Sermon for Easter – Pr. Joshua Hayes

1 Cor. 15:32

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Shorty before Jesus was born, the pagan Roman poet Horace sang these words about spring and its promise of new life:

The swift hour and the brief prime of the year

   Say to the soul, Thou wast not born for aye.

Thaw follows frost; hard on the heel of spring

   Treads summer sure to die, for hard on hers

Comes autumn with his apples scattering;

   Then back to wintertide, when nothing stirs.

we are dust and dreams.[1]

Horace means that the vibrancy of spring is a false promise. The tulips and daffodils must wilt. The scorch of summer and the dead of winter will come again, even as death comes for us all. For the same reason T. S. Eliot said, “April is the cruelest month.” It promises much, but like life, disappoints.

One could argue that Horace was merely depressed and pessimistic. I doubt it. But at the least he was honest. He lived in a world of slaughter and death, crucifixions and civil war. Having no hope in Christ, he had no hope beyond the grave. “We are dust and dreams,” he said. Or, as the ashes of 40 days ago told us: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” What more can one do, since life is short, but “seize the day”? Those were also Horace’s words: carpe diem, “seize the day.” And even wise king Solomon would agree: “I commend joy, for man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be merry, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun” (Eccl. 8:15).

This is the best human reason has ever done to make sense of life. Make the most of each day, while it is still today. But as Horace knew, and as St. Paul preaches, that is not hope. “If the dead are not raised,” says the apostle, then fine: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Cor. 15:32).

Beloved of the Lord, you live in Horace’s world—a world that is without hope, or rather, full of false hopes. Medicine does not save your dear ones from decay. Princes cannot solve your problems, much less the world’s. Therapists identify your pain but cannot take it away or fix your family. In the face of so much hopelessness you can still hear pagan Horace saying “seize the day.” YOLO. “You only live once,” and then you die.

But that is not hope; it’s despair. That is not joy, but resignation. It’s not freedom from worry but slavery to the now. At best, it means people will keep on chugging along. At worst, it means people will live lives without accountability, doing only what makes them feel good for the moment. For if the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die. No accountability. No hope. No purpose. No promise.

Into a hopeless world comes the trumpet blast of the angelic news: Alleluia. Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed. Alleluia!) He is risen to give us back our dead. He is risen to give us hope and a future. He is risen for the tulip, the daffodil, and the lily. He is risen for those who have no hope and for those who had only false hopes. He is risen to give meaning to our lives and promise to our hearts. Alleluia. Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed. Alleluia!) And I too shall live again, and my life has not all be in vain.

“If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” But the dead shall be raised, because he was raised. Jesus is more than a pick-me-up to help you through the day. The Easter Gospel is not just another call to seize the day, and make the most of it. This is your future and hope. The resurrection of the body is not some Bible factoid but the beating heart of Christianity. It is the hope of Abraham and Isaac, Isaiah, Peter, Paul, and of us all. It’s the hope of knowing that soon full healing will come. Guilt will be gone. Sorrow will cease. Do not focus your prayers on the now to the exclusion of the life to come. Else, St. Paul says, “If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied!”

The prophet Isaiah (22:12–13) records how when Jerusalem was about to be destroyed and its inhabitants slaughtered and enslaved, they partied. Instead of repenting and putting their hope in the Lord, they chose to party like there’s no tomorrow: “In that day the Lord God of hosts called for weeping and mourning, for baldness and wearing sackcloth; and behold, joy and gladness, killing oxen and slaughtering sheep, eating flesh and drinking wine. “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” They saw no hope in the Lord. They saw no end to their situation but death.

Many are like this, partying like there’s no tomorrow, like there’s no resurrection, only dust and dreams. That is not the way to eat and drink. The Lord has another way. A better way. A Jesus way. Instead of eating in despair, Isaiah called people to eat and drink in hope: “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces” (Isa. 25:6–8).

Jesus has done it. He gives his risen flesh for the life of the world. He has beaten death. He has undone our sins. He has brought us back to the Father. He has restored hope.

And you are bearers of that hope. You believe not in platitudes and poets but in the promises of God and of His Christ. You are baptized into more than a generic afterlife of nebulous existence. You are baptized into the body of the risen Christ. Death swallowed him, but could not stomach him. Satan killed him, but could not hold him. In sorrow rejoice. In joy give thanks. In the daily grind of life, take heart. Your life is not in vain. You are not dust and dreams but children of the living God. In the worship of the Holy Trinity life makes sense and has purpose again.

Beloved, Christ has swallowed up death forever, and though we die, yet shall we live. Let us feast in true joy and sure hope. Come. Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we live.

Alleluia. Christ is risen. (He is risen indeed. Alleluia.)

In the Name of the Father, and of the X Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

[1] From A. E. Housman’s rendition of Horace, Odes 4.7.

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