|"The Morning of the Resurrection" by Edward Burnes-Jones|
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
There’s something that I noticed about our text this year that I hadn’t thought about before. That happens to pastors once in a while. I’m sure it happens to you, too. Something new jumps out of God’s Word at you that you’ve never seen before. Well, for me, on this text, it was one question: Where are the men? I mean the disciples… the Twelve… the ones who followed Jesus and were taught by Him for those three years? Why are they hiding in the locked room? I know, hindsight is 20/20, but should all of this really have caught them by surprise?
St. Luke tells us of a least three occasions on which Jesus had told His disciples that He would be killed and rise from the dead. In Luke 9:22, Jesus said: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” In Luke 9:44, Jesus said: “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.” And in Luke 18:31-33, Jesus became more specific: “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging Him, they will kill Him, and on the third day He will rise.”
The cross and resurrection are the very purpose for which He came. Jesus makes that very clear. But somehow they missed the point. After all, if they had understood completely what Jesus said the picture would have been quite different, wouldn’t it? If they really understood, they would have been standing there outside the tomb with Jesus’ clothes waiting for Him to walk out of the grave.
Imagine the story: “On the first day of the week, at early dawn, all of Jesus’ disciples went to the tomb, taking Jesus’ clothing with them. When they arrived they rolled the stone away from the grave and waited for Jesus to come out.”
Well, that’s quite a different story isn’t it? And in fact, St. Luke tells us that each time Jesus shared the cross and the resurrection with them, they didn’t understand what He was talking about. It was concealed from them and they were afraid to ask Him what He meant. They did not grasp what was said. Even though Jesus said, “Let these words sink into your ears…” they didn’t let them sink into their ears, and so those words did not penetrate their hearts and minds, either.
But the women weren’t much better. They didn’t really get it either. They didn’t come to see a living Jesus, but to anoint a dead body. That’s why they took the spices that they had prepared. They didn’t remember. All Jesus’ followers—the men and the women—didn’t remember the words that Jesus spoke to them.
Oh, they believed in bodily resurrection. They believed that God would raise all the dead at the end of time. They just didn’t expect a resurrection now. It’s not that Jesus was speaking in code or something. What He said was clear enough. Even His enemies caught it. Sure, they twisted His words completely in their kangaroo court, but they knew what Jesus was really saying. They heard Him say that He would raise this body; that’s why they sealed His tomb and posted the guards. They didn’t want anyone to take His body and say that He had risen from the dead. No, it’s not that Jesus’ words were unclear—just impossible to believe.
Now, before we look down our noses at them, let’s try to put ourselves in their sandals. After all, you and I have the benefit of knowing how the story ends. We are not living it in the moment. So let’s try to see it from their perspective.
Have you ever gone to a funeral and expected the deceased to get up out of his or her casket? No! Death is unforgiving in that way. When it gets a hold of you, you stay dead. That’s why it hurts so much for the ones left behind.
When our loved ones die, we can’t talk to them anymore. We can’t hug them anymore. We can’t laugh and cry with them. We can’t hear their voice or look into their eyes. We can’t share new memories with them. And it’s not just that they are distant, far away. There’s a hole where they were, a big empty space that nothing can fill. That’s death. That’s the pain it causes. That’s the finality of it. That’s what the disciples were feeling on Easter morning. They didn’t expect Jesus to do what He said He’d do. After all, He was dead. How could they believe that He would rise? That’s impossible!
That is exactly the point. What God does in Jesus is so amazing, so much against the way that we think, that it just doesn’t seem possible. Even when we hear it spoken very clearly we just say, “Now that can’t be true.”
It’s right here. We see the women and the disciples doing that very thing. The women go out there before dawn and find an empty grave. They are perplexed. They don’t believe it can possibly be true. “Why would the body be gone? This is where we saw them put Him. He should be here.”
But thank God, He does things in ways that we don’t understand. Right there in the middle of their doubt, He sends His angels speak to them. And as the women were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the angels say: “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how He told you, while He was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”
And then it happens. God’s Word works in the women’s hearts. They remembered what Jesus said. Don’t underestimate that word “remember.” It’s the difference between being in the dark and being in the light. It’s the difference between understanding and not understanding. It is in fact Jesus’ words of promise that are spoken to them. It’s God’s Word that creates faith and strengthens faith. And that Word has the power to bring about that which it calls for: “Remember!”
So the women run back and tell the rest of the disciples: “Christ has risen!” Only the disciples did not say “He has risen indeed!” They said, “That’s crazy!” Or words to that effect. Still Peter was curious enough he had to go and check it out for himself. He ran to the tomb. Saw with his own eyes the strips of linen that had wrapped Jesus’ body. But he was still not able to figure it all out, to reconcile it in his mind. He went home marveling at what had happened.
It takes Jesus Himself to get it all sorted out. “Peace to you!” He said, appearing in the upper room. When they still disbelieved for joy, He reminded them, “These are My words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”
So, what this mean for you and me? Well, what about your doubts? Of course you have them. Sometimes while you are standing next to the casket, you wonder if Jesus can really raise your loved ones from death. And sometimes you really are afraid of your own death. I know you’ve had feelings like those, because I’ve had them myself. Just like all of God’s people you wrestle with doubt. At the same time you know that Jesus did rise from the dead. You know His promises are true. So what do you do in times like this?
Remember! Remember what God has told you! Remember what God has given you! Remember who God has made you! Remember what God has promised you! In Holy Baptism you were connected to Jesus in His life and death and resurrection. You were made a child of God and given His holy name. It’s the very first thing we remembered today, isn’t it? “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
That name in the Invocation is the very name you received in your Baptism. That name placed upon you gives you the right and privilege to come into God’s holy presence. In that washing with water and God’s Word, God gave you faith to believe. What you are remembering is that Jesus’ death is for you for the forgiveness of your sins, including your sins of doubt. You are also remembering that just as Christ is raised from the dead, you too will be raised from the dead. Jesus is the firstfruits of the resurrection. He is the new Adam, as Adam brought all of humanity into sin and death, so Christ brings humanity into justification and life. As in Adam all die, so in Christ will all be made alive.
This is the Christian hope. Not that Jesus will fix all our problems or exempt us from the suffering of this life or put a Band-Aid on every hurt that comes along. St. Paul is clear: “If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” And what a pitiful lot we would be if all the Jesus was for us was some kind of heavenly invisible Friend who bails us out of trouble every time we mess up, a Life Coach who help us make better decisions in life.
The empty, open tomb gives us much more to hope. Christ is risen, and in Him the dead will rise! Our last and greatest enemy, death itself, lies conquered, vanquished under the cross-bruised heel of Jesus. The old icons of the resurrection always show Christ standing on the grave, pulling up Adam and Eve from their tombs. The reign of death and grave is ended; the reign of Jesus Christ has begun.
When the women and Peter stepped into that open, empty tomb they were eyewitnesses of the new creation breaking into the old. The old has gone, the new has already come. The darkness of death is ended, the sun has risen and the morning sky is bright with resurrection.
That’s why when you stand at the edge of death in doubt; you also stand there in faith. That’s why we sing hymns like “Jesus lives! The victory’s won!” “Christ the Lord is risen today! Alleluia!” and “I know that my Redeemer lives.” Those hymns are the words of faith, spoken in the face of doubt. Those hymns are hymns of remembering that what God says is true. In the face of doubt, in the face of death, don’t look inside yourself for some kind of inner strength! Remember instead God’s Word of promise to you in Baptism.
Need more? I do! In the face of doubt seek the Lord where He may be found. Here on this altar, the risen Christ comes again. He says to you, take the bread that is His body and eat it. He says to you, take the wine that is His blood and drink it. “Do it and remember me!” Jesus says. What you are remembering is that Jesus’ blood shed and His body broken on the cross are for you, for the forgiveness of your sins. His Sacrament of the Altar is the medicine of immortality, a pure, wholesome, comforting remedy that grants salvation and comfort, that cures you and gives you life in both soul and body.
Through His Word and Sacraments, the risen and ascended Lord Jesus is with you right now and always with His promise of your own resurrection. “See My hands and My feet, that it is I myself. Touch Me, and see,” Jesus said to His disciples that first Easter night. Today, Jesus puts Himself right inside you so you can have no doubts about His promise to you. And right here (in your hands and mouth and ears) He gives you faith to believe.
So our story is a bit different now. Here we are standing at the mouth of the open grave of Jesus Christ. The Lord Has not abandoned His soul to Sheol. He has not let His Holy One see corruption. We do not seek the living among the dead. We do not mourn as those who have no hope. We remember. We remember Christ’s Word. We remember His promise. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
And because Christ died and is risen for you, you are forgiven for all of your sins. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.