The concentration camp at Dachau was liberated on a Sunday in April, 1945. One week later, Greek and Serbian Orthodox prisoners celebrated Easter in the camp Barracks. Priests wore make-shift vestments over their blue and white striped prison uniform. They sang the liturgy, read the Scriptures, and even recited a sermon by St. John Chrysostom, all without texts, all completely from memory.
During their long years of captivity, abuse, and neglect, the prisoners had never forgotten Christ’s resurrection victory over death, and that set them free from death, as well. Whatever might have happened, they always believed that Easter had a special and powerful meaning for them. Today, a Russian Orthodox chapel at the Dachau Memorial houses an icon of the resurrected Christ leading the prisoners out of the camp gate.
Every Sunday is a celebration of Easter, of Christ’s glorious resurrection victory over sin, death, and the devil. But today, the Last Sunday of the Church year, is especially so, because this day, the Last Sunday, shows us where Easter is headed. The Easter that we celebrate brought forth the firstfruit – Jesus, brought back to life from the grave. He died on the cross while satisfying His Father’s righteous wrath against our sins.
In the Old Testament, God’s people brought to the Temple their “firstfruits,” the very first portion of the harvest. They knew that the rest of the harvest was coming. The “firstfruit” given to the Lord was the first of many blesings that God would place in their hands.
In the same way Jesus was raised from the dead to assure believers that all who have died will be raised to life on that last day and great “Day of the Lord.” All flesh will be raised and reunited with their souls. They will then stand before Christ for final judgment. Those who belong to Christ will be gathered into one area, and unbelievers gathered into another. Christ’s resurrection was the ‘firstfruit’ of what believers will experience.
Sin and death became a reality when Adam and Eve disobeyed God. So God sent His Son to defeat sin and death by His own suffering and death on the cross. In Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, we become one with Christ, His cross indelibly imprinted on us.
We belong to Christ. His resurrection was just the beginning, and gives us certainty and hope that the full harvest, resurrection and eternal life for all who believe, is coming.
On that day we’ll see with our own eyes that Jesus has in fact destroyed sin and death. We’ll see Christ’s absolute power and authority over the devil and all his demons. But sadly, we will also hear Him say to many people, “You present yourself here today on the basis of your good deeds in life, but everything you have to show me that is stained with sin. You stand condemned in your sins.”
For Christ, His mission is complete. Our greatest enemies, sin, death, and the devil have all been defeated. They will be laid at His Father’s feet. All believers will be gathered together to receive their eternal rewards, and all unbelievers will be gathered together to receive their eternal punishment. We will all submit to Christ, and Christ will submit to His Father in Heaven. For Jesus, His mission has been completed. We will be given a new heaven and earth and there, God will be our “all in all.” Verse 24 tells us, “Then comes the end, when Christ delivers the Kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.” This sinless perfection is where Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, Christmas and Easter have brought you.
Faith and trust in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is all that you need. He is the first-fruits of all those who have fallen asleep, and we follow Him. Christ, crucified and risen, gives us absolute assurance in our own resurrection and eternal life. Jesus promised you that He has prepared a place for you with Himself, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit. On this Last Sunday of the Church year, I wish you an amazing and joy-filled eternity! Amen.