April 23, 2011 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“This is the Passover of the Lord in which, by hearing His Word and celebrating His Sacraments, we share in His victory over death.” Those words have been spoken to you this evening and on similar evenings in past years. They tell you what this night is all about. The words direct you not just to the past, but to the present reality. Now you hear His Word and celebrate His Sacraments. Now you share in the Lord’s victory over death.
The past is prologue, we say. And that is true. The Lord’s Word tells you what has happened in the past. By the Lord’s Word, the creation was brought into being. By the Lord’s Word, Noah was kept safe from the deluge that drowned those who were opposed to the divine will. By the Lord’s Word, Abraham was made a great nation, especially as his only son was spared from death and a ram offered in his place. By the Lord’s Word, Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt to the other side of the Red Sea on dry ground. By the Lord’s Word, Jonah was taken from running away from his task to actively proclaiming saving repentance to Nineveh. By the Lord’s Word, Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego were kept faithful in the face of Nebuchadnezzar’s forced idolatry. All this has happened in the past. Each of these events had life given to those who heard and believed the Lord’s Word.
This night shows that you are in a long line of people who have done the same: they remembered what the Lord has said and done in the past, but also received salvation in their present time. Noah believed that the Lord who created the waters could protect him from them. Abraham believed that the Lord who spoke life into existence could bring forth an heir for him. Moses believed that the Lord who made the promise to Abraham would make a great nation out of the freed Hebrew slaves. Jonah believed that the Lord could forgive sins, even his own. Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego believed that the Lord was greater than any false deity that mankind created. All of them shared in the life that the Lord gives through His Word of promise.
So it is for you. The past is prologue. The same Lord who spoke in the past speaks to you now. Not a new word is spoken, but an old word that has effect in this day and age. For you hear the Lord’s message of resurrection spoken to you: “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.” The victory over death is seen in those words, the report of what has happened to Jesus. He died. He was buried. But He was raised from death. He is not in the tomb. He lives again. His people will see Him.
That Risen Lord’s Word is spoken. You hear it. His Sacraments—the physical acts that have the Lord’s Word that institute and empower them to bring heavenly benefit—are offered. You celebrate them. And so you share in the Lord’s victory over death. The acts of Jesus have happened in the past, but they have effects for you now. So the Apostle Paul writes: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 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. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.” And he writes further: “As often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”
Jesus died and rose long ago, but you have died and risen with Him here and now. How is that? By being washed in the water combined with the Lord’s word and included in the Lord’s command. Jesus died and rose long ago, but you partake of His death and resurrection here and now. How is that? By eating and drinking the body and blood of Christ which are under the forms of bread and wine set apart by the Lord’s Word. In these ways, you share in His victory over death. You share in that victory by remembering what happened in the past, but receiving the benefits that are part of the present day.
The benefit that you have in this present day includes what the Lord will do for you at the close of this age. Again, past is prologue. The Lord who gives life will give you the ultimate victory over death. The women asked each other: “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” This question was asked of Jesus’ tomb. But it will be asked about your own tomb: “Who will roll away the stone? Who will open up the vault? Who will raise my body out?” And the answer is that the Lord will—the Lord who created the stone, who drowned your sin, who gave His only Son in substitution for you, who freed you from slavery to Satan, who brought you to repentance, and who removed you from the furnace of hell. That Lord will raise you and give you everlasting life. Why? Because you have heard and believed His Word and you have celebrated His Sacraments, so you share in His victory over death.
Hear about the past. Remember what the Lord has done. But also know that He speaks about what is true for you now. Trust His promises of what awaits you in the future. Keep the joyous festival of Easter on this night, remembering that Christ has died and risen from death for you. Live in the new life that your baptisms have given you; proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. Then look forward to when you will pass over from death to life—in both body and soul—with Christ. For you will share in the Feast of Light that has no end, the celebration of Christ’s victory over death that is meant for all who hear and believe His Word.
T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.