Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
March 27, 2016
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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
199 "Jesus Christ Is Risen Today"
198 "He's Risen, He's Risen Christ Jesus The Lord"
205 "The Day Of Resurrection"
200 "I Know That My Redeemer Lives"
A WHITE EASTER
TEXT: “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”
I'm dreaming of a white Easter...now wait a minute, that's not right, is it? We dream of a white Christmas, don't we? Even though we might have to grumble about digging out the snow shovel or the snow blower, there's something beautiful and seemingly magical about seeing a fresh blanket of snow on Christmas, all nice and peaceful with the Christmas lights reflecting off of it, almost like a Currier and Ives painting.
Just in case you're interested in a little bit of trivia, the song, "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" is not from the movie "White Christmas." Bing Crosby debuted the song in the movie "Holiday Inn," which is one of those old black-and-white classics that is shown several times each Christmas season. And it has become a favorite.
But today isn't Christmas; that was over three months ago. When you came into church this morning, you didn't see the Christmas tree, or the chrismons hanging on it. We don't have the Advent wreath out, and the blue paraments are all stored away until late this year.
So what do we see? We see white! Yes that's right, the whole color scheme of Easter is white! The purple paraments, signifying the purple robe they put on Christ and the penitential nature of Lent were removed at the end of our Maundy Thursday service. The black paraments and the large black cloth covering the cross, symbolic of our Saviour's crucifixion and death are gone too. The darkness of Good Friday has now given way to the bright and cheerful celebration of the resurrected Christ. It's almost like the old adage that says, "It's always darkest before the dawn." And when we think about how drastically the theme changes from Lent and Holy Week to Easter, we have to agree.
Now I have to confess that this idea of a "white Easter" is not original with me. Christian author Lyn Chaffert, who lives in Canada, had that as the theme of one of the devotions she wrote this past week. Living in Canada she is certainly no stranger to snow. Allow me to share some quotes from her devotional:
"As romantic as the notion of a White Christmas is, however, no one sees any romanticism in a 'White Easter.' Easter is usually in the time of year all over the world where transition is happening. In the northern hemisphere, the memory of winter is fading; and in the southern hemispheres, summer is rapidly transitioning into fall; certainly not the time of year that anyone would, even romantically, wish for snow.... But wait. Why would I rejoice at the spiritual symbolism of a 'White Christmas,' yet not at the same symbolism of a 'White Easter?' It's true that had Jesus never come as a baby, there would never have been a death or a resurrection; but in all reality, what we celebrate at Christmas, the birth of Jesus, isn't nearly as important as what we celebrate at Easter.... It is truly because of Easter that we can say, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, 'Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.'"
Today on this Easter Sunday, we have a glorious ending to a complex series of events. The message is one of sin and grace, of law and gospel. The crimson sin that has permeated the entire human race ever since Adam and Eve has been eradicated, and the Easter message is proof positive of that fact. It's because of Easter that the crimson is gone and we have been completely washed clean.
If we go a few verses past our Gospel Lesson for today from the 24th chapter of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus speaks the following words to his disciples in verses 46-47: “The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations…” Suddenly all of the prophecies concerning Jesus had been fulfilled; and with this came the sure and certain hope of eternal life through faith in Jesus.
In the short time following Jesus’ crucifixion and death, the apostles and other disciples were confused and befuddled. Their hopes had been ruined. Again, going just a bit beyond our Gospel Lesson for today in Luke chapter 24, verse 21, we find the disciples saying, “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.”
But how could a man who died under the curse of God accomplish that? What good is the anticipation of God’s forgiveness and restoration if the only view we have of Jesus is of him dying on the cross according to God’s curse? How do we get beyond the black darkness of Good Friday? After all, the Bible says in Deuteronomy chapter 21, verse 23: “Anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse.”
Certainly Jesus was under God’s curse. His entire purpose on this earth was to take all of the sins of humanity on his shoulders. And that means everybody’s sins, from the beginning of history all the way through to the end of time. That includes your sins and mine as well. All the way through the Lenten season, we focused upon Jesus pleading before the Father in heaven on our behalf, asking him to forgive us. On Good Friday, we saw all of this come to a very dramatic conclusion. The final sacrifice for sins had been made. Christ’s work of redemption had been finished.
But the story doesn’t end there, because the Easter message begins after Good Friday ends. The grave wasn’t the end of Jesus, but only a dramatic illustration that death and the grave could not hold him. Jesus showed his victory by his descent into hell, where he basically thumbed his nose at Satan and announced his defeat of sin and evil. And then he left, because the gates of hell could not hold him.
Then to bring everything to a dramatic climax, Jesus took up his life again, showing that he was completely victorious over even death itself. He proved himself to indeed be the promised Messiah, the Saviour of the world, the very Son of God himself.
I find it interesting how people have regarded the physical resurrection of Christ down through the ages. Many have taken Christ’s resurrection as merely metaphorical, where the resurrection just symbolized a type of living faith. Such people assert that people back in Jesus’ day simply lacked the intelligence to know that dead people cannot come back to life. But the Bible tells us that this was very hard for people to grasp, especially Jesus’ disciples. The grave was every bit as foreboding then as it is to some people now.
The Apostle Paul had to deal with this very same issue in our Epistle lesson for today, from 1 Corinthians 15. Verses 12-14 read: “But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” And then verse 17 continues, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”
The very fact that Christ physically rose from the dead is the absolute proof that our faith is not futile, and that our sins have indeed been forgiven. Our scarlet sins have been completely removed, and we are bleached completely clean. Christ’s life, suffering, and death paid for those sins, and his resurrection shows that his work has been completed. Through faith in Jesus our Saviour, his forgiveness becomes personal; it becomes ours. Jesus is not only the world’s Saviour, but also our personal Saviour. That’s the message of the Gospel for us.
Okay, now that the facts have been firmly established, there is more that needs to happen. If people don’t hear the message of Jesus, if people don’t know about the resurrection, if people aren’t aware that their sins are forgiven, then the empty tomb becomes nothing more than an object of idle curiosity. Everything Jesus accomplished won’t do any good if people don’t believe it. If people don’t know about the message of sin and grace, they cannot benefit from it. It’s something like having a banquet table loaded with food. If a person doesn’t eat it, they will wind up starving to death.
During my years in the ministry, I've lost count of the number of funeral services I have conducted. Quite often, I am speaking to a group of people, many of whom are not Christian, and do not know Jesus. The opportunity is there to share Jesus and the hope of the resurrection, which is a reflection of the deceased person's faith. I want to be sure that nobody leaves that service without having heard the message of love and forgiveness that Jesus has for them.
I am reminded of an instance that happened to a pastor friend of mine. There was this elderly lady in his congregation who was a very faithful Christian lady. She knew and believed the message of sin and grace, and she had absolute trust in Christ alone. She proclaimed this faith even with her dying breath.
But when it came time to plan her funeral, her son very indignantly told my pastor friend that he was not to use the word “sin” even once in his sermon. He wanted his mother to be remembered as a good person, and not a sinner who needed forgiveness.
My pastor friend tried to explain things to this man, but he remained adamant about it. So my friend had to refuse to do the funeral, and miss the opportunity to share this devout woman’s faith.
Had he gone ahead and proceeded according to her son’s demands, he would have been a hypocrite. The message of the cross would have been empty. Jesus would not have been preached, and as our text for today indicates, repentance and forgiveness of sins would not have been preached in his name to all nations. What a sad situation.
Jesus sent his disciples out to the entire world to proclaim the good news of the resurrection, and he sends each of us as well. What does that message mean to us? Is this the message upon which all of our hopes depend? What kind of witness do we make with our lives? How do we show others how our lives of crimson sin have now been washed clean in the blood of the Lamb?
I read a story a while back about a man whose mother had died from a lengthy illness. As he stood there looking at her in the casket, he remembers thinking: “Mom was in church every Sunday; she was the organist and choir director. Every Sunday I remember her standing and saying the Apostles’ Creed, especially the words: ‘I believe…in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.’ She held fast to his hope right to the end. This was the promise Jesus had given her, and the hope she taught and shared with me.”
In our own congregation, I have had the privilege of conducting the funeral services for some of our saints. They're in heaven, celebrating Easter with Jesus. It has been a joy to be with a person as they breathe their last, and then to be able to share their faith with their family and friends. God has made good on that guarantee of forgiveness and salvation for them. And what a comfort it is for families to know that the deceased person's faith in their resurrected Saviour has taken them to their mansion in heaven that Jesus has prepared for them.
The Easter message is the message of forgiveness with a guarantee. When our sins seem so great that we feel God could in no way forgive them, remember this guarantee. When we encounter others whose sins stand in the way of their relationship with God, share this guarantee with them. “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”
Lyn Chaffert closes her devotion about a "White Easter" this way: "Instead of being depressed about the snow at Easter...I thanked Jesus for it, for it was an important reminder that because of what he did on the cross, we have reason to celebrate, for our sins, though as scarlet, are as 'White as snow!' May the memory of that 'snow' that covers our sin never 'melt' from our hearts." And I can't leave this topic without thinking about the Nebraskans who are looking at a "White Easter" this year, especially those in Wayne who had to dig themselves out from 14 inches of the stuff a few days ago. Canada certainly has nothing on us when it comes to snow!
The Easter guarantee, put so well by Isaiah in our text for today, is something Jesus has made very real for you and me. What does that mean for us? The answer is simple. Jesus has paid the price for our sins so that we might be forgiven. We have this forgiveness through faith in Jesus our Saviour. Through faith in him, our names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. And because death and the grave could not hold Jesus, we know it cannot hold us either. Our forgiveness, our salvation, and our eternity in heaven is guaranteed.
“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”
Therefore according to our faith, we can exclaim with all of the saints on earth and hosts of heaven, “He is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!