The Resurrection of Our Lord (April 17, 2022)
Christ is risen! .... (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!)
This Easter greeting is as old as the Christian faith itself. From the day of Jesus’ resurrection until the present, Christians have been greeting one another with this wonderful news. It certainly conveys the real joy and blessing of Easter; much more than to simply say: “Happy Easter!” After all, Easter is not about being worldly happy but about obtaining eternal joy in the One Who is no longer dead but alive; the Living One, Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately, many today are trying to find their Easter joy in the dead things of this world. I’m afraid the resurrection of Jesus plays no part in their Easter celebration. Instead, Easter is as hollow as all their chocolate Easter eggs and bunnies. Easter is rejoicing in the coming of Spring. But what is life giving in these things? Spring will turn to Summer and Summer will turn to Fall and then Fall to the death of Winter. Bunnies die. Chocolate candy disappears into the recesses of people’s stomachs, clogging arteries and leaving them in the doldrums of the post-sugar highs. Where’s the hope of life in this kind of Easter?
Speaking of being in the doldrums on Easter morning, our Gospel text draws our attention to some women in deep despair. Luke identifies them as Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and several other women, who had all been followers of Jesus and supporters of His ministry. The dim twilight of the early morning hour certainly was befitting their melancholy spirits. After all, they were on a most morose mission, heading to the tomb of Jesus to anoint His dead body. Now, there is a cheery Easter Sunday activity! Their whole focus was on death!
But as Luke describes it for us, when these mourning women arrived at the tomb, things were not at all as they expected. The great stone that was used to close up the entrance to the tomb had been rolled out of its place.
In fact, Mark notes in His Gospel that as they made their way to the tomb they had even discussed who they were going to get to move the stone for them. But now that was a mute point. The tomb was already open. Naturally, then, they rushed inside to investigate. Much to their shock and dismay they did not find the dead body of Jesus. In fact, they found no body at all!
You and I looking on, who know the rest of the story, might be wondering why the evidence at the scene did not trigger these women to rejoice that Jesus had risen. But you see, such a thought never even entered their heads. Unlike us, they had witnessed Jesus’ brutal death. They had seen Joseph of Arimathea and his helpers hastily place the lifeless body of Jesus into that very tomb. All they could see was the reality of death. They, as I’m sure we would have been also, were so transfixed on the dead Jesus that they could not even remember that Jesus had even prepared them for this moment, warning them that He would be delivered into the hands of wicked men, be crucified, but would also raise from the dead on the third day. This Sunday morning was the third day but the physical evidence simply did not register with them. The only thing that seemed certain to them was that Jesus, the One upon whom they had hoped, was dead! The early morning hour seemed even darker to them now!
It took two angels to make the light of truth dawn in the hearts of these death-focused women. Luke says that while the women were, literally, at a total loss and perplexed about everything, suddenly two angels appearing as men stood beside them in lighting bright clothing. Totally frightened by the sight, the women bowed their faces to the ground. The angels then said to the women, “Why do you look for the living (more literally, the Living One) among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!”
Then the angels reminded the women of the Words Jesus had spoken to them and His promise that He would raise from the dead. And, suddenly, the light of Easter dawned in their hearts and minds. Now, they comprehended the clear evidence of the empty tomb but it took the Words of Jesus Himself to fully illumine them with confidence and faith. No longer did they need to seek Jesus among the dead. Jesus was not dead but now the Living One.
This whole incident of looking for the living among the dead brings to mind one of those favorite scene’s from Mark Twain’s classic “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn and Joe Harper had set forth on a raft down the Mississippi to be pirates. When they didn’t not return, everybody at home immediately thought the worst; that the boys had gotten lost and died. So transfixed on their deaths that it never even occurred to them that these three little mischievous rascals could be playing them for a ruse. So the town decided to have a memorial service for the three of them on Sunday morning. At Sunday School all the people could talk about was the three boys.
When the bell rang for Sunday School to be over, the people filed solemnly into the sanctuary for the service. The preacher began talking about the three lost lads, stories so touching that the people felt pangs of guilt that they hadn’t seen such good in these three boys while they were lived but had always seemed to focus on all their flaws.
Suddenly there was a rustle in the back balcony and the back door creaked open. The minister, wiping his eyes with his handkerchief, looked up and stood transfixed. Here came Tom, then Joe, then Huck down the aisle. They had come home and had been hiding in the back balcony observing their own funeral! The congregation rushed to embrace the boys; and the whole congregation began praising God singing the common doxology: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow...” How foolish they all felt that they let their faulty fears and human reason cause them to think the living were among the dead.
The women of that first Easter morn were not alone in their looking for the Living One among the dead. The apostles, the Lord’s closest disciples... the ones Jesus had hand-picked... who had heard all His teachings and seen all His miracles...who had even confessed Jesus as the Son of the Living God, were in as bad as shape as the women if not worse. All they thought they now had were dead hopes lying in the grave with a dead Jesus. Even after the women had reported to them everything they had seen and heard, they branded it all nonsense. Peter did, eventually, at least, run to the tomb to investigate the matter further. Finding it just as the women said, he returned home in total bewilderment. He still wasn’t believing Jesus had really raised, but was, at least, beginning to open up to the possibility.
Is it then nonsense that Jesus is alive? Some still think so, even among those that call themselves Christians. They teach that the whole event of Jesus’ resurrection was simply a story the apostles themselves concocted just so they could keep their fledgling faith alive and promulgate the message to others. So instead of their proclamation to the world being the death and resurrection of Jesus, they dwell on moral teachings of Jesus and emphasize a gospel that simply tells people that God loves them.
Now, this is what I call nonsense! It is nonsense to have a Savior who is still dead... that never rose from the dead... that simply rotted away in the grave. If He couldn’t even raise His flesh, how can we expect Him to raise ours on the last day? If the One who bore our sins in His death still lays dead, then God has not accepted His sacrifice for our sins, and you and I will still have to make atonement for them. If Jesus is still dead, when He said He would raise Himself from the dead, how can we ever trust anything He says? If Jesus is still dead, the One God the Father smote in His wrath against our sins, then you and I might as well seek our life among the things of this world, for believe me, that is all there will ever be for any of us come Judgment Day. If the Living One is still among the dead, then you and I might as well be Buddhists or Moslems, for then our hopes are just as dead as their hopes are.
A Muhammadan and a Christian were once discussing their religions and had agreed that both Mohammed and Jesus were prophets. Where, then, lay the difference? The Christian illustrated it this way: “I came to a crossroads and I saw a dead man and a living man. Which one did I ask for directions? The Muhammadan answered, “The living one of course.” Why, then,” the Christian asked his friend, “do you send me to Mohammed who is dead, instead of to Christ Who is alive?”
Are you and I looking for the Living One among the dead? The whole reason we are celebrating today... the whole reason why you and I can have hope in the midst of all the terrible things that happen in this world... is that our Prophet, Priest, and King is not dead but alive. The Christian Faith is not based on some dead prophet but the Living Lord God, Who verifies the truthfulness of His message by His own victory over the grave. Our Savior is alive to share with us His living body and blood to bring us forgiveness, life, and salvation.
Let others call it nonsense if they must, but Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is our security that all Jesus’ Words are true and all His promises will be fulfilled. ........ It is our comfort that since the One who atoned for our sins has been raised, God no longer needs to hold our sins against us but totally absolves us instead ....... It is our eternal and living hope that we also will be raised from the dead to enjoy the bliss of heavenly glory. Tell me, what is so nonsensical about such security, comfort, and eternal hope! For if the story of Easter is nonsense, then let us be as fools and revel in it. For without it there is nothing!
Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!”)