John of Damascus writes a beautiful Easter hymn (LSB 487), called “Come, You Faithful, Raise the Strain.” The hymn is glorious as it depicts God’s wonderful plan to bring His holy people into joy from sadness. I’ve used the first stanza to drive home the story of the drowning of Pharaoh and his whole army in the Red Sea (what’s most magnificent is that the sea floor was dry ground for the Israelites and mud for the Egyptians). But nothing tops the fourth stanza:
Our Lord Jesus Christ is the first born of the dead. Nothing was capable of holding him. Death couldn’t chain him, the tomb couldn’t sting him, the devil couldn’t defeat him. Now he reigns over every enemy. The immortal becomes mortal to save mortality and then defeats death so that he becomes immortal. Oh glorious Lord Jesus. You make all things new by your cross. Through your blood we have been made immortal. Death no longer has any mastery. Alleluia! Now we cry to our King immortal. Jesus, triumphant, burst the bars of the tomb’s dark portal. Come, you faithful, raise the strain of triumphant gladness! God has brought you into joy from sadness!
They believed in the resurrection, but they didn’t think that it was now. They expected a dead body in Lazarus’s tomb and they expected a dead body in Jesus’ tomb. But the time was exactly right for the reign of death to end that morning (St. Paul says, “the fullness of time”). Instead of what they expected, they got an ear full from angels. “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” Everything has been turned on its nose. The reign of death is over and the reign of life has begun. This Jesus can’t be in the grave. He is alive and alive is not right for tombs. “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” Ah, yes, all of the Law is completed in this Jesus and all that the Prophets spoke concerning him pointed to this day. This is the long awaited Messiah. This is the one promised in the Garden of Eden that would crush the head of the ancient serpent. Alleluia, the resurrection is now, the resurrection is for you. Alleluia, Jesus is alive and he gives eternal life, his life, to you. So let us meditate on the word of the Law and the Prophets. Let’s ruminate on the stories of the One who conquered death and the devil. Let us rejoice in the resurrection now applied to us in our baptism. Alleluia! Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!
The context of our faith conversations are slightly skewed. It’s not that we have a God that has the power to conquer death. That is a given. Is he a powerful God or is he just a figment of the weak and sinful heart, like idols made with human hands…they have mouths but cannot talk, etc.? (And when we introduce this doubt, and I mean us – Christians, we don’t destroy the sacred. God continues to be what he is despite our doubting and even in the face of our doubts.)
It’s not that we have a God that talks absolutes and declares eternal truths. That too is true and a given. What we so easily miss is that we have a God that HAS conquered death by his very own death.
What are those eternal truths?? What is his power we talk about? He isn’t a God that is made with human hands or human hearts, he is a God that is eternal – that has become the man that by his own crucifixion saves sinners. The creator has taken on creation. God, the creator of all things, has become Man, born of the Virgin Mary. He came to redeem the created. He died to save you from sin and death and the devil. And that God conquered death. He conquered your death and now you are alive in him.
Now you find yourself in the context of a living God-Man, Jesus. You are one of his many members and he is your head. He has mastery over death and he will die no more… which means you too will dwell with him.