St. Matthew 28:1-10
Easter, April 20, 2014
Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed!) Alleluia!
Beloved in the Lord,
Going to the Tomb (in sadness)
We’ve all walked where these women in our text have walked. We’ve watched the men carry the casket and set it in place. We’ve gathered round about the pit with family, friends and loved ones. We’ve wept and we’ve prayed and we’ve longed for more; more time, more words, more smiles, more hugs. We’ve faced the grave and walked away leaving our loved ones behind. We’ve looked at death through teary eyes and wondered when the curse will be broken, if ever, if at all. Will we see them again? What is said of our loved ones will someday be said of us. We too shall face death and want more; more time, more health, more life. Death always leaves us wanting more because death takes from us our beloved friends and family.
The Mary Magdalene and the other Mary wanted more. They walked with Jesus to the cross and beheld His passion for them. They followed along as Nicodemus and Joseph took down his body and laid it in a tomb. They had time only to begin the burial preparations. Now, very early on the first day of the week, the day after the Sabbath, they return to finish it, to finally and forever lay their dear friend to rest.
Taking death seriously
We don’t really like this walk that all of us are destined to walk. We don’t like to think about it. We don’t like to reminisce about it. We don’t like to wonder about it or talk about it so much so that we don’t even want to mention its name. Instead we talk about loved ones, “passing on” or “going to a better place” as though the person were simply moving from Columbus, Ohio to Ann Arbor, Michigan and one day we’ll all move there too and live happily ever after. Others speak with less reverence as though old Joe or Irene “kicked the bucket”, “bought the farm”, “bit the dust,” or “assumed room temperature.” But you see, beloved, we create all of these euphemisms because in the depths of our hearts we don’t really want to talk seriously about death.
So rather than take note and take to heart the seriousness of our mortality we make jokes, we avoid funerals, we hush our voices afraid of offending death by speaking its name. Refusing to acknowledge the truth we begin to live a lie. We live a life in which we simply refuse to believe that we and all people will die, and the cause of that death is sin. We don’t want to talk about death because then we’d have to talk about sin. And whenever we talk about sin we always wind up feeling guilty and no one likes to feel guilty so let’s just chit chat about trivial things, things that aren’t important like the weather or sports or things that amuse us like reality tv or the latest blockbuster movie or who Lindsay Lohan or Paris Hilton is sleeping with now. But trivial things cannot spare us the reality of the curse upon creation. “Dust you are and to dust you shall return;” you and your children and your friends and your co-workers and your neighbors and the person sitting next to you this morning and the list will go on and on and on and on. “The wages of sin is death.” The box is occupied because the person in it was a sinner. And so are you.
Facing death in Jesus’ death
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary faced death on Friday. Everyone must face death on Friday before you come to the tomb on Sunday. In fact, everyone must face death in the death of Jesus. For despite all of our efforts to avoid death, ignore death, pretend it doesn’t matter what I believe or how I live, death will still come to me and to my loved ones. How will you face it? And more importantly, how will you survive it. The truth is; you will not survive it unless you follow the one who has survived it first. That means you must follow the One who has died but is risen. And there is only one who has died and is risen. There is only one to follow. All roads do not lead to the same place. All religions are not the same. That one is not Confucius! Confucius is dead and buried! That one is not Buddha, Buddha is dead and buried. It’s not Mohammed because Mohammed is dead and buried. It’s not any of your ancestors or spiritual gurus because if they’re not already they will be both dead and buried. Because all were fellow sinners and sinners cannot even save themselves let alone their followers.
There is only One, beloved, whom Moses and the prophets have written about. There is only One who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and therefore was conceived without sin. There is only One who lived a perfect life and went about doing good to everyone. There is only One who lived without sin, yet at the same time drew near to sinners. He is Jesus and He is the One who knew no sin but became sin so that in His death sin would die. With the death of sin, death itself has lost its sting and the grave its power. Jesus has done for you what you cannot do for yourself. He has taken your eternal destiny seriously. He has loved you with an everlasting love and He has refused to be separated from you on account of your sin. So closely has Jesus drawn near to you and me and all humanity that He Himself has been joined to us, become sinner for us in order to take away sin from us. And so,
Jesus is arrested for you the criminal.
Jesus is condemned for you the guilty one.
Jesus is punished for you.
Jesus is crucified for you.
Jesus dies for you!
Jesus is buried for you.
Take note, beloved! Take it to heart! Take it seriously! There on the cross is your God and your brother in the flesh hanging between you and the wrath of a righteous God for you.
All that He suffers is for you.
All that He surrenders is for you.
All that He speaks,
all that He bleeds,
all that He receives
and all that He does is all for you! How great is the love of God that He would offer up His Son to the pains of the cross and suffer death and burial in order to blaze a pathway back to heaven?!!!!
Hearing the Message (He’s not here. He is risen!)
Bearing your sin in His flesh Jesus defeats sin forever. But the women do not know this? All that they’ve experienced is the darkness of the day. All that they’ve seen and felt is the pangs of death. All that they know is love lost, hearts broken, prayers seemingly unanswered. Therefore, as they walk to the grave they suffer the terrors of the conscience. “Who will role away the stone?” In other words, “Who will let us in?” In answer to their prayers the angel descends and the earth quakes. The guards are seized with fear and tremble in their sandals. The rock is moved. The tomb is open and the tomb is empty! The women approach the abode of death hoping to do for Jesus what is always done for dead loved ones. But something else happens, something unexpected, something never imagined, something remarkably, unexplainably, magnificent! They are given a Word and so are we. “Do not be afraid. I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He’s not here. For He is risen as He said.” The angel preaches the resurrection to these women and to us who walk the path to the grave! Christ is risen we hear them say! The tomb is empty. The grave has lost its sting. Death’s power has been made impotent. And these words have the power to still the anxious heart, to comfort the hurting soul, to give hope to the hopeless and joy to those who grieve. Finally, someone has taken death seriously! Finally someone has taken on the enemy and throttled him into the grave forever. Finally One has come and seized death by the neck, Himself being seized by hand and foot and brow. Finally and forever this One, this Jesus of Nazareth has tackled death into the ground and pummeled death in His own flesh through His own death. Being raised from the dead, having stepped out of the tomb, now walking among the land of the living, Jesus is able to give His resurrection to all who believe on His Name.
Departing the Tomb (in fear and joy)
As we walk the walk of these women making our way to the graves of loved ones, it is often most difficult to depart. No one wants to leave the graveside. No one wants to turn back or turn away. No one wants to go home because home isn’t the same anymore. Often our grief cements us in place until we are compelled to do so, but then most often we return. We visit. We stay and sometimes speak the words we never had opportunity to speak. And if Jesus had remained dead, the women probably would have done the same. There would have been nothing more for them to do than prepare the body and return to their same old routines. Everything would have remained the same – it might have even been worse. For the one whom they had hoped would be Israel’s salvation would still be in the tomb. And a Savior who is still in the tomb isn’t much of a savior. A dead savior is no savior.
But the women aren’t able to finish the burial process. Jesus sort of interrupted that. Thinking they would come face to face with death the women find themselves surprised by joy. What is the source of this joy? The message of the angels. Christ is risen. With Christ risen everything changes. No more same old routine. No more hopeless day in and day out surviving of this life only to lament the “passing on” to the next. No! Everything has changed. Christ is risen! And now they are given a message to tell. These women are not to remain at the tomb in astonishment, they are not to give way to the fascination of this strange sight, they are not stay and to speculate about this thing they had seen and heard, they must do something far more important. They are to go and tell. They are to be evangelists. They are to bring the good news of death’s destruction to those whom God places in their lives through their vocations.
For Mary Magdalene and the other Mary that means going to tell Peter, and James and John and the rest of the 11. For you and me, that means when we’re standing at the foot of a grave, though we mourn, though we cry, though going home might feel empty, we do not depart that place void of good news. The angel’s proclamation echoes through space and time, through voice and song until it reaches our ears on the precipice of eternity. Christ is risen we hear the angel say and so we rejoice. And so we sing. And so we hope. And so we believe. And so we pray and so we trust that someday, whenever the Lord decides, death will become His footstool. And just as He is risen so also will those who believe in Him. We’ll get our fathers back and our mothers back and our children and our husbands and our wives and our friends and all our loved ones who departed this life believing in Jesus Christ for their salvation. We’ll get them back and we’ll get them back in their bodies! This is the true fruit of the resurrection of Jesus. This is what Easter is all about. Death is no more and some day all who believe in Jesus will rise from the dead. The promise is for you and your children and all who afar off.
Being Met by Jesus (in the Sacrament)
But wait, there’s more. The heart always wants more and our God is glad to give. The Women receive the message of the resurrection and the mission to tell others. What they didn’t expect was meeting Jesus along the way. They could have been just as happy with the Easter proclamation but Jesus gives them more. He gives them Himself. He would do the same for you. There is no salvation apart from Jesus. There is no resurrection without Jesus. If you would be saved, you are called to follow and lay hold of Jesus. That’s what Mary Magdalene and the other Mary did along the way. They were met by Jesus and they are greeted by Jesus and they come up to Him and lay hold of His feet and worship Him. To worship Jesus is to receive Jesus. To cling to Jesus. To be where Jesus is. Such was the case then. Such is the case today. Thus the resurrected Christ makes Himself present for you to receive and cling to right here right now. Risen and ascended into heaven Jesus promises to be wherever two or more are gathered in His Name. Being in our midst this morning Jesus is here with a purpose. He’s here to forgive your sins and take away your death. He’s in this place for you hear His voice and receive His resurrection. These are gifts to be given by Him to you received by grace through faith. And faith does not disappoint. Therefore dear Christian approach the altar of your God and lay hold of the resurrection of the body. Feast on His body and drink up His blood. Here is your savior delivering you from the merits of your works and pledging within you the resurrection of your body.
Beloved in the Lord, we’ve all walked the walk of these women in our text. Let us also depart as they do. Let us do so with fear and trembling and great joy. What Christ has done for us and the world completely changes things, completely changes us. Let us therefore be found worshipping Him and Him alone, being met by Him, greeted by Him, and receiving from Him eternal life and salvation. The “more” which our hearts desire is filled up and overflowing with the word of Christ and His resurrection. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!