Easter means big changes
- Order of Service: Morning Praise, CW p45
- Lessons: Isaiah 12:1-6, 1 Corinthians 15:51-57, John 20:1-18
- Hymns: 143, 161, 148, 149
In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.
I have this hazy recollection of a song from my childhood, which I suspect is really a song from the childhood of my parents or grandparents. I only remember one line, but that one line came to me as I read Paul’s words to the Corinthians assigned for us today. “That old gray mare, she ain’t what she used to be, ain’t what she used to be, ain’t what she used to be….” In a way, that sums up the resurrection. Because Christ lives, by faith in that Christ, He assures us that we will live. But, as Paul says, Christ doesn’t simply refer to an extended life here on earth. He talks about our own resurrection. He talks about heaven. In other words, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, what we call Easter, means big changes. It means big changes for the bodies of believers in Jesus. It means big changes for death.
First, Paul talks about our bodies. He says, We will all be changed (1 Cor. 15:51), as in altered, transformed, made other than it is. He also says that this is necessary: For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable (v53). We’re naked now, missing some very important articles of clothing that we need. In case you haven’t noticed, our bodies wear out. They run down. Unlike Duracell batteries they don’t keep going and going and going. They don’t last forever. Eventually they die. In the words of that old song, “She ain’t what she used to be.” It’s not supposed to be this way. God didn’t create Adam and Eve to die, but live, but they brought sin into the world and death followed after it. It’s the only word of Law I need at a funeral, right? The coffin. That’s sin. But, Paul says, through faith in Christ, that’s no longer the case.
We will be changed: the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality (v51, 53). Here Paul lists the big changes that happen to our bodies at our resurrection. Perishable becomes imperishable. God clothes this not-lasting body with everlastingness, not wearing outness, always what-she-used-to-be-ness. Paul explained that to the Philippians, saying that Jesus will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body (3:21). Then this mortal thing, this dying thing, becomes immortal, undying. Jesus explained that just before He died, Those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels (Luke 20:35-36).
Shamed by our sinful nakedness, the promise of Christ, the gift of faith, is that through our Lord Jesus Christ, who became naked for us, we are no longer naked: [God] gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:57). Through Baptism we have, right now, in time, been clothed with Christ, with His forgiveness, with His holy life. But Paul doesn’t stop there, neither does Jesus. They assure us that not just in time now, but in eternity, new clothing awaits us, as Paul wrote later to the Corinthians: Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life (2 Cor. 5:2-4). No wonder Paul began this resurrection chapter, 1 Corinthians 15, by saying, 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 (1 Cor. 15:3-4). This whole resurrection business means big changes for our bodies, but not just for our bodies, for death too!
Paul says that when we get these new bodies, when this change happens, when Jesus rises from the dead, and we, through faith, rise with Him, this forces stunning changes upon death itself. Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, o death, is your victory? Where, o death, is your sting (1 Cor. 15:54-55)? Paul tells us what Jesus really did that first Easter. He swallowed death. He destroyed death. He murdered death! That’s not to say that people no longer die. Rather, for the believer in Christ, death changes. Death no longer wins, because Jesus has made it clear that death is not the end or the gateway to hell for the believer, but rather a sleep from which the Christian awakens in heaven. Death becomes like Tiger Woods over the last few years: sure, we know it has some power, but no longer is it unbeatable.
Death also loses its sting, and the sting of death is sin. Sin gives death its power. Because of sin, death entered the world. Because of sin bodies wear out, bodies die, and bodies and souls end up in hell. I’d rather let one thousand fire ants sting me than get stung by that. And it’s the Law of God that gave sin that power, because God’s Law says only one thing: “Look, see, you are damned!” No wonder death terrifies. No wonder we do everything in our power to avoid it, to get away from it, to reverse it. Death, apart from Christ, means hell. And that truth hasn’t been erased by the resurrection of Christ. To live apart from Christ, to live without faith in Christ guarantees that death still wins, death still stings, hell still follows after.
But thanks be to God! In, through, and because of Christ, death has been declawed! Paul said to the Galatians: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming the curse for us (3:13). Jesus won by dying and rising from the dead. Jesus neutered death. And now listen to the way one of our Lutheran confessions of faith, the Apology to the Augsburg Confession, describes faith, life, and death because of Christ: But we gain the victory through Christ. How? Through faith, when we comfort ourselves by confidence in the mercy promised for Christ’s sake (IV:79). Again, For just as God’s anger is overcome through faith in Christ, so death is overcome through faith in Christ (IV:49).
Death now serves a new purpose, a good purpose. Listen again to our Lutheran confessions: Death itself serves this purpose, namely, to abolish this flesh of sin, that we may rise absolutely new (Apology, VI:56) and We expect our flesh will be destroyed and buried with all its uncleanness. Then we will come forth gloriously and arise in a new, eternal life of entire and perfect holiness…. At that time there will be no more forgiveness, but only perfectly pure and holy people (Large Catechism III:57-58). Or, from the Small Catechism with which we are most familiar: All this He did that I should be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He has risen from death, and lives and rules eternally. We will be changed! This is real, physical, historical stuff we’re talking about here. We’re talking about real bodies, really dead, and really rising from the dead. This is most certainly true, because Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! God preserve us in this faith and grant this faith to those without it. Amen.