The Great Vigil of Easter 2018
O Death, where is your sing? O Hades, where is your victory?” (1 Cor. 15:55) Death, hell, and their master, Satan, have no victory, no power. They thought they did. Jesus died and they rejoiced. For a time, it looked like Death had taken the victory, swallowing up the Author of Life. It stopped His breath, it spilled His precious Blood. Death finally ate its fill on Good Friday as it devoured Christ as He bore the sins of the world.
But as Death relaxed, satisfied and smug, Christ descended into hell to proclaim His victory over death. Satan, that ancient dragon, was defeated. His reign is ended. He is bound and his time to torment God’s people is limited. And then the stopped heart beat once more; the breathless lungs once again received the breath of life. The angel rolled the stone away. Jesus kicked Death in his bloated stomach and showed him that his victory was false, that his eternal destruction was accomplished.
But even before this night of nights, Christ was the Victor. Despite appearances, Christ claimed the victory on Friday. Even though the world saw a humiliated Man conquered by death and a band of disciples and other followers who had devoted themselves to a now executed lunatic, none of that was what truly existed. By that death, Jesus defeated Death. He proclaimed this from the cross in a thrilling cry, “It is finished.” All that the Father had sent the Son to accomplish had been completed. Mankind was saved from death. Sin was forgiven. The Law was satisfied.
This victory over sin, death, and the devil is yours. When you were Baptized into Christ you received that victory as your own. Your sin was forgiven forever, your death undone by the One who is Death’s undoing. You were reminded of that just a few minutes ago as you felt the water sprinkle you, a reminder of what happened all those years ago. You confessed that God the Father created you and all the world. You confessed that Jesus Christ redeemed you. You confessed that the Holy Spirit gathers you safe into the ark of the holy Christian Church and sustains you in the one true faith by His actions in the Word and the Sacraments. And the greatest thing the Holy Trinity gives to you is Easter, the promise that you will receive a resurrection like the one Jesus received, which we celebrate on these holy days.
Tonight your joyful song of alleluia has been given back to you. Though it ran silently through the two previous days, you now sing it in a full-throated, unrestrained joy. Jesus died for you. He rose for you. He gives you His Body and His Blood to proclaim that saving death and resurrection. He gives you a joy that no one can take from you. You sing your alleluias with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. Tonight you sing alleluia with your loved ones who have gone before you and live in an endless Easter. Tonight you are reminded that what is theirs is yours now and will one day be your present and eternal reality.
Death and life have contended in a combat stupendous, but the victory remained with Life. Jesus Christ, your Light and your Life has won the victory for you. Come, you faithful, raise the strain of triumphant gladness. You King immortal has burst the bars of death’s prison, and has come to lead you into joy from sadness.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
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Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.