Of First Importance

By Paul Koch

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Oh what a glorious day this is! What a day to celebrate, to sing the praises of our God, to gather in worship and rejoice that our Lord has risen from the dead. Gone now are the somber songs of Good Friday. Gone is the weeping at the death of Christ. Today is a day of celebration!

Of all the occasions that we come together, Easter is the pinnacle of them all. We come together to rejoice in young couples getting married. We come together to witness the gift of Holy Baptism. We come together to grieve and mourn at the death of a brother or sister in Christ. And of course we come together for the weekly proclamation of the Word of Christ and the feeding of His forgiveness in, with and under bread and wine. But today, today, we come together to rejoice and celebrate what lies at the heart of it all. Today is about the center of our faith and life together. Today is about getting the first things first; it’s about reclaiming what this is all about. Today we push all the other crap out of the way so that we might focus on what is of first importance.

St. Paul puts it this way in his letter to the church in Corinth; he says, “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” The death of Christ for your sins and His resurrection from the dead in victory over the grave is of first importance. This great work of Christ, done in accordance with the  Scriptures, in accordance with the will and purposes of God, is the heart of our faith. This was the content of the Good News that St. Paul himself had received, and this is what He preached. So today we are reminded of what it is that the church is really all about.

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It is amazing, though, how quickly this first thing can be moved to a secondary position. For that matter, it is often moved to third, fourth, or fifth position, and so on. I mean this is the Good News of our Lord becoming our sin, dying in our place and rising victorious from the grave. It is life changing to say the least. Now look, I don’t think this is necessarily a thought out intentional move. It’s not that we want to move this good news out of that primary spot in our lives, it just seems to happen. Perhaps we just take it for granted because we’ve heard it all before. We know we are saved by Christ alone so we move on to focus on other things. The question of our salvation is answered in the resurrection of Jesus.

So other questions become more important to us. When we are struggling to pay the mortgage or wondering if our car will make it another year we have a tendency to forget what Paul says is of first importance. For that matter, when our lives are filled with worry about our children, when we second guess our choices and are filled with fear, we begin to quickly reprioritize our lives. When you are concerned about your future, about big decisions that will affect your life, when you are overcome with regrets about past choices you’ve made, when you are filled with doubts, it is difficult to stay focused and remember what is the heart of our faith.

Of course the shameful reality is that the churches aren’t much better at keeping the first thing first. Just like our own distracted and worrisome lives, churches have a habit of taking for granted this great gift of our Lord. And in taking it for granted they quickly move on to other things. In fact, it is quite common for people to go to church and hear all about how they can fix their marriage, live a more victorious and fulfilling life, or be a more responsible neighbor and friend. Often times preachers will forget to mention Jesus at all. In the end, we are left like Mary outside the empty tomb saying: “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

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But not today! Today is Easter; today the whole family has gathered together, today we hear again what is of first importance. Christ our Lord has risen from the dead! He who knew no sin did not shy away from your sin. He who was perfect and righteous did not despise your brokenness and failing. No, He became your sin, He embraced your brokenness, and He came right into your life. He bore your failures in His righteousness so that He might clothe you in His garments of freedom. And today He steps victorious from the grip of the grave. Today He stands as an unavoidable light proclaiming what is the heart of our faith.

We gather together because the resurrection of Christ matters. We gather together because in His triumph over the grave a new age has begun for the children of God. An age where His Word and promises continue to break into our lives, they continue to deliver to us the gifts of God. Bearing your sins upon His shoulders did not stop our Lord. Being crucified and buried did not end His work. No, He is risen! He is risen and His work continues. St. Paul declares, “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received.” The Word and promise of Christ’s death and resurrection is what Paul received and that is what he preaches – and so it continues to this very day.

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We gather in celebration, not just for something that happened all those years ago, but because the blessings of that great act of our Lord continues right here and now. We gather because Christ died for your sins. Yes, your sins. The very sins you feel. He died for the sins you have forgotten, and the sins that you are ashamed of, and even the sins you brag about with your friends. Christ died for your sins. And in His resurrection we proclaim that the debt has been paid, freedom in Christ is now to be proclaimed. So I proclaim to you what I also received, that in the victory of Christ you are forgiven all your sins. By the blood of the Lamb the gates of paradise stand wide open for you. You are free!

Now that is cause for celebration! Alleluia, Christ is risen!!

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