+ In Nomine Jesu +
Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! "This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it." Our hope in life is well founded, built on Christ's epic battle with sin, death and the devil and His ultimate victory over all three. Shouts of joy resound in the tents of the righteous! Christ met our enemy head on and He emerged triumphant! "Mighty Victim from the sky, hell's fierce powers beneath You lie; You have conquered in the fight, You have brought us life and light. Alleluia!"
These, my friends, are the sounds of Easter and, for the Christian, every day is Easter! And yet, from the heart and core of our faith, from the sublime, we are so easily thrust into the ordinary and the mundane details of life.
In dealing with the ordinary and mundane, some people jokingly say, "It's a good day when you open the paper and you don't find your name in the obituaries." Some of us, I guess especially as we get older, have a habit of starting our day by flipping through the obituaries, not necessarily looking for our own name, but, for the names of those we might know. Finding a friend's name there is stark reminder of our own mortality, especially if they were pretty close to us in age. It's also a test, in a way, of our conviction, of our trust in the fact that Christ has defeated death for us and that, for us, every day is Easter.
I have right here in my hands this morning's obituary section from the Galveston Daily News. You'll all be glad to know that none of you are listed here this morning. There are, however, obituaries listed, women and men. With each name there are numerous other people thrust into the unenviable position of dealing with the reality of death over this Easter weekend.
By and large, obituaries generally offer a pretty glowing reflection of the deceased, don't they? I mean, I personally have never read one that said something like, "Joe, or John died and boy was he a mess!" Joe or John may have actually been a mess, but, the obituary won't generally say so. Obituaries are written to put the best construction on things and, besides, it doesn't really seem proper, nor would it serve much of a purpose to beat a dead horse, so to speak.
I wonder though what these people's hope was in life. Did they believe in God? Or, more to the point, did they believe in Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection for them? Do their loved ones grieve today, as those who have no hope, or, do they find, even in death, solace and peace, knowing that they will see their loved one again on the day of the resurrection of all flesh?
As much as it may seem like a negative thing to transition this morning from hopeful shouts of victory that are ours in Christ, to the mournful reality of death, the truth is I've never really figured out how to preach an Easter message without considering death! I mean, death is real! In fact, it's one of the only certainties we face in life, the other being taxes, which reminds me, I haven't even looked at our taxes yet for last year! But, I digress.
Death is, as God's Prophet tells us, "the vale that covers all of us." It is the dark cloud that hovers and sometimes smothers. It is the one unknown that can change our plans, even our hopes and dreams, in the blink of an eye. While our stories are all different, one thing we have in common…our mortality!
I would suggest that you can't really appreciate Easter's significance without contemplating death. After-all, Easter is God's answer to the grave! Since Jesus rose in victory over death, since death's fingers, if you will, were pried open and forced to release their prey, you and I have hope, hope that transcends death and the grave, hope that enables us to contemplate our demise without being gripped by paralyzing fear.
The two Mary's, Magdalene and the mother of James and Salome, went to the tomb on that first Easter morning to face death. They took spices with them, indicating that they fully expected to anoint Jesus' lifeless body. It was their burial custom.
This wasn't a happy day for them. They're hearts were filled with all sorts of concerns, not the least of which was the question of how they were going to get inside of the tomb. What did Jesus' death mean in terms of everything He taught, everything He did and said? Was it all meaningless!? Did His death render His life and ministry null and void!? The two Mary's, by God's grace, had put their hope and trust in Jesus and He was dead!! What would they do after they anointed His body? What would they do tomorrow, or, the next day?
Most of you are probably aware that there is an alternate ending to the Mark's Gospel. What you heard this morning is the shorter ending. There is also a longer ending. This shorter ending has the two Mary's leaving the empty tomb "trembling, astonished and afraid." Some find that post Easter description of the women a bit unsatisfying, preferring, I suppose a more joyful reaction. For us, supposing the two women were Lutherans, they should have looked at one another, one saying "Christ is Risen!" And the other saying, "He is Risen Indeed!" But, it didn't happen that way. Rather, they left the tomb "trembling, astonished and afraid."
Their experience though is not unlike ours in dealing with death. The man sitting by the side of the tomb said "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." The two Mary's faced death and they were alarmed. They were afraid. They weren't sure what the future held for them. The only thing that would give them hope, the hope they needed to go on, was the truth. And that is precisely the truth declared to them. Jesus had risen from the dead. He wasn't there!
Perhaps it took them awhile to grasp, to wrap their hearts and minds around the fact that Jesus' had risen from the dead. Does it not take us awhile to grasp the Easter message too!? Martin Luther, having pondered the facts of Easter, once said: "One can never speak of Easter without rising to his feet. The sanctuary is never so cramped and crowded as it is on Easter day. Hearing its message and assurances is like Jacob hearing that Joseph was still alive. It is almost incredible. It appears too good to be true."
Death is so real! Resurrection from the dead seems nearly impossible. And yet, in Christ, having been cleansed by the blood of His cross and made heirs of His kingdom, it is the latter that is truly real, while the former is but an illusion. "I am the resurrection and the life, says Jesus. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die."
Many of us will probably check the obituaries again tomorrow. If any of our names should happen to be there, the rest of us will grieve. Those of us who are living, that is! But, we won't grieve as those who have no hope. We are, after-all, Easter people, people of the resurrection! Easter, more than a time for families to gather and for sort of a vague celebration of the renewal of life, actually means something to us! "Death has been swallowed up in victory!" Almighty God, crucified and raised from the dead, has made you a promise!
"Now no more can death appall,
Now no more the grave enthrall;
You have opened paradise,
And Your saints in You shall rise.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +
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