Sunday, April 8, 2012

Robed in Majesty

The Resurrection of Our Lord
Easter Sunrise
Psalm 93:1

One of the simple truths of life is this: People dress for the occasion. You dress one way for work and another for play. One way for church and another way for going out on the town. Sometimes clothing identifies a person, such as a professional athlete, a doctor or nurse, a soldier, or a pastor. Mark Twain once wrote: “Clothing makes the man.” Henry David Thoreau even quipped: “It is an interesting question how far men would retain their relative rank if they were divested of their clothes.”

But clothes are not reserved solely for the living. We also dress those who have died. We put them to rest in some sort of burial clothes. But no matter how nicely we dress up a dead body, they are not clothes of victory, but of defeat. For they are a stark reminder of what once was and now is no more.

We don’t really know anything about how Jesus dressed during His earthly ministry. But we do know how He was clothed at the end of it. King Herod’s men arrayed Jesus in splendid clothing as they treated Him with contempt (Luke 23:11). Pontius Pilate’s men clothed Jesus in a purple cloak as they crowned Him with thorns and mocked Him (Mark 15:17). All of that changed on Golgotha. There Jesus was stripped of all clothing as the four soldiers divided His garments and then cast lots for His seamless tunic. Lifted up on that tree, Jesus hung naked and shamed before God and the world, bearing the sin of the entire human race.

After Jesus died, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus took away His body and prepared it for burial. They wrapped Jesus’ body in linen cloths with myrrh and aloes, and then His face in a separate cloth. Together, these garments were to be Jesus’ final clothing, the clothing of defeat, the clothing of death and burial.

But all of that changes this glorious Easter morning. For on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran to Simon Peter and John and said to them: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.”

Off ran John and Peter to the garden tomb outside the city walls. John, the younger of the two, outran Peter and arrived at the tomb first. It was just as Mary had said. The stone had been rolled away and the grave was empty. He stooped down, looked in, and saw the linen cloths lying there. But he didn’t go in.

Peter didn’t wait. The moment he arrived, he went straight into the tomb. The linen cloths in which Jesus had been wrapped were still lying there. The cloth that covered His head was also there, but folded up in a place by itself. Then John also went it, and he saw and believed.

What John believed was this: No one had taken Jesus away. Had Jesus been moved to a different grave, or been stolen by grave robbers, the linen cloths and face cloth would have gone with Him. No one moves or steals a body, leaves the grave clothes, and then nicely folds up the face cloth in a place by itself. That’s lunacy! John understood this. Though up to this point he did not yet understand the Scripture, that Jesus must rise from the dead, this new evidence helped to convince him that something spectacular had taken place, that Jesus’ body must have been transformed in some way, that God had intervened to help His Son.

It had to be this way, dear friends. For a risen Christ does not need the clothing of defeat, the clothing of death, the clothing of burial. The linen cloths are lying there on the stone slab, and the face cloth is neatly folded up in a place by itself, precisely because Christ has overcome death. Now He adorns Himself with victory, with glory, with strength, with life!

It is for this reason the psalmist once wrote:
“The LORD reigns; He is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed; He has put on strength as His belt.” [Psalm 93:1]
Christ lives and reigns. He is robed in resurrection majesty. And it’s all for you!

That’s important, because you, by nature, are clothed in sin and shame, in weakness and frailty, in death and damnation. In fact, the author of Hebrews writes: “All are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (4:13). Take an honest look at your life and you know this to be true. You look for happiness in all the wrong places: money, toys, fame, and pleasure. You obsess over trivial matters, and trivialize those things that are truly important. You covet what isn’t yours, use words to cut down rather than build up, and even neglect loved ones as you bury yourself in status updates, new apps, and self-serving interests. And what about your spiritual life? Is receiving God’s good gifts in Word and Sacrament your highest priority?

Thanks be to God that He saw your hopeless condition. He saw a world dead in trespasses and sins, clothed in mortality. So He devised a plan to rescue you, to save you, to redeem you, to re-clothe you. He sent His only-begotten Son into your flesh and blood, to take your sin into Himself, and to suffer and die in your place, as your substitute. Jesus didn’t do this for Himself. He did it for you!

And now, in Holy Baptism, He dresses you, from head to toe, in the clothing of His resurrection majesty. By water and His Word, He clothes you not in the shroud of death but in the clothing of His new life and resurrection majesty, making you a beloved child of the Father and a temple of the Holy Spirit. “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27).

Can you think of a greater joy? In Christ, you are a new creation, called out of darkness into God’s marvelous light. So don’t just play lip service to Easter. Don’t just think about it for an hour or two today and then return to your former way of life. Believe it. Live as Easter people, as people for whom Christ shed His blood, as people whom Christ has clothed in His resurrection majesty. Live daily in your baptismal grace. Fill your ears regularly with Christ’s word of absolution. Listen and faithfully take to heart His holy Word. And come to His table at every opportunity to partake of His life-giving body and blood.

And then, when this same Christ returns on the Last Day, adorned in His kingly vestments of victory, in His “robe dipped in blood” (Revelation 19:13), you will be “clothed in white robes” (Revelation 7:9) and enjoy eternity around the throne of this same LORD who reigns forever and ever, robed in majesty.

That is what we celebrate this morning. Forgiveness. Life. Salvation. Peace. Joy. Hope. And new clothing. Yes, new clothing! For it is no longer you who live, but Christ who lives in you. And the life you now live in the flesh you live by faith in the Son of God, who loved you and gave Himself for you (Galatians 2:20). Gaze daily at your Lord, who is now and evermore robed in majesty, and remember that you too have put on Christ. Thus, you no longer wear the clothing of sin and death, but the beautiful vestments of eternal life!

So say it with me:

Alleluia! Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!