Vol. 11 — No. 14 April 5, 1970
Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them. And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre. And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus. And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments: And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee, Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again. And they remembered his words, And returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest. It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles. And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not. Then arose Peter, and ran unto the sepulchre; and stooping down, he beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves, and departed, wondering in himself at that which was come to pass.
Beloved in the Christ who hath abolished death and hath brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel:
Every Sunday morning is a minor Easter. That is the day upon which the Lord rose from the dead, and therefore it is called the Lord’s Day. It is the day upon which we specially seek rest for our souls by going to the house of God to sing and pray and hear the Word of God which alone can give us comfort. Yes, every Sunday morning is Easter for those who are weary of the struggle and who need rest for their souls. That is why we gather here, not only once a year, but each and every Sunday—to find rest for our souls.
Each year we also have the great festival of the Resurrection, the Great Easter, when, in a special way, we fortify our faint souls with the good news from the tomb: “He is not here, but is risen.”
“Jesus lives! henceforth is death
But the gate of life immortal;
This shall calm my trembling breath,
When I pass the gloomy portal.
Faith shall cry, as fails each sense,
‘Lord, Thou art my confidence.’”
Easter, then, is the day of victory. The day of victory is the day of peace—for there can be no peace, can there, without victory? That is why Sunday is the day of victory, then of peace and rest. That is the main thing about Sunday: it is a day of rest for the soul. And so it is also with Easter: it is a day on which we shall return to our homes confident and satisfied, comforted and full of cheer, because the Lord is risen indeed.
But there can be no rest for the soul unless we find it in the fact of the living Christ. Therefore, let us devote ourselves today to these words from the Gospel of the day:
Our blessed Lord was dead. All the light had gone out of His eye, and there was no life in His heart; thought had fled from His thorn-crowned head and speech from His golden mouth. He Himself had consigned His spirit into the bosom of the Father in heaven, and the spear thrust into His side had drained His body of its very life. He had been placed by sad yet loving hands into a new-cut tomb near by in a place where a rich man had prepared himself a final resting place.
But He was not there this morning! Why should we seek Him there? Let us instead look first at the memorials of His short stay. There is something worthwhile in our looking at them.
There are, first, the spices, the aromatic herbs with which Joseph had wrapped His blessed Lord’s body. Joseph had brought an hundred pound weight of them. How Jesus has left the place, and, as it were, He has left the grave a place no more for the dead, but a place out of which men shall come forth alive. Therefore we teach in our Catechism that Jesus has not only buried my sins, but He has hallowed my grave! Therefore, please! do not consider the grave a place for the dead! in the truest sense it is a place, a temporary rest, for those who live! So let us not seek the living among the dead! Let us rather think of our dead as being among the living! And this is not based on fancy, but on the fact of the tomb as being a place of the living on Easter morning!
Is this too good to believe? Then I tell you to look and see that there are the graveclothes left behind by the living Savior. There is the winding-sheet. He needed things of earth while He walked as one of us in humility. Now that He is risen in glory, He has no need of the garments of earth and of death; now He is clothed in light! There is the token that when you and I arise we shall have no need of the garments of earth, but we, too, shall be clothed upon with the garments of Christ’s righteousness, the dress of the living. Shall we not then seek life? And shall we not seek it in Him who alone is the Life? Or shall we seek life among the dead things of the sinful world? No! Let Easter Day be the power that turns us to the things of God!
Furthermore, do not seek your beloved among the dead, if, as we can be sure, you have laid a loved one to rest one time who confessed his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Do not think of them now as in a place of destruction and decay. “Why seek ye the living among the dead?” Don’t you know that Jesus has made the grave a place in which angels sat on Easter morning? Something must have happened to the grave to change it from a place of death and decay to a place fit for messengers from heaven! You know what happened! The crucified Lord submitted to the darkness and death of the grave, and then He broke it open! As our Samson He has pulled up the posts and carried away the gates of the grave with its bolts and bars!
Why! then, should men seek the living among the dead? The angels had to reprove the women with this question. They had been told by Jesus Himself that He would come alive again. On various occasions He told them that He should not be held by death. But what did His followers do? The women prepared materials for embalming His body, and the Eleven fled, each to His own, perhaps, although at times they stuck together in their common sorrow for having lost their common friend. It was not long before Peter said, “I go fishing.” He was going back to his old occupation. Therefore they were to be blamed in not seeking Him who told them He was the Living One.
But they were not cast off and rejected. The risen Shepherd seeks His sheep. He goes after them until He finds them. And it is so with us today: We go out seeking the living among the dead; and today the Shepherd of our souls comes to us to correct us and to guide us and to lead us back to Himself, much as we may have sought life among the things of death.
As the representative, as the ambassador for Christ, I beg you not to seek the living Christ among the dead bones of this earth which has been aptly called a vale of tears. The sinful World offers you “life” if you will but give yourself over and dance along with it on the brink of perdition. It will show you a good time, it will give you what the flesh wants, it will fulfill the heart’s desire (so it says), if only you come along with it and do as it does. Do business the way it does, ignore your conscience, carouse with its night-life, drink with its drunkards and with its’good” people too, gamble with its sharpsters, take the Lord’s name in vain, and, in general, do as it does, and it will promise you a good time, it will assure you that you will get the most out of life. But it is a lie. “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” Therefore, “why seek ye the living among the dead?” Don’t do it! The living are not there!
And do not seek the living among the dead bones of formalism. And what is that? It is the dead ceremonialism of having once been baptized into the Christian faith, but no longer living therein. It is the dead ceremony of having once promised on the day of confirmation that you would serve the Lord, but you are never seen in the Church of Christ. It is the dead ceremony of paying church dues, but never paying to the Lord the worship of the heart in the communion of saints, which is the gathering of believers. To say that you belong to such and such a church but do not worship there is just as futile as to go to the tomb on Easter morning to look for a dead Savior. For that kind of a “savior” is dead! Do not ever think that you will find life doing those dead things. Do not think that you have found life, if you live doing those things which those do who are spiritually dead, in whom you never notice so much as a spark of the living Spirit of God. Christ is not to be found in dead forms; He is found of you who are alive unto God and to the spiritual things of his church. “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.” Col. 3:1.
And do not seek the living Christ among the tombs of moral reformation! There are many who seek life in that way, but if you understand Christianity with its powerful, dynamic, saving and sanctifying Christ, you will not seek life among the dead things of man’s accomplishments. For those things are man’s best accomplishments! Yet who has been saved by moral reform? What man has been able to lift himself up to God? If you are one who has sought to improve yourself by single-handedly forcing wrongdoing out of your life, have you not noticed that in your best success you have done no better than to avoid it outwardly? You have not been able to purge your heart. Your thoughts have not come out clean. And with cleansing the outside of the cup, you know that you have not been able to satisfy God, who looketh upon the heart. So do not seek life among the dead things that you yourself can do! It takes more than the strength which you alone can muster to drive uncleanness out of your life. It takes the living Christ, and it requires the purging power of his holy fire, which is the power of His Spirit, to expel from you the evil thought and desires that blacken your heart before God. Nay, it takes more than that; it takes the holy garment of His righteousness who arose from the dead to cover you that you may be clean. There is no life outside Him who rose from the dead on Easter morning! Seek life no other place.
Some of you may think that you can do as well by yourself by staying away! Some of you have said that you are as good as many who seek the Lord’s presence. We speak not of those who pretend to seek Christ in public, but who deny Him in their lives. There may be those; we fear there are. But you can’t find life any other place but in His presence who offers it to you constantly in His Gospel and in His Sacraments. Let it be that some come to the living waters but do not drink; it still remains true that you cannot find the living waters any other place but where they are placed by God. They are placed in His church, and they are found no other place. Therefore, I plead with you in the name of the living Christ: WHY SEEK YE THE LIVING AMONG THE DEAD? SEEK YE THE LORD WHILE HE MAY BE FOUND! CALL YE UPON HIM WHILE HE IS NEAR!
And, finally, you who seek life—and I trust that there is not one thing that any of you would rather have than eternal life—seek it not in darkness and gloom! Walk not in sadness and despair and doubt and despondency. Perhaps you have hoped that you have believed in Christ, and are not sure; you may trust that you are saved, but you haven’t the courage to say so. Do you not dare to believe that you are accepted in the Beloved? Do you not know that you are more than conquerors? If God be for you, who can be against you? I miss the certainty of faith among many of you. Those of you who have touched the subject at all speak with a pretty vague “hope” that everything will be all right. Has the Gospel of the living Christ been spoken all these years in vain? Yes, you seek life, you would take an oath that you desire it, but why should you in this way seek the living among the dead, life in gloom, certainty in uncertainty?
Yes, we know that the life of the Christian is a life that must always be afraid that one will fall into sin. We know that Satan is on the prowl like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. We know that we must walk the path of salvation with fear and trembling lest we fall into temptation and sin and despair. We know that we must walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise; and we would give much more for the young Christian who is afraid that he will do wrong than he is worried about not being a success in life. We know that the days are dark and that the times are evil. And we want to say, too, that a sober and serious child of God is indeed the result of God’s Spirit working in heart. But at the same time that a Christian must watch and pray lest he enter into temptation—he can also rejoice and be exceeding glad because his name is written in heaven! You know that when you walk over a firm bridge you have every sense of fear that you will fall into the raging waters below; yet the bridge will carry not only you, but thousands like you. Therefore, come out from your gloom this Easter morning! Don’t seek the living among the dead!
It is not that I doubt your Christianity, you who show that you believe; I have not nearly so much doubt about it as you have. The most trembling believer in Jesus is saved, for even a weak faith has a full salvation, so surely as it carries with it a hatred for sin and a longing for grace and love for Christian brethren, love to be where they are and to do what they do. But do you think that Jesus wants you to sit down there among the dust and ashes of the cold and silent tomb? Come up, now, into the fresh air of the resurrected Christ and walk with him in life! Seek not the living among the dead! God has never lied to you. He has never promised a good thing and then refused to deliver it. Your Savior died, yes; but He came alive again!
He has no need now for the spices and the winding-sheet, no need for the tomb and for the stone to be its door. Neither do you have any need to dwell in gloom and darkness and doubt. The Savior is not there, so WHY SEEK YE THE LIVING AMONG THE DEAD?! Don’t talk about doubts that you shall be saved, for Christ is LIVING today. May the God of salvation give you grace to say with Job: “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God, whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold.” Job 19:25ff.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.