Date: April 9, 1939

Easter Praise and Prayer

Christ, our risen Lord of Glory:

Standing in spirit before the open grave on this most blessed of all mornings, we realize that, if every moment of our lives were devoted to uninterrupted praise for Thine everlasting mercy and Thine Easter victory, even a lifetime of gratitude would not permit us fully to express our thanks that on the third day, according to Thy promise, Thou didst burst the bonds of death. Accept, however, Thou eternal Lord of our life, this praise surging from our innermost hearts that through Thy triumph over the grave Thou didst prove Thyself the almighty God. Today we know in world-conquering faith that the eternal sacrifice on the cross for our sins has been accepted by Thy Father and that through faith in Thee we, too, shall live in the resurrection of our bodies and the life everlasting. Come to us, as after Thy resurrection Thou didst bless Thy disciples, and breathe on us, too, Thy Holy Spirit! May this day bring more than a passing flare of faith. Touch us with the glory of Thy resurrection, so that, risen with Thee, we may continually seek those things which are above and, being born again in Thee, show the evidence of our faith in heaven-centered holiness! Thou knowest how frail we are, O Christ. Therefore help us as Thou didst fortify Thy doubting, fearful disciples! Bless us all with the hope that Easter seals: the promise of a never-ending happiness with Thee, the Father, and the Holy Spirit! We ask this blessing by the power and pledge of Thy resurrection. Amen.

If ye . . . be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.Colossians 3:1

RECENT reports from Egypt tell how another tomb of the Pharaohs was uncovered and its royal mummies brought to light after centuries of darkness. Bible students particularly find unusual interest in the fact that here, after 2,800 years, the remains of Pharaoh Shishak have been discovered; for this ruler is mentioned in the Old Testament and on inscriptions as one of the most powerful of Egypt’s later monarchs. What telltale evidence of weakness and failure, then, to find the remains of Shishak, lord of the two Egypts, founder of a new dynasty, conqueror of Palestine and adjacent territory, boastful recorder of his own triumphs, dried and shriveled in a bejeweled mummy!

Nor has any other ruler among the mightiest of all history’s potentates escaped a similar fate. Charlemagne controlled a far-flung empire on continental Europe; yet a few centuries after his death, when his tomb was opened by one of his successors, all that was left of Charles the Great was a jumble of moldering bones. His crown and the scepter lay buried in the dust of his tomb.

Red leaders in Russia claim that the body of Nicolai Lenin, embalmed by a secret process and exhibited in a glass casket, will never decay. But uncensored reports from the Red capital reveal that Lenin’s corpse has already shown suspicious signs of going the way of all flesh.

Only a few days ago the sarcophagus of the late King George was completed and the lifeless remains of Britain’s beloved monarch placed beneath its imposing protection. Despite the impressive majesty in this place of royalty’s last repose, what a powerful sermon on the all-inclusive, inescapable grasp of death this ornate marble casket of King George proclaims! “Here,” this monument to death says in effect, “here lie the crumbling remains of England’s king, India’s emperor, sovereign of a realm on which the sun never sets, ruler of hundreds of millions, yet ruled himself by death!”

You see, every tomb and burial-place of men, whether it be as massive as the pyramids, as simple as your family plot with its modest memorial stone, or even as unadorned as a shallow grave in a potter’s field,—every burial-place, every cemetery, every gravestone, every casket, every hearse, is unquestionable testimony to the final failure of all that is human.

How, then, on this glorious day of Easter triumph, can we, with human voices, restricted vocabularies, limited minds, short-sighted vision, sin-swept lives, passion-swayed hearts, ever worthily thank God the Father, whose power ordained the Easter victory, God the Son, whose self­sacrificing love completed the Easter glory, God the Holy Spirit, whose enlightening help reveals to us in faith the eternal comfort of Easter truth? O Triune God of power and love and enlightenment, how,—and were we to devote our entire lifetime, waking and sleeping, to Thy never-ending praise,—can we sufficiently thank Thee that through faith in the resurrection of our Savior our deaths are changed from gruesome failures to eternal triumphs and our graves, instead of remaining the cruel evidence of everlasting decay, are to witness the supreme glory of all existence—the resurrection of our decayed bodies and the bestowal of life everlasting? Even angel voices as they intone their “Holy, holy, holy” before the throne of the risen Christ cannot begin to exhaust the Easter theme; and if in comparison with the cherubim and the seraphim that bow down before the Christ of the open grave we, with our unclean lips, can only lisp and stammer, may the cleansing Spirit of God touch our hearts with the refining fire of a soul-deep faith that on this Easter Day exults: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? . . . Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lard Jesus Christ!”

Come, then, to the open grave as across the continent we prepare to lay at the feet of the risen Christ the tributes of our joy-filled hearts. Come, you atheists, and let your cold, dark, shriveled souls find warmth and light in the expansive Easter radiance! Come, you doubting Thomases, who still insist: “Except I shall see in His hands the print of the nails and put my finger into the print of the nails and thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe,” see the pierced hands and the riven side—and believe! Come to the tomb of Christ with its broken seal and its rolled-away stone, you my bereaved and heart­crushed friends whose souls are bowed down with the fresh wounds of earth’s deepest sorrows. Easter brings you Heaven’s balm for life’s agonies, the unconquerable hope for a sadly worried world. Come, you my tried and tested disciples of the risen Lord whose faith is strengthened every day and whose hearts are crying “Yea and Amen!” to every promise of Easter grace I bring to the nation! Oh, may myriads now come to behold and believe

THE GLORIOUS EASTER EVANGEL

revealed to us in the Apostle’s promise and command: “If ye . . . be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.” (Colossians, chapter 3, verse 1.)

I

EASTER REVEALS A GLORIOUSLY RISEN SAVIOR

When this marvelous Easter text begins: “If ye . . . be risen with Christ,” it takes for granted the central fact of our Christian faith that, though the nails and the spear and the cross did their deadly work on Good Friday, Calvary was not the end and Joseph’s tomb not the last chapter in the Savior’s life and death of love. Similarly, when the text concludes: “Where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God,” it pictures Jesus in His living and almighty power as the eternal King of heaven and earth.

The Apostle knew, and the Colossian Christians knew, that Christ was risen. That was the foundation fact of their faith. They would rather have questioned their own existence than doubt the truth that on the third day Jesus rose again from the dead. Saint Paul might have appealed to the Old Testament with its clear and decisive prophecies of the resurrection, as Job, filled with the vision of Easter victory, cries: “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” The Apostle could have cited the very words of our Lord Himself by which He foretold His conquest over the grave. He could have referred to the “many infallible proofs” by which Jesus showed Himself alive to hundreds of eyewitnesses during the forty days. Paul could have emphasized his own experience in seeing Christ and knowing that the same Savior whom blasphemous hands slew was “loosed” from “the pains of death.” But the resurrection of Christ was so closely woven into the fabric of his heart that the Apostle did not indulge in a long defense of its truth.

Neither should anyone in our modern age doubt the literal facts of Easter; for they are supported by the force of convincing truth. If it were a matter of choice between believing that Christ rose from the grave and that the Italians last week bombed Albanian cities, I would say that the Easter-message rests on a far firmer testimony than the details of that Balkan warfare, which no one doubts. All that we know of the recent events in King Zog’s territory comes to us through news sources; and the daily press has sometimes proved false and misleading, while not even the bitterest critic has succeeded in convicting Christ and His Word of error. Accounts of the Albanian warfare reach us from a few correspondents, subject to false impression, prejudice and error, while the men who recorded the resurrection of Christ wrote infallibly, as they were moved by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The news of the Italian conquests is only a few days old; and in the light of later developments it may be changed; but the truth of the angel’s message “He is not here but is risen” has remained unimpeached and unbroken for nineteen hundred years. If you cannot accept the reality of the resurrection, you must draw huge question-marks over every page of history.

Here someone objects: Since there are many direct references in the New Testament to this bodily resurrection of Jesus and the evidence for Easter joy is so convincing, how does it happen that in many churches, established by those who love the Lord Jesus, this part of the Apostles’ Creed: “The third day He rose again from the dead,” is rejected? Why do some who occupy American pulpits claim that Jesus was not actually dead when laid into His grave but that, at first unconscious, He revived, broke the seal, removed the rock, and went His way? Why is it that men who call themselves ministers of the Gospel will repeat this hoary delusion, asserting that the disciples of Jesus stole the corpse and buried it secretly, or, with even greater absurdity, declaring that the enemies of our Lord removed the body and disposed of it elsewhere? Why does unbelief ascribe a mistaken vision to credulous women at the first flash of Easter sunrise? All this must be explained by the supertragedy that the pride of human reason will not bow submissively before the resurrection miracle; that in the blindness by which they desert the truth of God self­conceited men and women do not hesitate to accept even the most absurd substitutes and place themselves in the unhappy position of being associated with a guide to life who himself died.  If I were a modernist preacher, I would resign before Easter comes; for what help can there be in a leader who promised that he would return to life but—in the modernist teaching—did not? How can there be any salvation in a buried Christ upon whose unknown grave “the Syrian stars look down”? A dead Jesus means a destroyed Gospel. “If Christ be not risen,”—the Apostle’s alternative still rings in our ears,—what benefit can you find in the blood of a deceased Palestinian peasant? No more than you could find in your blood or mine. For millions our blood would not be helpful even in a transfusion; and if human blood often cannot save men’s lives, how can it influence their souls, nineteen hundred years after that blood has turned to dust? If Christ were not risen, there would be no Bible today, translated into a thousand languages, published and sold in millions of copies every year; for who would put faith in a dead hero unable to keep his word? There would be no Christian Church; who would devote his energies to, give his life for, a deceased teacher? There would be no Sunday worship; for who would discard the Old Testament Sabbath and worship Christ on Sunday, the day He arose, if His resurrection were not actual history?

Standing before the open grave with hearts that beat in harmony with the Easter evangel, we know—above every quibble or question—that Jesus had to rise from the dead because He is the almighty God and no grave can hold Him. Easter had to follow Good Friday because Christ had promised to return in new life, and the pledges of Jesus can never be broken, even though heaven and earth break as they pass away. Jesus had to come forth from the grave to complete the plan of universal redemption, since He “was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification.” It was not enough that Jesus was born at Bethlehem and that He, God incarnate, lived and taught in Judea, Samaria, and Galilee; it was not sufficient that He was betrayed, blasphemed, and beaten, that He was nailed to the cross and died for us on Calvary; He had to rise again to show that on the accursed tree it was God who suffered and expired for men; that the sacrifice of Christ for the sins of the world had been accepted by His heavenly Father.

How reassuring Easter ought to be for every one of us as we remember the cross and behold the open grave! The crucified Christ is risen! He has proved Himself our God! He has sealed the forgiveness of all our sins! He has destroyed the power of hell forever! No wonder that in the early Church Easter was the day of supreme joy, the sacred occasion on which new and spotless clothing was worn to signify the garments of Christ’s righteousness that His resurrection offers! No wonder that on Easter converts flocked to those first churches for baptism! May the Holy Spirit strengthen many of you with discerning vision by which you see what an all-glorious, all-powerful, all-merciful Savior our Jesus is, since He lives to keep every promise His love has made! God grant that above the finery of the Easter parade we may be blessed with the inner beauty of a holy trust in His resurrection; that beyond all the Easter flowers we may discern His radiant grace as our ever-living Savior!

When the rebellion against Christ was at its height in Russia, so a traveler recounts, a lecturer attacked Christianity as capitalistic, degrading, and destructive to public welfare. He was so satisfied with the force of his arguments that he paused impressively and challenged the audience to contradict his statements. At first no one replied, but suddenly a young man stepped forward and spoke only these three words, the customary Russian greeting for Easter morning: “Christ is risen!” The answer electrified the audience, and as one man they rose to reply in the usual manner: “He is risen indeed!” The resurrected Christ shattered all antichristian arguments. Similarly you can answer any challenge of unbelief with the same pledge of power: “Christ is risen!” If your sins disturb and distress you; if your conscience prods you, doubt assails you, temptation seeks to entice you, weariness overtakes you, Satan accuses you, repulse all this by insisting: “Christ is risen”; and as your faith answers: “He is risen indeed!” you will know the all­conquering assurance of His resurrection.

II

EASTER PROMISES A GLORIOUS RESURRECTION WITH CHRIST

With this conviction we can find the surpassing glory of the Easter evangel in the promise of our text that we are “risen with Christ,” that, standing before the open grave, He speaks this heavenly comfort into our souls: “Because I live, ye shall live also.”

How terrifying the thought of death without Christ! A few swift years of uncertain existence, and before we realize it, the one life that we have to live, often overcrowded with sorrow and injustice, comes to an end. Death, which ruthlessly tears husband and wife apart, cruelly separates parents from children, snatches a bride from her beloved one only a few hours before the wedding; death, which suddenly robs the family of its provider and support, tauntingly passes a cripple suffering through long years of pain but cuts off a promising young life in the midst of its achieving happiness,—this black, irresistible, crushing death haunts every mortal as the specter of his own defeat and destruction.

Frantically have men sought escape from the skeletal hand that writes the end to every human hope. We try to lengthen life by checking disease, controlling diet, living rationally; but despite the splendid results attained by medical science the average life span is not much longer today than in the last generation; and the distressing rise of accidental death reduces the gains recorded by scientific advance. Millions turn from science to superstition as they search for a solution to the mystery of the grave among spiritists and impostors, who make money from the despair over death that crushes many souls. They inquire of naturalists and philosophers, historians and biologists; but none of these has ever come back from the dead. In the suspense of ignorance where human reason always deserts men and women as they ask what will happen when their hearts stop beating, their senses fail, and their last breath leaves them, in that impenetrable blackness men face eternity with a terror which knows no bounds. Almost two billion human beings populate the globe today, and within the next fifty or sixty years most of these two thousand million will be snatched away by death. What mass destruction! What universal grief! What terror cringing before the inevitable judgment with its punishment for unforgiven sin! Take all the misery and pain with which agony, sickness, poverty, accident, disappointment, can burden life; and though they be multiplied a thousand times, yet in their total they are only petty annoyances in comparison with what men fear in death.

Oh, that on Easter the myriads who quiver and quake before the thought of the end, who grovel in the most abject terror before the coming retribution that awaits all, regardless of position, wealth, power, and learning, would believe that through faith in Christ’s resurrection they are “risen with Christ”; that death no longer has dominion over them; that their bodies, though destroyed by decay, will be recreated in a new resurrection glory! When you have the triumphant faith which repeats this Easter conviction: “Risen with Christ! Risen with Christ!” you realize that, no matter what unbelieving men may say, you are more than a human accident, a helpless plaything of fate, finally destined to be cast on the age-old rubbish heap of human failure. Let atheism deny it, skepticism question it, the worldliness in modern pulpits ridicule it,—and I pause to say that in his recent book on Honesty Dr. Cabot openly declares that, while the members of a large denomination, which I will not name, regularly repeat the words of the Third Article “I believe . . . in the resurrection of the body,” he does not know one member of that large church group which accepts the bodily resurrection,—here is God’s own truth for Easter: Our Savior loved us with the unfathomably deep devotion that led Him to assume all our sins, responsible as they are for death and decay, suffer their appalling punishment, die on the cross the death that we deserve, and then, at the empty grave, show us the life we, too, can have through faith in Him.

If the anniversary of the Savior’s death brings you to this assurance, you know that, though you, too, must die and your body decompose in the grave, through Christ you are more than a handful of clay, an urnful of ashes, a drift of dust; that your body will be revivified into newness of life and heavenly glory. Keep this truth as your Easter blessing, you of weak and sickly frame, you with crippled members and amputated limbs, you with consuming sickness and incurable disease,—through Christ your broken bodies, committed to the earth, will come forth in heavenly perfection on the glorious day of resurrection, even as Christ bodily rose from His grave!

What complete comfort those who are Christ’s can find in the Easter pledge that they are risen with Him! How earnestly we should strive to understand, as far as this is humanly possible, the blessed promise of eternal life with Jesus, where every sorrow earth knows will be completely banished, every problem solved, every burden removed, every wound healed, every question answered, and every moment of that eternity filled with indescribable joy, unspeakable peace, unutterable glory—all in the heavenly presence of an ever-living Savior! If only we could detach ourselves from the gripping love of this world and know the radiance of living with Jesus, we would not cling so tenaciously to every moment of life nor fear death as a horrifying specter. We would welcome the hour of release when Jesus comes to take us home.

Seventy-four years ago this nation witnessed the saddest Easter in all its history. It was the day after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Throughout the land deep­seated grief threatened to banish all resurrection rejoicing. Many pastors laid aside the sermon they had prepared on Christ’s victory over death; instead they preached dark and indignant messages. In our own sorrows of bereavement we, too, are often earth-bound and refuse to believe that “to be with Christ . . . is far better.” In our selfish short-sightedness we charge God with injustice when His love takes a close relative or an esteemed friend home to heaven. Today, when the stone of heaviness is rolled away from our thoughts of sorrow, we ought to catch this radiance of being with Christ; for Easter above all other days is God’s time for comfort and strength in bereavement. If your tears must flow today because your hearts cannot turn from the departure of one who is now asleep in Jesus, let yours be tears of joy that another soul is with the Savior!

III

EASTER ASKS FOR A GLORY-DIRECTED LIFE

Since Easter assures us of our triumph over death and reminds us that through faith we are even now “risen with Christ” and have the beginning of life eternal, so that the death we die is only a momentary change, then, St. Paul reminds us, we ought to “seek those things which are above.” It is the Apostle’s firm claim that just as soon as the sinner is converted to His Savior, he has eternal life and, being “risen with Christ,” enjoys the benedictions of his Savior’s resurrection. As evidence of these everlasting blessings the redeemed have a “newness of life” and must show that they are the eternal children of an everlasting King by their whole regenerated being. Let us not make the mistake of restricting eternal life to the next world. With Christ we have eternity now; for His promise reads: “This is life eternal” (not: This will be life eternal) “that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent.” Since, then, we are twice-born children of God, our desires cannot remain riveted to the things of this life; we must have a glory-directed, heaven-centered hope. Since we are “risen with Christ” and it is only a matter of His good time until we shall be with Him and behold Him face to face, we ought to live as risen disciples, in the love of our resurrected Lord.

Reports from England tell us that the king and queen, in preparation for their journey across the ocean to Canada and the United States, are systematically engaged in studying the history and geography of these two countries. Large maps are pinned to the castle walls, and many books are consulted. King George and his queen want to know the facts concerning the countries which they are to visit.—How much more should those who are Christ’s study the glories of the heavenly realm they will enter through faith in the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ! How much more consistently should we tear our desires away from the world and “seek those things which are above”! We can well profit by the example of Samuel F. B. Morse, inventor of the telegraph, who, as I mentioned in a previous broadcast, spent his last years studying the Scriptures, “because,” as he told his friends, “I like to study the Guidebook to the country to which I am going. I wish to know more and more about it.”

It is here, I know, that most of us feel our weakness; but—praise be to our ever-living Christ!—He will help us reach the higher ways of life! If you ask me pointedly what the risen Christ can do for us in raising our affections from earth to heaven, I answer directly that our Lord of Easter power will help us if only we trust Him, just as He strengthened His own during those forty remarkable days between His resurrection and ascension. Read the accounts of His post-Easter life, and you will see that He comes to His disciples in their sorrow, even though the doors are barred; He removes the doubt from Thomas’s mind as that convinced disciple declares: “My Lord and my God!” He promises His eternal companionship until the end of the world. He warms the hearts of His two grief-stricken followers at Emmaus. He brings peace into the sorrow-torn circle of the Eleven. He unfolds the Scriptures for them in their full, rich meaning. He blesses those who are His and promises them His Holy Spirit.

My fellow-worshipers, all this and more the risen Savior wants to do for those who are risen with Him. I trust that on this Heaven-blessed day many of you, standing aloof from Jesus, depriving your souls of the resurrection joy and strength, will come to the glorified Lord for the forgiveness of your sins, for life eternal and its blessed salvation. Only the risen Christ can save you from your sins and their wages—everlasting death! Only Christ can give you light for the darkness of your dying hour! Only Christ can show you the abundant and joy­crowned life! Only Christ can grant you heaven by His pure mercy, through faith! Come to worship Him, as did the first witnesses of His resurrection, and in eternity you will sing loud hallelujahs to His holy name!

May it be our Easter joy that the ever-living Christ abide with us through life and death itself, until, risen in the resurrection with Him, we no longer need to seek those things which are above, since by faith we have these eternal blessings in the heavenly place, prepared by Jesus in the many mansions of His Father’s house. This, my fellow-redeemed, is our Easter prayer for all of you. May Christ, who has promised to hear us, grant us all this everlasting joy before His heavenly throne, for His name’s sake! Amen.

Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.