Date: April 12, 1936
God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. – 1 John 5:11
O Christ, our risen Savior, Thou who on this Easter Day didst prove Thyself the mighty God, the accepted Atonement for all sin, the Conqueror of death, and the Lord of life everlasting: Be with us now as from the far reaches of this mighty congregation we gather in spirit before the open grave. If our hearts are locked in doubt, burst the seal of that unbelief. If our souls are kept from Thee by the restraint of sin, break these bonds of hell. If our lives are dominated by fear or sorrow, remove the great stone of our human weakness and bring us, every one of us, O Lord, down on our knees before Thy risen majesty, to acknowledge Thee in contrite love and confident faith as our God and Savior. Since Thou art risen, teach us to seek those things that are above, so that by the power of Thy resurrection we may find comfort for every agony of life, strength in the hour of death, and above all eternal rest and blessing in heaven. Grant us this abiding Easter joy for Thy mercy and for Thy truth’s sake. Amen.
HOPE-REVIVING, joy-instilling, death-conquering Easter! No other day in the course of the calendar floods the souls of men with such warm rays of cheering faith as does the anniversary of our Savior’s resurrection. From the Church of the Sepulcher at Jerusalem, where the day is soon done, to the craters of the South Sea Islands, where the morning has just broken; from mountain summits to the rims of yawning canyons, where millions have breathlessly awaited the first flash of Easter sunrise; from the Old World, where despite jeering atheism persecuted believers repeat the Easter-greeting, “Christ is risen,” and joyfully respond, “He is risen indeed,” to our New World and its crowded sanctuaries, Christians of every land pay their tribute to this decisive truth, that He whose cold and lifeless body was taken from the cross on Friday rose again on that first and ever-blessed Easter morn.
No other tomb proclaims the deathless message of life that this grave of the Savior’s Arimathean benefactor brings to every trusting heart. The Great Pyramid with its 2,300,000 giant blocks of limestone required the labor of 100,000 workers for at least twenty years; yet in its sand-swept loneliness it marks nothing but the failure of a selfish Pharaoh. In India the Taj Mahal, acclaimed as the most beautiful tomb in all the world, holds the remains of a Mogul emperor and his favorite wife; but this dream in marble leaves no heritage of blessing for India’s downtrodden masses. At Westminster Abbey the British nation has enshrined in honor and gratitude the last resting-place of its illustrious sons; but these heroes and geniuses live on only in memory and solve none of the problems that disturb us in these heavy hours. At Arlington Cemetery the tomb of the unknown soldier commemorates the sacrifices which sent regiments of American youth into horrifying death; but at the unknown and unmarked grave of the risen Christ the world well pauses today to worship Him who conquered sin and hell, death and decay. Here, at Joseph’s sepulcher, the official seal broken, the massive stone rolled away, the military guard prostrate, life and death assume a new meaning. Eternity, vast, immeasurable, inscrutable eternity, becomes a reunion with Christ, a neverending blessing in the prepared places of the heavenly mansions.
To bring this hope of immortality into wavering hearts and to strengthen our confidence in the Savior’s promise of life after death, I ask you to stand
WITH CHRIST AT THE OPEN GRAVE
and to learn the blessing that St. John (First Epistle, chapter 5, verse 11) has recorded in this resurrection promise: “God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.”
“GOD HATH GIVEN TO US ETERNAL LIFE”
I do not propose to argue or debate at length the truth of Christ’s resurrection. The evidence of the empty grave is overwhelming. The ten recorded appearances of the risen Savior, doubtless only a fraction of the evidences granted to His disciples, make the Easter victory one of the best-attested facts of ancient history. The women returning from the sepulcher, the five hundred brethren on the northern mountain, the disciples,—on the Emmaus road, in the upper room, in Galilee and Jerusalem, and finally at His ascension on the Mount of Olives,—all these are unimpeachable witnesses to the fact of the resurrection. If the Easter victory, prophesied in the Old Testament, predicted by the Savior Himself, and recorded in more than a hundred different passages of the New Testament, is not history in the full and literal sense of the term; if the open grave, the multitude of witnesses, and the heaped Scriptural statements do not record the absolute truth, then there can be no assurance of the past; then we can doubt whether the forefathers of this nation ever signed the Declaration of Independence; then we can contest even the more recent events of the World War.
With the writers of the New Testament we cast all doubt aside as we hear the angel challenge: “Why seek ye the Living among the dead?” Rather are we vitally concerned about what St. Paul calls “the power of His resurrection” in our lives. We want to hear once more the sacred truth that by His Easter victory Jesus proved Himself the almighty God; that the open grave endorses and vindicates every act of Christ, every promise of His grace, every anguish of His suffering, every blessing of His death. You and I are destined to return to the dust, whence our race sprang. In God’s time our lifeless remains will be consigned to the grave, and those terrifying words “Ashes to ashes and dust to dust” will sound too plainly the death and decay of our earthly frame. But He who could not be “holden of death” “saw no corruption” and on the third day rebuilt the broken temple of His body to show Himself the Lord of life and death, the God of all power and might.
The open grave means more. When Christ broke the restraint of that sepulcher, He sealed the truth of the ten thousand promises with which His Word cheers and strengthens men’s souls. His Easter triumph was Heaven’s evidence that His atoning blood had not been shed in vain; that the one sacrifice of His holy body for all human sin had not failed of its purpose; that His death, the cross, the grave, were not the end. He “was delivered for our offenses,” the Scriptures proclaim, but they continue to exult: “and was raised again for our justification.” Easter—and let us treasure this truth amid the toys and trivialities of the day, above the questions of clothing and apparel, beyond the beauties of reawaking nature—Easter verifies the forgiveness of every sin; it accepts the Savior’s ransom for our souls; it answers the Good Friday appeal “Father, forgive them” by speaking this peace and pardon to your soul and mine: “Thy sins ARE forgiven.”
With sin removed, the paralyzing grip of death has been broken. Our text summarizes: “God hath given to us eternal life,” and in the light of this promise the Christian knows that his existence is not a flame that can be blown out forever by death; that man is not a cog in a cosmic machine, doomed to quick displacement and ruthless discard; that God, who made men as the masters of creation, did not call us into being so that cruel fate could play with us, mock our best efforts, thwart our ambitions, and then, suddenly cutting the sinews of our strength, cast us on the human scrap-heap. Let atheists deny it; let rebellious spirits protest; let skeptical scientists draw huge question-marks,—here is the truth that defies all gainsaying: “God hath given to us eternal life.”
How I wish for words of living power to draw you in faith toward the blessings of this eternity! Dwarfed and stunted as is our human intellect, we are too often dazed by the glories of the heavenly homeland. But the little we can understand of heaven should make us cherish these pledges of eternity as the most glorious of all blessings. Eternal life! No more sin, but the holiness of the Lord, the pure, stainless robes of white! No more sorrow, but the fulness of supreme joy that “eye hath not seen nor ear heard”! No more strife, but perfect peace and unbroken harmony! No more parting, but the raptured greeting of those who have gone home before us and those who will follow us in that eternal reunion with the “whole family in heaven”! No more unsatisfied longings, no more knowing in part, no more disconsolate “why?” but a seeing face to face, a knowing “even as we are known.” This is the blessedness of eternity! This is the glory of Easter!
You may be a Lazarus, a castaway, sick and sore; but a compensation of blessing awaits you in heaven. You may be a prodigal, feeding on the husks of life, but through Christ you can look for a glorious return to your Father. You may be battered by “the sufferings of this present time”; but when you see your Savior face to face, you will know that all human anguish is “not worthy to be compared with the glory” that will then be revealed in you. You may be shocked by swift disaster and grope for an answer to your adversities. But the Christ who tells us: “What I do thou knowest not now” will give you full and blessed knowledge in the hereafter.
“THIS LIFE IS IN HIS SON”
Our text answers all who ask, “How can I find this eternity?” by the assurance: “This life is in His Son.” The greatest of our treasured blessings is the free gift of God’s love; eternity is not in our power of reasoning nor in human merit or understanding, but in Christ and His compassionate love. If we hear Him promise: “I am the Resurrection and the Life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live,” and believe this with all our hearts; if we read His pledge: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” and with all our souls seek to come to the Father by Him; if, as we listen to the words of His prayer on the night of His betrayal: “This is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hart sent,” and with all our might trust in His atoning love, the blessings of heaven are ours.
We cannot explain our resurrection nor plumb the depth of eternity. But if we stand dismayed by the enigmas of this life, why not trust God for the secrets of the next? We cannot account even for the relatively trivial, everyday mysteries that surround us on all sides. Why, then, should reason balk at the impenetrable truths of the resurrection? If the seed that has been sown by man’s hand decays in the black earth only to sprout forth in new life, why should we not believe that our bodies, created by God for everlasting life, may be sown in corruption only to come forth in incorruption, in new and heavenly existence?
Even if this logic and these pictures do not convince us, remember the words: “This life is in His Son.” We rest our hopes of eternity not on fraudulent slate writings, tilting tables, or weird messages, alleged communications from the next world. We look for the resurrection of the body not because men have always and instinctively believed in a future life; not because, as our philosophies have insisted, there must be beyond the grave a reward for suffering and sorrows, a retribution for injustice and injuries; not even because without this belief in a second life the pillars of virtue and morality would totter and men would descend to the beast in their riot of self-indulgence. We need more for the assurance of life to come than the message of reviving spring, the beauty of flowers blossoming after an ice-bound winter, the symbolism of the butterfly emerging from its cocoon; we must have a stronger foundation for our hopes than ancient yearnings and modem conjectures.
When life hangs by a slender, unraveling thread and eternity looms ahead at but a few moments’ distance, we can find small comfort in the fact that even the Zulus in Africa believed in another world; that the Greeks placed a coin into the mouth of every corpse to pay the fare across the river into eternity; that the Hindus taught the transmigration of the soul; that the Indians buried their dead with arrow-heads and earthen vessels for the happy hunting-ground. When that thread of life snaps, we must have a faith founded on bedrock, a conviction surer than life itself, a truth that can never waver.
This rock-grounded conviction is granted by God’s Son, the risen Christ. So positive and invincible is this fact of eternal life through His resurrection that in His name I promise you: Walk along the shores of the Atlantic, you, Christ’s own, who live on our eastern seaboard, and as the ageless ocean breaks into spray at your feet, know that long after the high seas have subsided and disappeared forever, you will be with your Savior in fulfilment of His promise: “Where I am, there shall also My servant be.” Stand at the foot of the Rockies in our Northwest and in the Canadian highlands, you on the western frontiers who worship the Savior with us; and as you gaze up to these massive monuments, the “everlasting hills,” be assured that long after their granite sides have been pulverized in destruction, you will continue to behold your Savior and to sing the new song before His throne. Step out under the dark heavens on this Easter night, you, my friends, in the four quarters of the land; recall that above you in the all but limitless reaches of the heavens there may be, as science tells us, a thousand million stars or perhaps twice that almost incredible number. Yet, if you have Christ, long after the hosts of these heavenly bodies have run their course and lost their brightness, you will live in heavenly radiance and blend your praise in the eternal hallelujah, “as the voice of many waters and as the voice of mighty thunderings.”—All these blessings in their immeasurable joy and unspeakable bliss are ours, “in His Son” through the power of the risen Christ. As soon as we kneel in full faith to acknowledge the Savior of the pierced side, the riven hands and feet, as Lord and God; as soon as we triumph in the exultant confidence of Job: “I know that my Redeemer liveth,” we can face the annihilation of the grave with this exultant cry: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? . . . Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Yet we must not think of Easter only in terms of the hereafter and in visions of eternity. “As Christ was raised up from the dead,” the apostle reminds us, “so we also should walk in newness of life.” In the First Church, Easter Eve was the most favored time for baptism, and on Easter morning large congregations assembled in new white robes to give evidence of the cleansed heart and the renewed spirit,—the strength and blessings of Easter faith. May the resurrection Gospel today charge sorrowfilled lives with joy as it once cheered the hearts of the women who had come to anoint their Savior! May it supplant doubt with firm and resolute knowledge as it once strengthened wavering Thomas! May it kindle a holy fire within us and fan into flame the love for Christ and His Church as the Easter-message once burned within the hearts of the two grief-stricken disciples who had met their risen Lord on a Palestinian road. May you, baffled, distracted and worn out with weary conflict, come to the open grave and learn that through faith earth’s deep-grained tragedies become but transient gloom; that our “light affliction,” the sieges of enervating sickness, the weakness of old age, the repeated distractions and recurrent dismay, staggering losses and shattering sorrows, and all the burden of grief that we may be called upon to endure, through Christ “worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory”!
The relentless flow of time has brought us with this resurrection Sunday to the close of this season’s broadcasting. How appropriate that we part on the day that pledges reunion forever to those who accept Christ as the ever-living Conqueror of death! The short span of your life and mine, the many intervening miles that separate us, will prevent me from meeting personally the many millions who have worshiped with us. What a privilege it would be to clasp the hands of the tens of thousands who worked and prayed for this Gospel broadcast! But what greater hope and glory to know that by the promise of Easter there will be a far more blessed homecoming! Life holds many uncertainties for us. Who knows the course that our lives may take before these broadcasts are resumed in the fall? Who knows whether in all the fog and shadow of our present pilgrimage you and I will be among the living? But one supreme truth you can know,—this resurrection promise that I ask you to keep in adversity and prosperity, in sickness and health, in waking and sleeping, at home and at work, inside the church and outside, with friend or foe, through life and even death,—this promise of the eternal, unerring Word: “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved,” saved for the eternal Easter, where, pray God, we may all meet in the resurrection and the life everlasting. This I ask in the name, through the grace, and by the promise of Him who “rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.” Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.