Alleluia Christ is Risen – A paradox: though we are sinners, for Christ’s sake God counts us as righteous. Though we perpetuate death by our sin, God forgives us and gives us eternal life.
I love a good paradox. Coming from two Greek words, “para” and “doxein” meaning contrary to thought. It is two things, two ideas presented side by side that shouldn’t be. Pearl Bailey, an actress from the 1940’s said, “Some of the biggest failures I ever had were successes.”
C.S Lewis said, “Some day you will be old enough to read fairy tales again.”
Or how about these last few weeks. The paradox I have been seeing a lot is we are all alone together. Certainly an Easter with empty pews is a paradox. For 2000 years Christians have been celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday together, and this year we do it at a distance. In fact, every Sunday is a little celebration of Easter. That’s 2000 years, once a week, 52 times a year. The church has celebrated Easter together approx. 104,000 times. And then you multiply that by all the churches and congregations throughout the world. As John sees in Revelation, there was a crowd worshipping the lamb that was too great to be counted. What other event in the history of the world has brought this kind of unity? We are not alone together, but we are together in Christ. Not even the notion of physical distance can take us away from the assurance of Christ that we are one in him and he is always with us.
This is no paradox. This is the promise of a man who though he died he did not stay dead. This is the promise of God himself. God who is not bound by paradoxes. God who is never far but always near his people and yet he is unapproachable.
Today’s reading teaches us a few paradoxes to clear up for us precisely what the resurrection of Jesus means. though we are sinners, for Christ’s sake God counts us as righteous. Though we perpetuate death by our sin, God forgives us and gives us eternal life.
Initially the women went to the tomb knowing that there are no paradoxes when it comes to death. Death always wins. There is nothing that stands in opposition of death. You die, you’re dead. Now certainly they knew the story of Lazarus, the man Jesus raised from the dead but now that guy who appeared to have power over death, why would he let himself die?
Isn’t that a paradox of first order? If you have power over death wouldn’t you use that power to avoid our greatest enemy? They even yelled this and scoffed at Jesus as he hung on the cross, “He saved others, but he can’t save himself.” If anything he is a successful failure. A losing savior.
The women went. They had no thoughts of grandeur that they would steal the body. What would they do against soldiers? Not to mention, the stone. But then as they arrived at the tomb there was an earthquake caused by the angel as he comes and moves the stone. Then the angel sat on the stone.
This is a little strange, almost paradoxical. Angels are messengers. They are moving from God to earth. They are on the move. They stand. When Gabriel met Mary he stood before her to tell her of the child to be born to her. Gabriel also stood at the altar when he met Zecheriah. Angels do not sit, they stand. But this angel sits. And he sits on the stone. A pulpit of sorts. He is the first preacher of the good news and the women the first congregation. The first Easter sermon, a paradox, “Do not be afraid.” How can he expect them to not be afraid?
The women were afraid now. They weren’t really afraid of the soldiers. They weren’t afraid of the tomb. They were fearful because they were in the presence of one of God’s angels. He brings the authority of God. And when sinners come into contact with God there is no social distance that can save you from your sins.
God is everywhere. His law is the basis for the universe and that law is immovable. The laws of nature don’t bend. The law of God is not flexible. Like the rock that covered the tomb. And God’s law says, “The wages of sin is death.” They were sinners who were now face to face with one who carries the authority of God, were they now going to die? If the angel caused the soldiers to be as living dead, what would be their fate?
And what would be your fate? Face to face with an angel of God, or even God himself? Certainly we do all we can to avoid death. We try to flex that law, the wages of sin is death. We try to pretend our sins aren’t that bad or that were not as bad as others. Certainly we wouldn’t deserve that wage of death. Would you’re life be defined as a paradox? Would you think yourself not a sinner?
St. Peter in our reading from Acts puts those thoughts in their right place, “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” Do you always do what is acceptable to God? I don’t either. How then can we be saved? How then would we be able to not fear?
Notice what the angel says, “Do not fear.” Meaning do not fear that the tomb is empty and do not fear, I am not here to kill you. The tomb is not empty because the body was stolen, He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.
Paradox of paradoxes the one who was crucified, and you don’t survive a crucifixion, the one who was crucified is alive. The women do not need to fear the wrath of God because Jesus was crucified for their sins and now he is raised. Their sins didn’t keep Jesus dead!
This paradoxical sermon is the greatest sermon they had ever heard! No jokes. No engaging stories, just the facts. Jesus crucified for your sins, raised for your justification. Meaning you are right with God. Your sins are forgiven. Taken away. Your sins that you know you did, God has forgotten them.
The one who knows all, paradoxically forgets your sins.
The one who created life, paradoxically dies.
The one who was dead, is now alive. This is for you! For me. For the whole world. For the God who shows no partiality forgives all equally. No matter how bad you think you’ve messed up, Jesus’ death covers you.
So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy. Another paradox, fear and great joy. They ran with fear and great joy. Now they fear rightly as Peter said in Acts. Fear of God is recognition that the gospel, the good news is somewhat paradoxical to our human logic. We are forgiven yet we don’t deserve it. Our salvation is not anything we do but solely the mercy of God in Christ Jesus. We rightly fear God when we see him as he truly is, far above us in power and wisdom. Peter says, “anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”
What is does what is right? How are we acceptable to God?
By faith. See how Peter ends our reading, “everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
In order to receive Christ must first give and he gives. It would make sense then that his giving might just be paradoxical. The one far above us in power and wisdom gives himself to be the least among us. The unapproachable comes to us in humble means, through baptism where he places his name on us. As Peter says further, “receives forgiveness through his name.” Where are we given God’s name?
When he pours water over our heads in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is all his work. Paradoxical? You bet.
Our salvation is a paradox. We are sinners deserving death, yet for the sake of Jesus, God regards us as saints promised that we will rise from the dead in our own flesh. Until then though We run now our race as the women did, in fear and great joy. Fear as in respect and awe of God. Joy knowing that Jesus is risen and we will rise too. Your loved ones who’ve died in the faith they too will rise with him.
Easter is the realization that a man died and was raised. That there is an answer for death but there is no opposition to the promises of Christ. Death does not win. Jesus does. The fear of death is not the beginning of wisdom, but the wisdom of God is the end of the fear of death for all who believe and are baptized. As we are raised from our graves our faith will no longer be a paradox, but we will see clearly, with our own eyes, in glory. We will see him as he truly is and we will see ourselves as truly glorious in Him. No more paradox. No more death. No more sin.
Alleluia, Christ is risen.