Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Disciples of our Risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ:
What had Mary Magdalene expected
to see that first Easter morning? What she actually experienced that early dawn
is certainly not what she expected. Nor could Mary have expected what she had
experienced over the past week.
Just seven short days before,
she had entered the holy city of Jerusalem with Jesus and His disciples,
rejoicing with the multitudes and singing great shouts of praise. She came to Jerusalem with the man she had hoped to be the Messiah. She was a witness to the
jubilation of the people and the songs of the children. I am sure she joined in
the singing of the hosannas to the Son of David.
But what had started out so
right quickly went so tragically wrong.
Only five days later, Jesus had
been arrested, tried, and condemned…and a brutal sentence of death had been
carried out. Jesus, the man so many had expected to be their king, had been
crucified, and then hastily buried.
What Mary experienced in the
coolness of that early morning was certainly not what she expected. She
expected to be confronted with the unspeakable reality of Jesus’ death; what
she experienced was the indescribable joy of His triumphant resurrection. What
greeted Mary—and those other women who accompanied her to the tomb—was not what
they expected, even though Jesus Himself had told them what to expect many times
The Gospels of Sts. Matthew, Luke, and Mark each record no
less than three occasions when Jesus warned His disciples and those who
traveled with Him of what was to come. In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus even
predicts His death by a cross.
Even with these warnings and teachings, and even though
they believed Jesus to be “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” (Matthew
16:16 ESV) and even though they were all witnesses to His miraculous power,
they still did not understand what all this meant.
They had hopes of the “wishful thinking” sort, not the real
hope that comes with faith. That means they still doubted, and when Jesus was
crucified, they lost all hope. But when the angels greeted Mary and the other
women who had come to the empty tomb, they gave voice to that truth upon which
our hope of heaven is founded.
St. Paul wrote of the
hope in truth when he recorded in his first epistle to the church in Corinth: “If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to
be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:19 ESV)
If you are a Christian, you know that if Jesus did not
really rise, your faith in Him would indeed be in vain. But you are assured
that your hope is grounded in more than this. For in that same Epistle, Paul
goes on to say: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the
first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a
man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also
in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:20-22, ESV)
The devil, who is the father of lies, would have you
believe that the resurrection story is not true. Indeed, he has convinced most
of the world that the disciples must have stolen the body from the tomb—or that
there is some other explanation. (Matthew 28:13)
Sadly, in some cases, even many of those that call
themselves Christian explain the resurrection as a case of mass hysteria, or
that the resurrection means only the spiritual living on of Jesus as a concept,
not a bodily resurrection. After all, everyone with any worldly sense knows
that the dead do not rise.
But the fact is that the eleven disciples did not steal
Jesus’ body. If people want to use logic and rational deduction, the idea of
them doing that makes even less sense. As the gospel narratives
freely admit, the disciples were too afraid even to come out of hiding (John
20:19). The women, and not the disciples, were the first to go to the tomb. The
disciples did not have the courage necessary to confront the guards at the
grave, much less to overpower them and then break the seal on the entrance of
the tomb and haul Jesus’ body away, leaving the guards unhurt and able to
report back to their superiors.
No, the disciples did not steal the body and then spend the
rest of their lives promoting and perpetuating a lie. No one would face the
hardships of traveling their entire known world, preaching a gospel of faith in
Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, if they didn’t think it was
absolutely true. There are easier, more comfortable ways to make a living.
And, most convincingly, no one would be willing to suffer
for years and then to die, as most of the disciples later did, defending a
hoax. Would you be willing to die a grisly death to defend a myth? Were these
apostles any less rational about the realities of the world than you or me?
The truth remains: Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!
Alleluia! Yes, Satan and those he leads—both demons and humans—have tried to
perpetuate the lie that Jesus did not rise from the dead. Where he has been
unsuccessful with this lie, he has tried to minimize the true reason for the
celebration of Easter.
In much of even the Christian world, Jesus’ resurrection is
pushed aside in favor of the ridiculous. Often the empty tomb and the
flesh-and-blood Jesus who has been given for you is relegated to the back seat
in an Easter celebration of other, far less beneficial meals: colored eggs,
marshmallow chicks, and chocolate bunnies. Rather than an opportunity to point
the world to the cast-off burial cloths of Christ and the cross that led to
them, Easter instead becomes a chance to show off our spring wardrobe ensemble,
so that we can be the center of attention, so that we can be the
grandest in the Easter parade.
In themselves, these other things are not necessarily bad.
They can even be fun and beautiful. When they replace the empty tomb, though—when
they become the primary focus instead of Jesus’ resurrection and the
gift of life it ensures—Satan has won.
Rather than being the celebration of the life God gives,
Easter then becomes merely a welcoming ritual of spring, no more significant
than any pagan holiday or secular observance.
Yes, the devil has tried to minimize the empty tomb, and
with many in the world he has succeeded. As St. Paul writes: “The natural
person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to
him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually
discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14, ESV)
But not so with you. For you know the truth: Christ is
risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
Yes, you know that truth, but was there anything in you
that caused you to believe this truth? The answer is no. Your Old Adam, your
old sinful flesh, cannot, by itself, discern anything spiritual. On its own,
this corrupted flesh has no knowledge of who God is. What’s more, it doesn’t
even desire to do so.
But the answer is also yes…yes in the sense that through
the means of grace—God’s Holy Word and the blessed Sacraments—God calls and
enlightens you and with His Holy Spirit, and dwells within you.
By the strength of God alone, you believe. Mary and the
other women, who came to the tomb with great sadness to confirm Jesus’ death
and to come to grips with it, became instead—with great joy—the first witnesses
to His resurrection. The response of these faithful women at seeing Christ sets
forth the proper response to the risen Lord—worship.
And it is here in this place that this Servant King comes
to you, too, bestowing His life-giving gifts. Here in the worship of your risen
Savior, another great exchange takes place. Jesus Christ brings to you, through
the liturgy and hymns and prayers and preaching of the Church, the treasure He
won in His bloody sacrifice of Good Friday. He gives to you that which you
could not gain for yourself: Peace with our God, and salvation.
Jesus obeyed God’s law perfectly; you do not, and can not.
He pleased His heavenly Father, conforming to the will of God when you could
not. He suffered the punishment for your sins that you could not have carried.
Jesus died for you.
Yes, He died for the sins of all people, the sin of the
whole world, but in doing that, it means He did so specifically and personally
for you, too. Where you were unable to go, He took your place. When you should
have died, He died instead.
Through Jesus you can say, “Look, there’s my name in the
book of life. I have died with Christ. The devil has no claim on me.” When
the father of lies tries to accuse you on Judgment Day, God will say, “Through
a Substitute, my Son, this man, this woman, this child, has died to sin. Be
gone, Satan: You and your power have no claim anymore.”
This is what Jesus has won for you. This is what He gives
to you when you meet Him here in this holy house. In return you give the only
thing you can give; your thanks and praise, your alleluias and amens. We
acknowledge the truth: Christ is risen! He has risen, indeed! Alleluia!
You no longer need fear the grave. You no longer approach
your God with sorrow and trepidation. With Mary Magdalene in the garden that
first Easter dawn, you kneel at the feet of your Savior in prayer and to
receive Him in His Supper. As Isaiah wrote, “He swallowed up death
forever; and the Lord God will
wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take
away from all the earth, for the Lord
has spoken.” (Isaiah 25:8 ESV)
Our Lord’s return at the end of time will be heralded by the
sound of trumpets; music which will signal the last day has come. Here at his
resurrection is the first and decisive blast of God’s great final music. That
final music cannot cease because the score is written by God, and the Lord
writes no unfinished symphonies. As surely as Adam once set a fatal deathward
cadence for mankind, and made all human life an inevitable march toward death,
so surely has Christ reversed that cadence and made it music that shall even
more inevitably surge upward to eternal life.
So with Isaiah you may declare with joy and thanksgiving: “It
will be said on that day, ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him,
that he might save us. This is the Lord;
we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.’” (Isaiah
So now you hear and proclaim the message of Easter: Christ
is risen! He is risen, indeed! And He says to you, “I forgive you all your
sins, and I give you life eternal.” Alleluia!
In the Name of the
Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.