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Sunday April 12th
Christ Jesus lay in death’s strong bands
For our offenses given;
But now at God’s right hand He stands
And brings us life from heaven.
Therefore let us joyful be
And sing to God right thankfully
Loud songs of alleluia!
“For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.” Job 19:25
In 1524 Martin Luther wrote the hymn known to us as “Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands,” and we have all seven stanzas of it in Lutheran Service Book. The outline of the first stanza has three points: 1) Christ lying down in death and what it means, 2) Christ arising, or standing, again and what it means, and 3) our response.
First, Christ lay down in death-bands (1st line). And willingly our Lord subjected himself to the dungeon of death. Why did he do this? Because it was the will of his Father that he be given for our sin (2nd line) and become the offering for our offenses. The fact that Christ lay in death’s bands shows that he has been sacrificed, and therefore our sins are forgiven.
Second, Christ has risen again (3rd line). He lay down. He got up. This simple change in Christ’s posture means everything to us. No human being could escape from death’s fetters. When death took us, we would have been forever trapped in its dungeon (see stanza 2). But not so with Jesus. He is no ordinary human being, but is God in the flesh. When death tried to keep Jesus captive, it was up against more than it could handle. As Peter preaches at Pentecost, “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:24). Luther focuses in on Jesus’ domination of death in stanzas three and four.
And what has Jesus done by rising from death? He has brought us life (4th line). The life of man is tied up with the life of Christ. If Jesus had stayed dead, no other man would ever rise from the dead. But since Jesus returned to life after he died, so all flesh shall rise: we who believe in Christ to the resurrection of life, the wicked to the resurrection of judgment (Jn. 5:28-29).
And third, our response is joy and singing and thankfulness to God. The resurrection of Jesus makes us happy, because we no longer need to fear death’s bands. Jesus has burst them for us. Before Christ rose, we were like dead men whose mouths couldn’t sing praise to God. But now that Christ has risen, he has enlivened our mouths to sing: “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise” (Ps. 51:15). And so on Easter we sing Alleluia, “Praise the Lord!”
Lord Jesus, You have forgiven our sins by lying down in death and You have brought us life by rising from the dead. Give us joy this Easter in all that You have done for us. Amen.