Easter 6, May 26, 2019
The Easter Signs
Text: Acts 16:9–15
Signs, signs, everywhere a sign. (Blocking up the scenery, breaking my mind…) This is a line from a song in my youth. Does anyone remember the name of the group? (Five Man Electrical Band) Now we still see a lot of signs, yes? “No shirt, no shoes, no service.” “Don’t walk on the grass.” “Do not disturb.” There are signs we really don’t like: “Speed Limit 60,” “Limit One Per Customer,” “Limited Time Only.” We dislike them because they limit us. We want life to be without boundaries. We want to be free. We dislike anything that puts limits on us, right?
And then there are signs we want to see. For example, if we or a loved one is sick, we desperately look for a sign of improvement—a sign that things are going to get better. People look for signs in their relationships. “Does she like/love me? Should I get more serious in this relationship?” People looking for work; they’re looking for a sign the economy is growing.
And what about the signs in our church? For example, how do you know it’s Easter Sunday? What are the signs? There’s the aroma of Easter lilies and Easter breakfast. There’s the sound of choirs and people saying, “The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed!” You see Easter dresses and Easter ties and a church that’s full. Maybe you even see people you haven’t seen since Christmas. Then Easter goes. How do you know? The aromas and sounds of Easter are no more. Attendance drops. Life returns to what we call normal.
But wait! Is that all there is? Are we really thinking the effect of Easter has come and gone? No. Not today. God’s Word is filled with Easter signs, and today we see them in a woman named Lydia. Today we are going to talk about how the Conversion of Lydia Is A Sign of the Power of Jesus Christ’s Resurrection.
It’s time to meet Lydia. We read: “And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods” (vv 13–14).
What do we learn here? We get a couple of clues that tell us about this woman, Lydia. We learn that Lydia was from the city of Thyatira. This small city in Asia Minor was a commercial center, especially known for its rich crops and its production of purple dye. Logically enough, then, Lydia was a dealer in purple cloth. Purple cloth was costly and purchased primarily by the nobility. These clues tell us that Lydia was probably a businesswoman of some wealth. Are these signs of Easter? Well, no. The color is wrong, and there’s no hint of the resurrection.
But the text also says that Lydia was “a worshiper of God” (v 14). “Worshiper of God” is a term that was often used as a sign for Gentiles who believed in the Jewish God, Yahweh. However, although they believed in God, they were not yet believers in Christ. Is this a sign of Easter? No, but we’re getting closer.
We continue. The text says: “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul” (v 14). We don’t know what Paul said, but he certainly shared the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It would include what we confess in the Creed. It would be a message that Jesus had died on the cross for her and rose, of the victory of Easter and life for all who believe. And through God’s divine work, she paid attention! The Holy Spirit did what the Holy Spirit does. She heard! Her heart was opened!
But that’s not all! Notice she didn’t waste any time getting baptized along with the members of her household. Surely, that was a sign. In Lydia’s Baptism, she was united in Christ’s death and resurrection (Rom 6:3–5). Faith was there. Salvation was hers.
It didn’t stop there. Faith produced fruit. She begged Paul to allow her to host the missionaries in her home: “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay” (v 15). And the text says, “She prevailed upon us.” Her new faith simply wouldn’t allow her not to express it in works of kindness. Later we even see Paul returning to stay with Lydia—who was obviously an active member of the church.
What we see in Lydia is just how powerful the message of Easter is— it brings life and salvation! We see the signs! We see an open heart that hears the Word and receives the gifts from the Word and Baptism to create faith. Then we see evidence of that faith in good works—the hospitality she offers to Paul and his companions.
God calls. God opens hearts. God creates faith, and God leads us to serve. These are the signs of Easter, and these are things that show us the work of the Holy Spirit as we confess in the catechism: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith” (explanation of the Second Article).
Lydia was a miracle of God’s wondrous love and proof positive that the effects of Easter go on past Easter Sunday. But let’s not stop with Lydia. You, too, are a sign. The fact that you are here is a sign of Easter, a sign of faith, a sign that life goes on living in hearts and voices.
Maybe right now, though, you don’t feel like much of a sign. Maybe the effect of Easter left you. This would be the work of the devil himself. He aims to steal your victory and lead you to hopelessness. If possible, his goal is to turn your eyes from the empty tomb and turn them inward to yourself and your worldly desires. The devil wants you to think that what is said in the Bible is not true. You might see crime on the news, or disasters, or terrorism. You might see evil in the world and think that God has abandoned us. Is it any wonder that many churches grow quiet and lifeless forty (35) days after the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection? It is my prayer, right now, that that is not the case here. Every Sunday here is an Easter Sunday, right?
Christ died and rose for you! Every Sunday, God prepares hearts through Confession and Absolution. Forgiveness is received. Hearts are made ready for the proclamation of God’s Word, and the Holy Spirit works in this Word to build faith. It happens each and every Sunday despite Satan’s attempt to mislead and distract us. But still, God works in other means too, in Baptism and the Holy Supper. Like Lydia, our hearts are opened, and through the power of the Spirit, faith is strengthened.
And then, too, as with Lydia, faith produces fruit: hands that serve, voices that proclaim, arms that comfort and provide, and legs that take us where we need to be. The Gospel of Christ crucified and risen has this effect. The victory of the empty grave lives on and on.
Clearly, there is no way to silence the effect of Easter. It goes on because Jesus lives, and because He lives, we live also.
As new folks continue to come here and visit, it is my prayer that they, that anyone who comes here, sees signs of Easter every Sunday. Jesus lives, and, as He lives, it is still appropriate to say: The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed!
In Jesus’ Name.
Adapted from Material in Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 29, Part 2.