daily biblical sermons


THIS IS THE DAY THE LORD HAS MADE; LET US REJOICE AND BE GLAD
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Sunday, Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord, April 21, 2019
Acts 10:34a, 37-43, Psalm 117, Colossians 3:1-4, John 20:1-9


Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted

 

"Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran, and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him'" (John 20:1-2).


On the first day of the week, Easter morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb of Jesus, and to her great surprise discovers that the stone has been rolled back from the entrance and the tomb is empty. So she ran to Simon Peter and to the beloved disciple and told them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him" (John 20:2). She did not say that he had risen from the dead, for none of the disciples had yet come to that conclusion.


When Peter and the beloved disciple run to the tomb, they discover it as Mary Magdalene had said. Jesus' body is missing, but the linen burial cloths are lying there, and the cloth that covered his head was rolled up and put in another place.


What grave robber would take the time to carefully unwrap a dead and bloody body, where the wrappings probably stuck to his bloody skin (and he was wrapped with many folds) and then leave these valuable linens, which could have been sold for a good price, lying there? Grave robbers are eager to get away as quickly as possible, lest they be caught. They would not take the time to unwrap the body, and who would want to carry a bloody body, without wrappings, bleeding all over you and your clothes, publicly witnessing to what you have done?


So Jesus' body is missing and robbery is excluded. How then is it that his body is missing? This problem was solved, for soon the risen Jesus would appear to Mary Magdalene and to all the apostles, showing them his wounded hands, feet, and side and inviting them to touch him, and he ate in their presence, proving that he was not a vision, for a vision doesn't eat food, which is then gone when the vision vanishes. As Jesus appeared to them, he said, "‘See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.' And when he had said this he showed them his hands and his feet ... And ... he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?' They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them" (Luke 24:39-43).


This is how faith in the resurrection was born in the minds and hearts of Jesus' disciples. It was caused by Jesus rising bodily from the tomb, leaving it empty, and then actually appearing to them in flesh and blood, eating with them, and inviting them to feel his body and see his wounds. After this, they believed that he had risen from the dead.


The resurrection of Jesus is key to the Christian faith. The Greeks believed that the soul is immortal by nature. But the resurrection of the dead is another matter altogether, for no one believes that the body is immortal by nature. Our hope as Christians is for the resurrection of our body on the last day, something that is beyond human nature, for it is not the nature of the human body to rise after death. The only way we can bodily rise after death is by a special gift of God, which comes to us through faith in Jesus Christ, because of his atoning death on the cross to make full reparation for our sins so that we can be justly forgiven by an all-just God and on the last day be raised in our bodies to eternal life in heaven with God forever. This requires a special act of God, which depends on our faith in Christ. It is not something that we can naturally expect to attain, as though our body were immortal by nature.


Even the Greek view of the immortality of the soul doesn't guarantee that your soul will end up in a happy state after death, for it may well go to the underworld to dwell in deep darkness and sadness, without light, love, joy or peace. What determines that our soul upon death will rise and enter heaven and see God face-to-face and live with him forever in joy? This is not something that we will attain by nature, but rather it is a product of our faith in Christ, who was sent by the Father to take our sins upon himself and die as our substitute in punishment for them so that we might be justly forgiven by an all-just God and then be declared righteous by him. If we die in this reconciled state, we will live forever in heaven with God, "For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:40).


Eternal life in heaven comes to us because of Jesus, who said, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die" (John 11:25-26). It is Jesus, the Son of God and Messiah, who gives us eternal life in heaven with God by our faith in him. We do not attain this by nature.


But Jesus' death and resurrection is also of the greatest importance for us now, in this present life, as we see in our first reading, where St. Peter preaches to Cornelius and his guests about salvation in Jesus, saying, "They put him [Jesus] to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day ... To him [Jesus] all the prophets bear witness that every one who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name" (Acts 10:39b-40, 43).


But how is it that by believing in Jesus we receive forgiveness of sins through his name? It is because he was hung on a tree and then raised by God on the third day. But what is the connection between having our sins forgiven and Jesus being hung on a tree and being raised by God? The connection is that Jesus was hung on a tree in order to be punished as our substitute for our sins. God then raised him from the dead, indicating that his death accomplished what it was intended to do, and so we clearly see in his rising from the dead that he indeed made full reparation for our sins by suffering and dying for them.


We owed God suffering and death in punishment for our sins, but God himself, in the person of his Son, took our place, as our substitute, and suffered and died on the cross instead of us for our sins to fulfill the law for us that sinners should suffer and die for their sins (Romans 8:4). He thus satisfied divine justice on our behalf for our sins and thereby overcame our alienation from God, caused by our sins, and thereby reconciled us with him.


God, therefore, now declares us righteous by our faith, because Christ paid our debt of suffering and death that we owed God for our sins. That is why St. Peter preaches that since Christ was hung on a tree and God raised him from the dead, therefore "every one who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name" (Acts 10:43).


This is why we rejoice today and every day of our life in Jesus' death and resurrection. The Easter liturgy is filled with joy because of Christ's resurrection. "This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad" (antiphon for the responsorial psalm at Mass). "He was handed over to death for our sins; he was raised to life to justify us alleluia" (midday antiphon). These are the words of St. Paul, who says that Jesus our Lord "was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification" (Romans 4:25). That is, he was put to death in punishment for our sins, not for his own sins, and was raised, completing his saving action of dying to atone for our sins, so that we might benefit from it by being justified by our faith in him. Being justified means that God, on the basis of what Christ did on the cross for us in atoning for our sins, now declares us ungodly sinners, who believe in him and repent, to now be righteous.


We who lived in sin, guilt, and depression because of our sins have now had our sins justly expiated and thoroughly punished in Christ's flesh (Romans 8:3) on the cross, on our behalf, as our substitute, in our place, so that our sins being justly and thoroughly punished for us in Christ's death on the cross, we can now be acquitted of them and have our guilt removed, our depression for our sins lifted, and we ourselves declared and made righteous and holy by God.


The reading at second Vespers is: "When Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, then to wait until his enemies should be made a stool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified" (Hebrews 10:12-14).


The Preface of the Mass says, "For he [Jesus] is the true Lamb who has taken away the sins of the world; by dying he destroyed our death, and by rising, restored our life." This is from St. John's gospel, where John the Baptist says, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29). "By dying he [Christ] destroyed our death" (Preface), because had he not died in reparation for our sins, we would have died forever in hell in just punishment for our serious sins. But Christ's death destroyed our eternal death for our sins. And "by rising, [he] restored our life" (Preface), because his resurrection was the completion of his atoning death that manifested it to the world and made it available to all who put their faith in him.


So we die to our sins in Christ's death, and as Christ rose from the dead in the glory of the Father, we too rise with him from our death in sin to now walk with him in newness of life (Romans 6:4).


We are now to live a new life as a new creation in the risen Christ. St. Paul says, "Even when we were dead through our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:5-6). We are therefore to live a new life and are to live in a new way as "new men" in Christ, new creatures, a new creation in Christ.


We are not to continue living in grave sin, for "how can we who died to sin still live in it?" (Romans 6:2). "We know that our old self was crucified with him [Christ] so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin" (Romans 6:6). Christ died to atone for our sins so that we might be freed from them. "So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus" (Romans 6:11).

 

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