“Speaking of Life”
Other Holy Week sermons from Pastor Asburry:
Friday left us in the darkness of death, the valley of the shadow of Christ’s crucifixion and burial. Saturday gave us a day of rest, just as Christ rested in the tomb from His labors of recreating the world. And today? Well, today we come to life, the resurrected life, the new life in Christ’s image. Actually, it all began last evening. In the Biblical way of telling time, the day begins at sundown the evening before—evening and morning, Day One, and so on. So, we just couldn’t wait! We sat in vigil last night … waiting … and then feasting on this new life in Christ. If every Sunday is a little Easter, well then, this Easter Day is a BIG Sunday. Oh, and the celebration is not done at sundown today. No, we keep celebrating this life, we keep speaking of this life, for a whole week of Sundays. In fact, that’s what we do for all of our lives—speak of this new life in Christ.
But that’s not at all what was on the minds of the women. No, they were still dwelling in the shadow of death. Their devotion for their Lord Jesus had to be put on hold while they piously observed the Jewish Passover Sabbath. On Friday they saw their Lord die. They watched where He was buried. They vowed to return to anoint Him properly. While their Master rested in the sleep of death, they rested on the Sabbath day. And when the dawn of the first day of the week came, they went to finish the burial. They intended to anoint Jesus with spices so that the stench of death would not overtake Him.
Little did they know that while they were preoccupied with death, their Lord was already alive again. In their great devotion and in their dire grief, they neglected to think of the large stone until it was too late. Who would roll it away? They knew it was too large and too heavy for them to move.
Now their preoccupation with death should not surprise us. We too are preoccupied with death. How so? Well, for one thing, look at all the diet plans, all the health magazines, and all the fitness gurus. They all promise one thing—a better, healthier life, a life that cheats death, or at least puts death on hold for a few more years. For another thing, look at how we react to any event that even remotely reminds us of death—children getting hurt on the school playground; adults turning to alcohol or drugs to ease the pressures of family and work; or American citizens held captive by ISIS. And another way we are preoccupied with death is viewing death as a savior. Some look to suicide as a solution to the stresses of life in a fallen world. Some view death as relief from debilitating illness or injury. Remember 29-year old Brittany Maynard, seeking “death with dignity” from her brain cancer? And our culture promotes the killing of unborn babies merely to preserve the convenience or careers of the parents.
As the women went to anoint Jesus’ dead body with spices to prevent the stench of death, we find ourselves doing whatever we can to avoid the stench of death. Pass more safety standards for playground equipment. Enact stricter pollution controls. Make sure people don’t eat the wrong kinds of foods. We are preoccupied with death—with avoiding it, ignoring it, and even denying it.
But we cannot avoid death. Just look at the cemetery. The death rate is one per person—always has been, always will be this side of eternity. Ignoring it or denying it is simply living a lie. And the death is not just outside of us, in our circumstances. It’s inside us. The stench of death emanates from within, inside the human heart. Yes, the stench of death begins in each of us, with the jealousies, the anger, the suspicions, and the self-serving motives. You see, the stench of death is what leads each of us to focus on ourselves. But as we gaze inward for answers and solutions, we still find nothing but misplaced priorities and dead ends, that is, death, separation from God, absence of loving and trusting Him.
The women were caught in the cycle grief that first Easter morning. You could say our whole lives are trapped in the cycle of death. The spices that the women wanted to put on Jesus’ corpse couldn’t change His death. The “spices” of our man-made prescriptions for death might smell nice for a while, but they still cannot change the simple fact: we’re all bound for the grave.
“And looking up, [the women] saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large.” Their problem with the tomb of Jesus was taken care of for them. Your problem with your own grave is also taken care of for you. Did the women do anything to move the stone? No. Can you do anything to solve your own death problem? No way. But the stone of your death problem is rolled away for you in Christ, the crucified and risen Savior, the Lord of Life.
“And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe.” The devout women had planned on seeing a crucified corpse, not a vibrant young man. The other Gospels say this was an angel, but Mark says, “young man.” It’s no accident, and no contradiction. After all, what picture does a young man bring but youth, vitality, strength, even life itself? And he was dressed in a long white robe—not ordinary clothing, but the heavenly color of God working His life. Something special was happening here. No dead corpse, but rather a vibrant, vigorous message of God’s handiwork.
The sermon preached by this messenger of life that would put the puzzle together. “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here.” It can be alarming to be rescued from your daily dilemma of death. There is a certain familiarity with the dead world and the self-seeking desires that come from our inner death. But God’s messenger seeks to calm our troubled spirits, to put our fears to rest. You see, life with the living Christ is much better than living as selfish corpses in the world any day!
The young man’s proclamation gives comfort to the women and to us. If you seek Jesus, you seek the crucified Christ. The only true Savior is the One who was handed over to death. But in His death He destroyed death. In our culture many look for spirituality, but they only want a generic religion, a self-made substitute for the real God. The true Savior is the Jesus who died. You cannot have a resurrection without a crucifixion. You cannot grasp the fullness of Easter Sunday without going through Good Friday. It’s a package deal. The Crucified Christ is the Living Lord. The Man of Sorrows and death is the God who brings life and immortality to light.
P: Christ is risen! C: He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
On April 1, 2001, 24 U.S. military men and women were detained and interrogated in China for ten days. Due to a mid-air collision, their plane had to make an emergency landing in Hainan. On April 11, those 24 service men and women were finally set free and sent home. It was big news and their homecoming was broadcast on all the news programs. You could see the pride, the joy, even the exuberance. What a blessing and what a celebration it was to have our service men and women home safe and sound. But that pales in comparison to the victory and the homecoming we have because of Jesus’ resurrection! That ceremony at Whidbey Island, in Washington State, has gone into the history books. But the rich, exuberant celebration of Christ’s new life will go on for eternity, and we, with all believers in Christ, will proudly sing and joyously dance and feast together with Christ for all eternity.
But what about here and now? We aren’t quite to the eternal banquet just yet. Notice what else the young angel-man told the women at the tomb: “But go, tell His disciples and Peter….” These first witnesses to the empty tomb were to speak of Christ’s new life for the world. They were to talk it up with the disciples. And even Peter gets singled out. He who denied Christ would be restored.
In the same way, you are witnesses to Christ’s resurrection life. You have been baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection. Your Baptism joins you to Christ’s new life. You are also partakers of His life in the Lord’s Supper. The very Body that hung lifeless from the cross now gives you eternal life. The very Blood that flowed from His sacred veins in death now pulsates in you to make you alive and keep you alive in Christ. Christ’s resurrected life is your life.
So, how can you keep all this Good News to yourself? Why not joyously speak of life—life in Christ—to people you know? Why not go out of your way to invite your family and friends into the Church, this unique place of Christ’s life for the world? What’s more important for real life—life with God—who wins American Idol, or what Christ has done for you and the world?
You have Good News to tell! The world’s death and your inner death are not the last word. Christ’s new life is! Are you afraid of what other people might think of you, if you “talk religion”? We see what happens to pizzeria owners in Indiana who stand for the life and truth of our risen Savior. We see how, more and more, we Christians are becoming fair game to be hated and despised and threatened. But we still have something—or Someone— the world needs. We have the Lord of Life! We have His forgiveness! We have His new life even now!
So don’t be alarmed. The women were afraid too. But the Bible also tells us that they did indeed tell the disciples. And the disciples couldn’t contain themselves. They also spread the life-giving news: Christ is risen. If you want life, real life, here He is. He will give it to you free.
In a world preoccupied with death, we need some Good News, some news of life. People around us need that same Good News, that same life. In our crucified Christ we also have a Living Lord. And He gives His life for the life of the world. So, as we enjoy the new life given by Christ, let’s also speak of His life for all to enjoy. “Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His steadfast love endures forever” (Ps. 107:1). “For I know that my Redeemer lives” (Job 19:25).
P: Christ is risen! C: He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Pr. Asburry’s other homilies for Holy Week and Easter, 2015: