Sunday, April 01, 2018

Sermon: Easter Sunday - 2018

1 April 2018

Text: Mark 16:1-8 (Job 19:23-27, 1 Cor 15:51-57)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Our Gospel reading for Easter Sunday, the holiest and most glorious day of the church year, the feast in which we celebrate the victory of our crucified, dead, and buried Lord Jesus Christ who has risen from the dead – our Gospel reading actually ends with the word “afraid.”

The very first people on the planet to get this greatest of all good news in the history of mankind were “afraid.” 

This goes to show you how real, how authentic, our Gospel is.  This natural reaction of the Marys and Salome to this mind-blowing experience wasn’t doctored up.  Their very real human weakness in reacting to the supernatural with “trembling and astonishment” and not speaking to anyone because “they were afraid” truly captures the moment.  The fact that the Evangelist reports the first witnesses of this momentous change in the fabric of the universe being women is also something that a fiction writer would not make up.  For in those days, the testimony of women was considered unreliable.

But God has broken all the rules.  More accurately, He has thrown out the rulebook.  He mocks the rulebook (the rulebook being the way things are supposed to work in this fallen world).  Oh, that’s all done for now.  Death’s reign of terror has ended.  Satan’s tyranny has been abruptly shattered.  Hell’s frightening jaws have been snapped shut.  And starting now, the world is going to be turned upside down.  We are never going back to the way things were. 

In the span of a few minutes, everything changed. 

Think about what the women experienced that Easter morning at the tomb.  As the gloom of night begins to give way to the initial rays of daylight, they sadly trudged their way to the grave of the one Man in whom they had placed all their hope.  They watched Him perform Godlike miracles for three years.  They watched prophecy after prophecy fulfilled.  They saw Him heal the sick, expel the demon, and even raise the dead.  They listened to Him destroy the arguments of the chief priests and scribes and Pharisees.  They watched Him raise up the downcast, forgive the penitent, and preach about the Kingdom of God with authority never before seen, not even in the days of Abraham and Moses. 

They watched Him cheered as King, riding into the Holy City to inaugurate the Kingdom so long awaited by the people.  It was actually happening!

And then they watched Him arrested on false charges.  They watched Him caged like an animal and chained like a slave.  They watched Him being beaten and tortured like an enemy of the state, and condemned to death like a terrorist.  It seemed as if His powers had left Him.  It had all unraveled so quickly.  He was betrayed by one of his disciples.  The rest of them fled.  The one appointed for leadership denied even knowing Him.  His followers were nowhere to be seen.  And His poor mother, living this nightmare in real time!  Then they all watched Him die, nailed to a Roman cross, His body bloodied and misshapen, a monstrous sight as He heaved in agony for each breath.  They could do nothing.  He was finally pierced by a soldier’s spear as blood and cardiac fluid gushed from His side.  His lifeless body was hurried into a tomb so that the people could enjoy the feast of Passover, celebrating lustily with festal roast lamb, with bread and wine and fellowship around a table.  They watched life go on for the evil, while their Lord’s corpse lay in infamy and shame, without even a proper burial.

Not knowing why or how all of this happened, perhaps questioning the reality of the events of the past three years, the women nevertheless did their feminine duty, motivated by love and custom to provide the last dignity to their Master’s body – bringing “spices, so that they might anoint Him.”  Of course, He needed no anointing, as the title “Christ” means Anointed One.  Jesus is already ahead of them, having already risen and begun the First Day of a new and greater week, a new era, the inauguration of eternity.  Even as they are walking and weeping, He is working. 

The stone had already been rolled back, and the tomb has already been transformed from being a sad sepulcher of decay and death into being the epicenter of the good news of life and vibrancy.  At this moment, this is the center of the universe.  The women saw the curious sight of a tomb without a dead body, but with a living creature who appears to be a “young man… dressed in a white robe.”

His job is to be part comforter and part news reporter.  He encourages them not to be alarmed (easy for him to say…).  And then He reports the news, just the facts: “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He has risen; He is not here.”  And to drive the point home, our angelic reporter invites them to examine the tomb for themselves: “See the place where they laid Him.”

And now, our councilor and journalist also becomes a dispatcher.  For there is no time to waste.  The world must hear of this greatest news of all.  “Go” he tells them.  “Go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee.  There you will see Him, just as He told you.”

Our angelic friend cannot help himself but to seemingly inject a little bit of “He told you so” at the very end. 

Mary, Mary, and Salome went from mourning, to puzzling, to being tasked with the most important job in the history of the universe in a matter of minutes.  There will indeed be time for rejoicing, but not yet.  They are still playing catch up.  Their heads are still spinning.  They are still trying to make sense of what is happening.  But how natural and how honest is St. Mark’s Gospel in describing the women as being afraid.

Through their fear, they will faithfully carry this Good News to the men who will carry this same Good News to the ends of the earth.  The testimony of these women will be believed – even by you and me, even by people on every corner of the globe, even by people spanning two millennia.  Joy will replace their fear, as they will see the risen Lord Jesus Christ, even as they will see the spread of this good news of His death and resurrection – as the miracles of Jesus will continue wherever His Word is preached and wherever His sacraments are celebrated.

The fear of the women is not a bad reaction.  Indeed, as we ponder the First Commandment, we are reminded that “we should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”  The Psalmist teaches us that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”  And in their fear, they obey. They become “apostles to the apostles.”  The testimony of these Holy Women will be believed to this very day. 

The world has never been the same since that moment when our Lord rose again, nor since that moment when the first of our human race were told what had happened: one little word changed everything for our human race:  ἠγέρθη – which requires three words in English: “He has risen.”

“He has risen,” dear brothers and sisters!

He has risen, and death has been destroyed.  He has risen, and He continues to deliver His Word to us.  He has risen, and Satan’s counterfeit kingdom has been exposed and derailed.  He has risen, and we are justified by the forgiveness that He won for us at the cross.  He has risen, and so we have hope, and joy, and meaning in our lives.  He has risen, and there is a world in need of this greatest of all good news. 

He has risen, and so shall we!  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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