31 March 2013 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Mark 16:1-8 (Job 19:23, 1 Cor 15:51-57)
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the Marys went to the tomb that first Easter morning as the sun rose, bearing spices and oils with the intention of slowing down the corruptibility of death. For in our fallen world, bodies break down very quickly upon dying. Our sinful flesh rapidly begins its journey back to dust. And the best we can normally do is to delay the process a bit, or at least cover up the effects long enough to show our respects to the deceased.
In love and respect for their seemingly-defeated Master, they came to perform this one last act of mercy.
But instead, the tables were turned. For it was Jesus who went on the offensive against death, corruption, and decay, not merely in a cosmetic way, but in a cosmic way. It was the risen Lord who has come to perform a universal act of mercy, halting the corruptibility of the Marys and of all believers, by dying for our sins and by rising again to blaze the trail to eternal life. And our Lord Jesus Christ does so in a way that no application of spices and oils could ever do.
For “when the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’”
Death is a formidable foe. But death has been in God’s crosshairs since that fateful day when the serpent overcame humanity by means of a tree. And now, the Lord Jesus, in His own humanity, overcame the serpent by means of the tree of the cross. And indeed, now death is swallowed up in victory.
The Marys discovered to their astonishment (and to their salvation) an empty tomb. In spite of the warnings of the Jews and the military guard of the Romans to appease them, the grave was wide open. There is no force on earth that could contain the Word of God made flesh. The sealing boulder had been rolled away like a pebble. And instead of the decaying body of their crucified friend, they saw an angel in the form of a vibrant youth lounging in a white robe. They were understandably alarmed. The Greek word can also be translated as “astonished” or maybe even more colloquially as “gobsmacked.” This is not what they expected to see when they made that early Sunday morning walk laden down with spices and oils. Not what they expected at all. And their minds were now racing to make some sense of it all.
The angel sitting in his robe says bluntly to them: “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; He is not here. See the place where they laid Him.” Then the angel reminds them that Jesus predicted this all along. And the angel gives them instructions to take this good news to Peter and the disciples – who in turn would take this gospel to the very ends of the earth, their proclamation continuing to reverberate throughout the entire world to this very day.
For we continue to ask rhetorically with St. Paul: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
The spices and the oil were not to be used for embalming on that day, dear friends. Perhaps they were used to prepare a feast instead. The Marys were not to clean and treat a dead body on that day. Instead, their own mortal bodies were given proof that they too would rise because of their Redeemer. For the Marys, and indeed, all believers had “put on immortality” thanks to our Lord’s final and eternal victory over the grave, over corruptibility of the flesh, over sin, and over our ancient serpentine enemy, the devil.
For that is the meaning behind the empty tomb.
“For I know that my Redeemer lives…. In my flesh I shall see God.” Indeed, “death is swallowed up in victory.” In our flesh we shall see God in the flesh, the God who takes flesh, the God who comes to us in His flesh, the God who continues to give us His flesh and blood “for the forgiveness of sins.”
There is nothing more repugnant to the devil, who lacks flesh, than the fleshly Christ who redeems our flesh by offering His own flesh to us fleshly men out of love. Satan has no concept of love, no concept of flesh, and no longer any dominion over us! For in being baptized into Christ, His empty tomb is our empty tomb, His resurrection is our resurrection, and with St. Paul, we cry out: “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” His victory is truly our victory!
Dear brothers and sisters, it is AD 2013, and the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, is still empty. Death is still swallowed up in victory: His victory and our victory. He has taken our punishment once and for all; He has shed His blood to redeem us; He has won the battle for us, and now He gives us His own body and blood as a ransom of our own bodies so that we too might put on the imperishable. He is our Redeemer. He is our Savior. He is our victorious Lord and Master. He has risen, never more to die! And He shares this incorruptibility and eternal life with us by grace, through faith, in His name and by His Word. It belongs to the Marys and it belongs to us!
This is the greatest news of all, dear friends. Jesus has won the battle, and has done so on our behalf. He has triumphed where we and all of our ancestors have failed. He has slammed the door on death itself, and has rolled way the stone that holds us in bondage to sin and beholden to the grave. And as the angel told the Marys, we have no reason to fear: neither death, nor the devil, nor the grave.
Do not be alarmed. He is risen. He is not in the tomb. Death is swallowed up in victory. For I know that my redeemer lives.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
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