Throughout this Lenten season we have been looking at some of the symbols of Lent, those images or items that remind us of the Lenten season and those symbols or items which help us to prepare our hearts and minds both for Good Friday and for this morning, Easter morning and our Easter, resurrection celebration. The symbol, image or icon we want to talk about this morning is actually the color of our paraments, the color of the Easter Lilies, the color white. Now, let me first say that some churches actually have gold paraments for this day, but I believe white is the best color because white is the color of perfection and holiness. As we heard in our texts, white is the dazzling color of heavenly perfection.
In order to get to today, I want to take us back to Thursday, Maundy Thursday, the day on which our Lord Jesus Christ was betrayed and the day on which He took from the Israelite Passover celebration and gave to us His Holy Supper. Perhaps you remember that at the end of our service on Thursday, following our celebration of the Lord’s Supper, the altar was stripped. The candles were taken out, the altar cross, and all the paraments were removed. We do this altar stripping every year on Maundy Thursday and then on Good Friday we enter a rather bare church.
On Good Friday the altar color is black. Black is the color of darkness and even is the symbol of sin. Truly the color black is the absence of color, of pigment. Black is the color of nothing. If you know about the science of color you know that what you see is not really the color of an object, rather the color you see is the part of the light spectrum that is reflected from the surface while the rest of the color spectrum is absorbed. So, in a very real way, black absorbs all the color and reflects nothing. In much the same way, sin seeks its own fulfilment, absorbing all it can and reflecting nothing.
Black is also the symbol of death. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, man was created from dust and to dust a man shall return. The nothingness of black reminds us of the nothingness of death and even more, apart from Jesus and faith in Jesus we would be lost to an even worse fate than death, physical death, namely, eternal, spiritual death.
And black is the symbol of evil. When Jesus was on the cross and the sky turned to pitch black, it was as if evil had taken over the world. Black is the opposite of white. White is seen as good, black is seen as evil. On Good Friday we watched the darkness and black of sin, death and the devil take over and we watched as Jesus took our sins on Himself and suffered and died to pay the price for our sins.
On the next day, Saturday, we began sitting and waiting. Certainly the Christians at the time of Jesus death had no idea, well, they would have had an idea if they had listened, but they did not understand that Jesus would rise from the dead and so they simply waited. That Saturday, after Jesus death on the previous day, Good Friday, was the day they celebrated as the Sabbath or Day of Rest. And we too, every year, we wait on Saturday.
And on Sunday we celebrate. We celebrate that we worship, not a dead god, nor an idol, but we worship a God who has risen from the dead. We worship a God who defeated sin, death and the power of the devil.
And so the color on our altar today is the color white. White is the color of purity, holiness and sinlessness. White is the color of perfection and when Jesus rose from the dead He rose in perfection, having defeated sin, death and the devil. All our sins, which Jesus took upon Himself have been paid for in full, completely with nothing left to pay.
White is the color of innocense. Jesus was innocent. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, thus He was conceived in perfection. While on this earth living as a human being He never sinned, even once. Following His taking our sins upon Himself, He completely paid the price for our sins so that the account, our debt has been paid in full. He is now again innocent.
The color white reminds us of forgiveness, the fact that our sins have been washed away, but even more the price for our sins has been paid, completely. And not only have our sins been paid for and forgiven, Jesus also robes us in His white robes of righteousness so that when we stand before God the Father, we stand in Jesus’ perfection, actually we stand robed in His perfect white robes of righteousness.
So, what does this mean? God’s demand is perfection, “be perfect as God is perfect.” We cannot be perfect. We are conceived and born in sin. Every inclination of our hearts is evil all the time. Our will has been tainted by sin so that we have no free will, only the will to refuse and reject God and any and all of His good gifts and blessings. We are drawn to the darkness of sin, even drawn to hide from our Lord. So, God sent His Son, Jesus for us. Jesus was perfect. Jesus is God and as God He was in heaven enjoying all the glory that was rightly His in heaven, yet because of His great love for us His creatures, He gave up heaven and all the glory that was His in heaven in order to become a human being, one of His own creatures. At conception, by the power of the Holy Spirit, God took on human form in the person of Jesus being born of a woman, Mary, injecting Himself into human history. As the Gospel writer John puts it, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). And “the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:9). In other words, Jesus, the true light, the light of perfection, was born into our dark sin-filled world.
Jesus lived perfectly, obeying all God’s laws and commands perfectly, for us, because we cannot. Jesus fulfilled all the promises concerning God’s promise to send a Messiah, a Savior. Jesus was perfection for us.
And then, of His own free will, Jesus took our sin upon Himself. Jesus took all our sins and the sins of all people since the beginning of creation and all people as yet to be conceived until the day of judgement. Jesus took all sin, of all people, of all places, of all times upon Himself. He who was without sin, He who knew no sin became sin for us.
And then, Jesus suffered and died, paying the price for sin, eternal spiritual death. The price for sin was set in the beginning. The price for sin was and is death, physical death and apart from Jesus and faith in Jesus it would be eternal spiritual death, hell. Because of His perfection, because of His innocence, Jesus was able and of His own free will suffered the price, paid the price for our sin for us in our place.
But death and the grave had no hold over Him. On the third day Jesus rose from the dead, defeating sin, death and the devil. What Jesus did He did not as an example for us to follow, because we would never be able to follow His example, because of our imperfection. We can never reach up to God, that is why He came down to us. Jesus came down to us to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Jesus did what He did because of His great love for us, because He created us to love us.
And when our last hour arrives, either when the Lord returns or when we pass on from this world and go to Him, at that very moment, Jesus will give us His white robes of righteousness, and perfection. We will be given, not what we deserve, but what He earned and paid for us, eternal life in heaven.
This morning we rejoice and sing. The white reminds us that our future is bright, our future is set. Heaven is our home. We worship a living God.
He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! Amen.