. Paul is confronting in our Epistle lesson today. 1 Corinthians 15:3–4 (ESV) 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,” 

            You will one day die and return to the earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  But this will not stop your resurrection.  God created Adam from the dust of the ground and He tells Adam, Genesis 3:19 (ESV)  19 …you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  Jesus teaches, John 5:28–29 (ESV)  28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.  

Jesus tells Lazarus’ sister Martha, John 11:25–26 (ESV)  25 … “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die…”  

There is resurrection of the dead.  Jesus was raised from the dead, and you will be raised from the dead.  Paul calls people out for not believing in the resurrection of the dead.  1 Corinthians 15:12–16 (ESV) 12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised.”  Paul is adamant.  If there is no resurrection of the dead then your faith is in vain.

            Paul Maier, a Lutheran historian and son of the first Lutheran Hour speaker Walter Maier, wrote a book called, “A Skeleton in God’s Closet.”  The basic premise of the novel is that archaeologists have found the bones of Jesus of Nazareth.  The book explores what effect this has on Christians around the world.

            Ponder this for a moment.  If Jesus’ body is found how would that affect your life?  Would you still come to Church?  If Jesus has not been raised from the dead, then Christianity is nothing.  If Jesus is not raised, this would all just be foolishness and we would be fools to keep on hoping in Christ.  1 Corinthians 15:19 (ESV)  19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 

            I fear that for many church bodies, finding the body of Jesus would not change what they do.  Many liberal church bodies already teach that Jesus’ resurrection may have just been a spiritual resurrection to show the disciples’ faith, but that Jesus did not really rise from the dead.  Churches have become just a group of nice people doing nice things.  But the true Church is so much more.  The true Church will be destroyed if they find the body of Jesus.  If they find the body of Jesus then this is all worthless. 

            But, the truth is, Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed, alleluia!

            We know this to be true.  There were eyewitnesses to the resurrection and they recorded what they witnessed and we have that testimony.  This is not some vision that a writer received while sitting in a cave, this is eyewitness testimony recorded for all time.  And not just one eyewitness; many eyewitnesses.  Paul writes, 1 Corinthians 15:5–8 (ESV) 5 … he appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 

            We have the eyewitness accounts of Matthew, Mark, John, Peter and Paul.  Luke records others’ eyewitness accounts.  And you know that you can trust these accounts because of what the eyewitnesses did for the rest of their lives after witnessing Jesus’ resurrection. Church history tells us that these eyewitnesses of the resurrection spent the rest of their lives witnessing about what they had seen.  They did not get rich or powerful.  They endured abuse and torture and imprisonment because of their testimony.  They were whipped and beaten and stoned and driven out of towns and cities.  10 out of the 11 disciples plus Paul were executed for telling people that Jesus rose from the dead.  These eyewitnesses absolutely know the truth about Jesus rising from the dead and they never stopped telling others no matter the consequences. 

            Jesus is the first fruits of the grave.  He is the first one out of the grave, but He will not be the last.  Unless Jesus returns while you are still alive, you will follow Him out of the grave on the last day as your body will be raised up imperishable and your spirit and body reunited, clothed in the robe of Jesus’ righteousness, together with the communion of saints, will march into the Heavenly City of New Jerusalem, your new, eternal home. 

            Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia! This is not just some Easter proclamation; this is your confession of the truth.  And because Jesus has risen you will also rise from the dead. 

Amen. 

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