As Saint Paul writes, let us keep the Festival of Easter with sincerity and truth. Sincerity means really believing what you say and do. But sincerity is not enough. You must sincerely believe the truth.
Sincerity and truth.
Why are we here, on this day? Oh, sure, it's Easter. But so what? Are we here because Easter is more upbeat and joyful than those other boring Services? Are we here after a long absence from this House of God because Easter feels more pleasant to us than other days?
Are we in Church on Easter only for a tradition? Is it only out of love for someone who brought us along, when surely there is a Person here, the Lord, who deserves far more respect than anyone else? Are we here because of Him?
Sometimes, we act as if we do not believe that Jesus is really here. We behave as if He is not the living Lord, who came forth triumphant from the grave.
If you are here because of the occasion and the joy, then certainly the words spoken here will not mean much. If you proclaim by your words today that worship is important, yet you make yourself absent for weeks to come, then that is certainly not sincerity and truth.
If you are here because of your love for family, or for one another, then it sure sounds nice at first. But that is not sincerity and truth, because you have not come to the house of family and friends. You have come to the House of God.
Besides, if you base your religion on love, you'll soon discover that other people don't love you as much as you love them (or at least, as much as you think you love them).
This kind of attitude is what St. Paul calls the old leaven - the yeast of the sinful nature, the old Adam that believes itself to be full of love.
We are truly supposed to love each other as much as possible, but that should never be what draws us together as Christians. Christ, and Christ alone, should draw us. His Spirit should bind us as one through water and the Word.
Therefore, the sincerity and truth that St. Paul writes about mean two things: First, repentance; second, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Repentance is the gift of the Holy Spirit that should drive you to your knees in sorrow over the many ways you have failed. If you are honest, then you will surely admit that you sin in many ways at many times. Like all men, you are pathetic sinners. To say anything different is dishonest. To come to Easter without repentance is to not really come to Eater at all.
Dishonesty leads to ignoring or rationalizing sin, even while you believe that you are a good, spiritual person inside. So the question is, as you examine your hearts and lives, do you know that you have sinned and fallen far, far short of the glory of God?
As you come here today, you should be drawn by a deep hunger for the righteousness that you do not have. You should be convinced by the powerful Law of God that you are not really loving people. The core of self-centeredness inside each of us deludes itself into thinking that it is loving. But in reality, it is full of malice and wickedness. To approach this Celebration of Eater on the basis of our love is like wearing a nasty, stained set of rags to a black tie affair.
But it's even worse than that. Not only are we not loving people, we are not even, by nature, living people. Apart from Christ, we are nothing but corpses. We are spiritually dead. We were conceived in our mother's womb dead in sin, stillborn in the iniquity of our father Adam. We cannot improve ourselves by our own efforts, because a corpse does not improve itself. Instead, we would remain lost and dead in sin forever and ever, if left to ourselves.
Therefore, the force that draws you to worship should be God's gift of life that He gives here. God pours out abundant life to you in the Holy Gospel - His message of Life and Resurrection in Jesus Christ, His Son. This God, this Christ, is present here and now, giving out His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. Why would we come for any other reason, when God Himself is here? What reason could ever compare to the Son of God?
What else in all the universe is even half so important as the fact that Christ, your Passover, has been sacrificed for you? Your Lamb was killed so that you now live.
When satan held you in bondage, then God sent the greatest Plague of all. The Firstborn was killed - Christ was killed. No plague like that has ever happened, when the immortal and holy Son of God was butchered like an animal for you.
Now His Blood rests upon the doorpost of this house. I am not talking about the physical building, but about the spiritual House of God, which is His holy Church. Whoever is in this House is safe from death. Death has passed over you, since you are covered by His Blood.
The Judgment of God's wrath will not destroy you, because the Blood of your Lord is so powerful that it never wears off. Even when you are put into the ground in death, His Blood will fill you with life, and you will leap forth on the Last Day. His Blood even now has given you eternal life, and you are only waiting to see that new life take its final form - immortality and perfection in glory.
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is all those things for you, because His Resurrection is yours. You died with Him, so you will most assuredly rise with Him to everlasting life. Your flesh will be remade into bodies that cannot die.
That is the truth of your lives. It is the one, ultimate truth. Although you are sinners who deserve hell, Christ has given you immortality.
May the Spirit lead you to celebrate your immortality by casting away your own righteousness, that is, by repenting of your own sinfulness. May you openly confess that by yourselves you are not good, loving people. But may you all the more praise and glorify Jesus Christ, who alone has given you the victory over death and hell. Apart from Him, you are dust. With Him, you are the glory of God.
In the Name of this one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the only God of life. Amen.
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