Thursday, April 1, 2010

April 2010 Parish Letter

“Almighty God, through Your only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, You overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life. We humbly pray that we may live before You in righteousness and purity forever; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.”

[Collect for Easter Dawn]

Spring brings with it the theme of resurrection and new life. It is seen in the “rebirth” and “renewal” of flora and fauna. Flowers arise from the ground. Animals awake from their hibernation. Not only do these come to life again, there is also the appearance of new living creatures. They live because the Lord God grants them life. He has caused them to be and to reappear. So He wills, and so He acts.

Spring brings to mind the resurrection of Christ. So the Church uses the activities of nature to speak about the resurrection. Lilies adorn sanctuaries and the tombs of the dead. Teachers in parochial schools may have chrysalides in their classrooms to teach about the resurrection. Even the Apostle Paul speaks about planted seed rising in life in connection to the resurrection: “But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?’ You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain.”(1Cor 15:35-37)

But the vernal resurrections pale in comparison to the rebirth and renewal of the Risen Christ. That is what the Church celebrates with great joy at this time. Like the flowers that spring from the ground, the animals that climb out of their dens, the seed that bursts from the ground, Christ Jesus rose. But His was a rising from death to life, not from dormancy to activity or from sleep to waking. It is not simply the lifecycle. This was much different—an intrusion of divine power into the natural world, an act of the same sort that caused life in the womb of a virgin to bring forth a son. It is the work of God “who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.”(Rom 5:17b)

The ability to give life to the dead is a divine attribute. It is not natural or commonplace. There is extraordinary power in this, a power greater than all ability that earth possesses. Christ’s resurrection reveals that power for all to see. Speaking about the resurrection, the Apostle Peter discusses this divine ability: “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised Him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it.”(Acts 2:22-24) Nothing could stand against the power that the Lord God exhibits. Not even the power of death could prevent Christ’s resurrection from happening.

Christ’s resurrection makes Easter a day of celebration and joy. According to the Father’s will, His Son is alive again. And you know what Jesus says about a father celebrating that fact: “It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.” (Luke 15:32) But that celebration and joy is enhanced by another factor: the resurrection of Christ means that you may also rise from death to life. His Father has so willed it. That is what Jesus promises: “For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son also to have life in Himself. And He has given Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.”(John 5:26-29)

Christ’s resurrection brings your resurrection. You shall experience a rebirth and renewal. In fact, you already have. For in your baptisms, you have participated in Christ’s resurrection: “We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”(Rom 6:4) But the promise is more than a spiritual resurrection. No, you shall participate fully in what Christ has experienced. What happened to Him shall happen to you. As the Father acted on Christ’s behalf, so He will act for you. Nothing can prevent His will being fulfilled for you.

The great promise of receiving the Father’s work in you is given in the readings for Easter Day. The Psalmist prophesies about Christ and, in turn, you: Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let Your holy one see corruption.”(Ps 16:9-10) It was true for Christ. Because of your connection to Him, it shall be true for you. The Apostle Paul further describes your fate that is caught up in Christ: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at His coming those who belong to Christ.”(1Cor 15:20-23) That is the rebirth and renewal awaiting you who are incorporated into Christ.

The joy of Spring—not simply the astronomical or ecological season, but the time marked by Christ’s resurrection—warms our hearts. His rising means you can await yours. So sing with the joy that this Easter Season the Father brings to you who once were dead, but now are alive in Christ, as He wills:

’Tis the spring of souls today:
Christ has burst His prison
And from three days’ sleep in death
As a sun has risen;
All the winter of our sins,
Long and dark, is flying
From His light, to whom is giv’n
Laud and praise undying.

Now the queen of seasons, bright
With the day of splendor,
With the royal feast of feasts
Comes its joy to render;
Comes to gladden faithful hearts
Which with true affection
Welcome in unwearied strain
Jesus’ resurrection!

[Lutheran Service Book 487:2-3]

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