CHRIST IS RISEN! HE IS RISEN, INDEED! ALLELUIA!
Easter is ours. Easter is reserved for those who come before the Heavenly Father with empty hands, a beggar, and offer nothing but guilt and shame for their sinfulness. Easter is reserved for those who cry out, “Lord, have mercy…” Easter is for those who stood at the foot of the cross just three days ago and looked upon the bloody, beaten body of Jesus Christ and believed that the punishment he bore was really theirs- that Christ was the sacrifice for their sins and the only way that forgiveness would be obtained. Easter is for those who understand the ‘good’ of Good Friday as a gift from the heavenly Father who sent his son to be born of a virgin, to know temptation and sorrow and pain, to be just like us in every way but for sin. Easter is for those who hear Jesus cry from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” and believe that those words were spoken to them, and for them. And Easter is for those who gather at the entrance to a tomb and finding it empty cry out with jubilation, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” And that is why Easter if for those who repent of their sins, seek forgiveness through Christ, and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, trust that Jesus died for them that they might have life.
In this sense, Easter differs from Christmas. The world, which is everything opposed to Christ as St. John likes to use the word, has not captured Easter as it has Christmas. There is no countdown of shopping days until Easter. There are no gaily strung lights up and down main street or hanging from the eaves of homes. There are no special trees in the house, no parties, no cards sent to relatives one thinks of once a year. For most, the build up to Easter is routine, business as usual. Most don’t even get a day off from work.
But it is more than all of this. Everyone can gravitate towards an infant born in the mean conditions of a stable with Mary and Joseph and the lowling cattle. It is peaceful and serene as the angels sing to the shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest…” And most can sing along with the Christmas hymns- “O Little Town of Bethlehem” brings to mind the simple birth of Jesus and its innocence. The candles glow warmly in the sanctuary as we sing “Silent Night.” And don’t forget the presents and food and family!
Of course, there is a build up to Easter. It was marked by the sign of the cross made upon the forehead with ashes and the words, “From dust you came, and to dust you shall return.” These words aren’t calming; not a bit. These words strike the core of our being, that death is the end result of life on this earth and that there is no escape. The ash doesn’t wash off right away but sticks just a bit as a reminder that we have been scarred, and scarred deeply, by sin. Our feeble efforts to judge our sins against those of others, who always sin more of course, means nothing- for we are dust. We have sinned against God and against one another in thought, in word, and in deed. We don’t relish being reminded of that facet of our lives.
The songs of the season don’t play on Pandora or the speakers of the mall, not with words like “Oh, who am I that for my sake my Lord should take frail flesh and die?” [My Song is Love Unknown LSB 430] But to those who, through the power of the Holy Spirit, those who have been baptized into Christ Jesus, they are words of hope and encouragement in this life. The hymns of the season remind us of the terrible cost that our sin called due; the body and blood of God’s Son, our Lord, upon the cross.
That’s the connection missed by those who aren’t of Christ. The angels sing, “Peace on earth, goodwill to man” at Christmas Eve, but the peace is found on the cross of Good Friday. It was there that Jesus proclaimed that “it is finished,” the great promise of God that one would be born of woman who would conquer Satan is accomplished on the cross. From the cross Jesus alone experienced being forsaken by the Father that you and I will never be. And it was from the cross that Jesus promises paradise to those who put their faith and trust in him. The temple curtain is torn top to bottom and we have access to our Heavenly Father through Jesus Christ, for he is the new temple! Jesus Christ is the sacrifice offered for the forgiveness of sins- he is the atonement, the payment, for sins and the end of hostility to and alienation from God. Jesus gave up his life, no one could take it from it, and he breathed his last. It was for this very moment that Jesus was born of the virgin on that starry night years ago, that through his death there is peace “among those with whom [God] is pleased.” On that Friday afternoon so long ago the death that Adam and Eve brought into the world through their rebellion against God is conquered- the first creation is about to end and a new creation is about to appear. It took the death of Jesus Christ to make it happen.
“When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome brought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.” They went to the tomb where Jesus lay that they could properly prepare his body for burial. These women had been with Jesus since early in his ministry and throughout the three days of his passion and resurrection, and one can only imagine what thoughts were theirs. After the death of Jesus, they had returned home for the observance of the Sabbath, in accordance with Moses and from the perspective of the old covenant of salvation. They came with spices early in the morning that they could properly prepare his body for burial, for they think that Jesus is dead. They certainly were not in a proper frame of mind for what they were about to experience.
Jesus is about to present them on the first day of the new creation. Easter is not just another day, but the climax of a three-day sequence, the day that Jesus rises from the dead.
“And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back- it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. His has risen; he is not here.”
The women, like others, need to have the significance of these facts explained to them. They do not grasp the import of the empty tomb they see before them. But a great moment of revelation is about to take place. What they came to see is not there- the tomb is empty! Instead of the body of Jesus they see a young man dressed in a white robe. Perceiving that this is an angel, they are alarmed. But the angel speaks to them that they may see things from the perspective of the new era of salvation. Jesus, who you saw crucified, who died, who was placed in this tomb is not here- you can see the empty place where he was laid. But the empty tomb is meaningless. Jesus is not there. He is alive! This is what he meant when he said, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” Jesus wasn’t speaking of the brick-and-mortar temple of Jerusalem but rather of this body, pointing to his death and resurrection. Though the women and the disciples see the empty tomb, hear of the risen Christ, they did not understand the Scriptures, that Jesus must rise from the dead. And he did it for them, just as he did it for all who are marked by sin and death.
St. Paul writes, “The wages of sin is death.” Death is the just punishment for sin. There is no getting around this fact, and one cannot work their way out of it. The wages of sin is death. Death is all around us and in these last months has been on the minds of more people more constantly than perhaps ever before. But death comes to people in may ways, be it accident, or illness, or trauma- but the outcome is always the same; someone dies. Death came into this world with the fall of Adam and Eve into sin, a consequence of their rebellion against God when they succumbed to the temptation of the devil.
St. Paul continues, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” The resurrection of Jesus becomes the proclamation of God’s promises. It is the very evidence that Christ has conquered death once and for all.
And that is why the resurrection of Jesus, Easter, belongs to those who hear the promises of God and believe them. It is always easy to think that if we had been there at the tomb WE would have believed, unlike the three women, or Thomas, or the others who didn’t live faithfully according to God’s Word. It bugs us because they saw Jesus, they watched him walk about performing miracles and preach in the temple. It seems that they should have had an advantage we don’t have.
But if you saw Jesus today, would you believe he is God? Would you believe that he WAS, even before the world was created? Would you think that this man is the same God who created the world? Did Jesus look like God when he was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane and in turmoil over his path to the Passion? Would you think for a moment that God could die? Did Jesus look like God when he was spit upon, stripped, beaten, and mocked? Did Jesus appear to be God when he was hanging from the cross, beaten and bloody? Or when he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Maybe we would be more like those women and Thomas were we alive then. Maybe we too would have gone to the tomb that morning of the first day of the week because we believed that a lifeless body was to be found.
To trust our Lord’s words when he spoke of a kingdom that would never end, or how he would go away and then return, or that he truly was the resurrection and the life is against all reason and common sense. What are the chances?
But that is the point. It is not about chance. It is about God’s promise throughout history. The resurrection becomes the proclamation of the fulfillment of God’s promises. It is the very evidence we have that Christ has conquered sin, death, and the devil. The resurrection is a matter of trusting God’s Word, and believing that because Christ lives, we shall live also. St. Paul reminds us that baptized into Christ’s death, we are baptized into his resurrection. “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been untied with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” [Rom 6.3ff]
“So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” [ibid.11]
Many of the older baptismal fonts had an eight-sided cover to them, the eighth side representing the new creation which comes from the water of baptism. Having died to your sinful self in the waters of baptism, you are a new creation just as God created in the beginning; created in His image, holy and righteous. This is ours because of Jesus Christ. We no longer fear death, for we have died and look forward to the resurrection. We no longer live in sin, for we are new creations. We cling to the Word of God in its purity and truth because the Holy Spirit, a gift of God, brings us to faith in Christ Jesus and there we find peace in a world that offers none.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his “The Mystery of Easter,” wrote, “Christ did not come into the world that we might understand him, but that we might cling to him, that we might simply let ourselves be swept away by him into the immense event of the resurrection.” The culmination of God’s promise, the resurrection, is ours through faith, a faith that lets up proclaim “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia