Christ is risen! HE IS RISEN INDEED! ALLELUIA!
Being emotional is part of the human condition. Emotions are not consistent. We can have really high highs and very low lows. Depending on what is happening in our lives at a given moment, we can be on an emotional roller-coaster. We've all taken that ride. Sometimes it would be nice to be on a more even keel…to be like Spock from "Star Trek." But it is not good. For us whom God created with emotions to suddenly act as if we had none, it would be highly illogical. Even the Lord Himself was emotional: He had compassion on others; He even wept. In the Garden of Gethsemane, He was in bitter agony over what would soon take place, as we recalled a few days ago. Even on the cross, Jesus experienced being abandoned, forsaken, by His own Father. Within hours, the King of the Jews was dead.
We have just gone through one of the busiest weeks in the church year. The eight days of Holy Week began last Sunday, as we celebrated our Lord's triumphal entry into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, and into this His house, coming to us in His body and blood. Just as the crowds did on that first Palm Sunday, we too shouted "Hosanna," singing our Savior's praises. On Maundy Thursday we remembered the night on which He instituted His Supper, the night on which He was betrayed to the chief priests and Pharisees. And on Good Friday, we beheld the Man, Christ Jesus, as Pilate handed Him over to be crucified. A lot has happened in the events of the past week. Within days Jesus went from being cheered to being jeered, from being the Lord of life to being dead on the cross. All of this was far too much for the disciples to bear, and the women who stood at a distance and watched Jesus die had heavy hearts on account of all that had happened.
And so it was on that Sunday morning, the Passover Sabbath now past, that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome (the mother of James and John), went to the tomb to anoint Jesus' body. They were still saddened from what had happened just days before: their Lord and Teacher was crucified, dead, and buried. They came to the tomb looking for the body of a dead Jesus, looking for a stone to roll away from the entrance of the tomb. What they saw was not what they expected; the stone had been rolled back, and an angel appearing in human form was sitting there. Nothing was making sense to the women. They were still grieving their Lord and expected to see His body lying in the tomb. What the saw was an open tomb, an empty tomb, and what appeared to be a young man seated there. As St. Mark notes, the women "were alarmed." If you thought that was enough for them, then, as the saying goes, you ain't seen nothin' yet! What the angel said to them terrified them: "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" (v. 6). At the end of our text, they "fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them…they were afraid" (v. 8). No doubt they were afraid, for dead people are not normally brought back to life. But Lazarus was raised; the Lord raised Him. When Christ died, the tombs of the saints who had gone before were opened, and the dead in the Christ who was to come and who did come in the person of Jesus Christ were raised to life. But no one—and I mean no one—raises himself back to life from death. O ye of little faith, we could say to the women. The Lord says of His life in John 10, "No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again" (Jn. 10:18). The Lord had foretold of His death—and of His resurrection—but the women in their grief could not see past their tears of sorrow.
When we are beset by emotions, things that are not as we think they should be can really mess with our minds. Nothing makes sense, and we become afraid. We get upset. Our emotions get the best of us. There is nothing more powerful in messing us up than death. Death takes a firm grip of our thinking and wages war with our heads. I think of the families of those whose funerals I've conducted over the course of my ministry, and I think of those who have gone on without them, especially as they have come upon their first Easter without their loved ones. My own mind goes back to Easter 2007, the last time my first bride, Beth, was in church alive, her body ravaged by cancer and hair gone from chemotherapy. I assisted the pastor with the communion distribution at the Easter services and had the privilege of giving Beth the blood of Christ, shed for her for the forgiveness of sins. Even as it was truly good, right, and salutary that she was there to receive the forgiveness of sins, I could not help but think how wrong it was that someone so young was so close to death. In a matter of weeks, the day before the Ascension, her body was laid to rest. To this day, my Easter excitement is muted a bit as I recall the images of that holy day five years ago. But I know that I am not alone in my emotions, as many have endured something similar as they have lost loved ones, some closer to Easter, some close to Christmas, some near birthdays and anniversaries, all dates and occasions that hold special places in our lives. And in comes death to wreck everything for us! It leaves a huge hole in our lives, a void we would give almost anything to have filled. But until it's filled, our hearts and minds are filled with doubt, and that doubt turns into fear…fear of the unknown, fear of not knowing how we will get by or move on without those loved ones we don't have in our lives anymore. We are left with memories, when what we really want is our loved ones back. We fear and tremble in that fear. We mourn, and we weep.
We want to know what God is thinking. We want to know what will happen to us. We don't want to live in fear. We don't want to be afraid. There are many other things that cause us to be afraid. Health issues, whether of our loved ones or our own, can create uncertainty or fear, especially when the diagnosis is incomplete or when the prognosis is not good. Finances, or a lack of them, make us worry. Not knowing where we are headed, whether as individuals or as a congregation, find us fearing for the future. The uncertainty of Zion's future, especially without the stability of having a regularly called pastor to serve us for years to come, has certainly caused its own angst among us, leaving us afraid from not knowing how our spiritual needs will be met in the long run. Whatever the reason for our fears, it causes us to focus on ourselves and takes the focus away from the risen Christ. We replace His certainty and victory with our uncertainty and doubt—doubt that can lead us into unbelief, just as it did to Thomas.
Yet while we live in fear and in a world full of fear, we need not fear. We need not be afraid. We do not have a God of uncertainty and doubt. We do have a God of certainty and iron-clad promises. We have a God whose Son has risen from the dead, just as He promised. The message the angel gave the women came from God: "He has risen; He is not here. See the place where they laid Him." The message I give you this holy day has come from God: Christ has risen! He is here! See the place where He comes to us. Behold the cross; it is empty. Christ is no longer there, for He has bled and died to win the forgiveness of your sins and mine. Behold the font; it is where the Holy Spirit enters our hearts through the living waters of Holy Baptism, water made alive through the Word of God, that through Him we would believe in the Word who became flesh, Jesus Christ, into whose death and resurrection we are baptized. Behold the altar; it is where the Lord comes to us in His body and blood, given in, with, and under the bread and wine, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Here we eat the same body He gave and drink the same blood He shed on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins, the same body that died and was laid in the tomb until the third day. Behold the tomb; it is empty, for our Lord is no longer there. He is not there, for He has risen from the dead. By His death He has destroyed death, and by His resurrection He has opened to us the way of everlasting life. Do not be afraid, fellow redeemed, for Christ is here!
Does this mean our lives will be perfect? Not on this side of heaven. We still face sin and struggle with life. But our risen Lord makes our pilgrimage here on earth more bearable. He says, "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? …For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you" (Mt. 6:25, 32-33). To this end, He has sent His Holy Spirit to strengthen our faith in Christ, doing so through Baptism, Absolution, the Word, and the Lord's Supper. He does this so that, by God's grace through our God-given faith in Christ, we would reach the goal of eternal life in heaven, the goal which Job looked forward to, when he said in our Old Testament reading: "For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!" (Job 19: 25-27), just as it happened with those loved ones who have gone before us in the faith. Until then, our Lord gives us strength for the journey, as He desires to feed us this day, "for Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven" (1 Cor. 5:7b-8a), but with the body and blood of Christ—Christ the Victim, Christ the Priest. Alleluia!
Christ is risen! HE IS RISEN INDEED! ALLELUIA! Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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