By Paul Koch –
What a glorious morning! This is what church is all about. This is why we rejoice in the gifts of our faith. Today we celebrate the pinnacle event of the Christian faith. It is the moment that sheds light on everything else. Today we celebrate a new life, a resurrection, a victory over that terrifying enemy we call death. Christ is risen, He is risen indeed, and today is the day that we sing the praises of our God and cling to his promises. Of all the days that you should come to church, this is perhaps the very best day to come. Not that the others are all that bad, but today is Easter! It is the great festival of the resurrection.
Think for a moment about what it means that we gather together to celebrate our Lord’s victory over the grave. This resurrection changes everything that we have come to expect and know about our world. Everything we see is heading one way, everything moves slowly toward decay and separation and sorrow – but not this day. Our Lord goes from turning water into wine and healing the lame and blind, to even giving life to those who are dead. He traveled around like a rock star with large crowds longing to be near him, just to touch his garment. But in the end, in the final days of his life, the wickedness of our world seemed to catch up to him. There were plots to take his life, and betrayals from his trusted disciples, and a broken justice system on display. He was beaten and mocked and crucified, doomed to be another footnote in history that everyone would soon forget. But then, something changed. It was like there was a pause form the usual flow of things, and then a decisive jolt shifted things onto a previously unknown path – Jesus rose from the dead.
Imagine if this sudden shift, this reset, was part of your life. Think of the things that weigh you down, the limitations and struggles that you face day in and day out. Perhaps it is family struggle or the longing and desire for love that are never satisfied. It could be fear and worry about the future, about how you’ll make ends meet or if you’ll ever be able to get ahead in life. Maybe it is a fight with physical disease, from aches and pains to a long battle with cancer. It could be a mental attack, anxiety or depression that rise up to enshroud the light of the day with a new-found darkness. Image that whatever it is that plagues you, that worries, you, that keeps you up at night; imagine if it was paused for a bit, if a new day could dawn on very old struggles. What might that look like in your life?
The two faithful women make their way to the tomb of Jesus early in the morning. Though they must have been shocked and horrified at the painful torture and death of the one they loved they knew that there was still work to be done, the type of work that is always done after a death. After all, he was laid in that tomb in such a hurry that they didn’t have the time to do what was fitting. Though they were filled with grief there was a pattern and rhythm to death. The shocking part was over. Now they were going through the motions. We have our own version of this today. Every time I meet with a family after the shock of death, I find that the routine of death takes over. The arrangements have to be made. The family members need to be notified. The appointments with the funeral home, and the cemetery, and the writing of the obituary, and on it goes.
The world is used to this. It makes sense. It is how it always goes. But as those women approach the tomb there is a great earthquake. The ground shakes and everything shifts off the usual course. Instead of following the normal pattern, an Angel of the Lord is sent down to roll away the stone that sealed the tomb of Jesus. Notice, it doesn’t seem like he rolls it away to let Jesus out, but rather to invite these women to look within, to see that something radical has happened. And this angel sits on the stone like it’s a child’s plaything. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow, and the guards around the tomb fainted for fear of him. But he addresses the women and says, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead.”
Now there is a small phrase in the words of the angel that I think is especially important for us today. If we just read through the account of the resurrection we might miss it. We can easily get caught up in the amazing fact that our risen Lord actually appeared to the women and they worship at his feet. But in the midst of the proclamation of the angel he tells these women that Jesus has risen, “just as he said.” In other words, he is saying that Jesus isn’t here because he is faithful to his Word. He is faithful to what he has said. He is true to his promise.
Those words make this morning, this celebration all that much more meaningful for you. You see, you are those who have received the promises of God. You have been called by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. You’ve been enlightened by His gifts, you’ve been gathered here in this place at this time so that God might sanctify and keep you in the true faith. In the water of your baptism, He has said that you are His children. You are His beloved. He has called you each by name and declared that in Christ you are forgiven all your sins. You are the very saints of God.
Now look, I know that it doesn’t always seem like you are God’s saints. I mean everyone looks pretty good today. But it is Easter and you’re in church, how can that look bad? But I know that outside of this place that old routine of the world, the move towards decay and frustration and separation, becomes more defining of your lives that anything else. All those struggles we talked about earlier, why, they merge with sinful desires and selfish motivations and often make a real mess of our lives. These are certainly not lives that look anything like the children of God. And so, you find that the good things you want to do in your life, those are the hardest things to do. And the wicked or shameful things that you know you ought not do, they are the very things you return to over and over again.
And so, the judgment falls heavy upon you. You look in the mirror and you see that you’re heading the same place as everyone else. You’re going the way of the world. Sin and death are just part of life and they come to us all. Ah, but see, to go this route is to forget that something has changed for you. Something that shifts the course in a sudden and new way. You see, He who said that He would rise from the dead, and then in fact rose from the dead to the glory of the Father, has said something about you. He sees you as you are. He sees your sin and your fear. He sees your trials and your suffering, and still He says, “I died for you, I love you, I forgive you.”
God has made incredible life altering promises to you through His Son. Your sin has been paid for by His sacrifice, so he says, “You are free.” Your worry and your tears are embraced by His love, and so He says, “You are my brothers and sisters, heirs of eternal life.” Your seclusion and heartache is gathered into the household of His saints as He says, “You are my beloved.”
And so you are. You are the forgiven, the baptized, the saints of God – just as He said.
Alleluia, Christ has risen! He has risen indeed! Alleluia.