Surprised by Life

By Paul Koch

What a great day this is to be together in our Lord’s house. A day of singing loud and long, of celebrating with family and friends, of simply rejoicing that our Lord lives. Today we get to the heart of our hope as Christians, for the tomb is empty and victory has come. I love gathering together with the people of God on Easter. After all, it is a festival day that ought to set the standard for all other festivals. Coming to church on this day is like church all hopped up on too much caffeine. It is louder and more energetic than ever. The choir is singing their hearts out and the songs of the church fill the air. The kids are excited, and everyone is all dressed up just a little more than any other Sunday.

Now, I know that not everyone goes to church on Easter because they are excited to do so. I know that some only come out of some sense of obligation. Perhaps you promised your mom you would go, or this is the Sunday you feel you must go in order to make sure you can still claim that you are a Christian, like a punch card you only use a few times a year to keep your membership active. But I don’t care. I’m still glad you came. For this day above all days is when we open wide the doors and invite all skeptics and doubters to hear the Good News of our faith. It is the day that the newly baptized drink deep of the gifts of Christ and the crusty old-timers recall again the wonder and beauty of our Lord’s promises.

For today we are greeted with the greatest surprise to ever face mankind, the surprise of life. Life over death. Most of you, I’m sure, know the story quite well. How mankind was trapped in a world of sin and death. Sin that flowed from disobedience to the will of God, sin that infected every part of our being, sin that tainted even the world in which we live. To try to overcome this sin, to overcome the depravity of mankind was a task beyond our ability to do. So, God sends his Son. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes I him should not perish but have eternal life.” That path to victory was a dark one. One that went through betrayal and brutality and crucifixion. But this morning we hear again the good news that the tomb is empty. And the ramifications of this fact reach into every part of our lives.

Easter day is unlike any other. It is unique. It stands in opposition to all the trends, all the patterns of our world. Think about it. Everything in our world leads in one direction, and that direction is the grave. As children, we are excited to grow up, to gain freedom and go on adventures. But as we continue to age, we learn that this is an unrelenting grind, that the excitement begins to be marred by aches and pains. The increase of strength and vigor begins to fade into ailments that slow us down and keep us close to home. No longer do we go on grand adventures, no longer do we set out into the unknown. All we have is our memories, and even those begin to fail us over time.

We have a massive medical field that works diligently to slow the diseases of age that come with the degeneration of our mortal bodies. We long and hope for cures to the maladies of our age. Something to turn the tide of the horrible advances of cancer or the life-robbing effects of Alzheimer’s. So, whether you see the grave nearby or only sense it far off in the distance, we all secretly know that this is where things are headed. It is interesting then that it still surprises us. When someone we know and love dies people will still express shock in their grief, like they didn’t want to believe that this was the inevitable end, even though our whole world is wrapped up in it.

But today is different. Today is the unexpected surprise that no one saw coming. Early on that Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb and in the first light of dawn she sees something that is both terrifying and thrilling. The tomb is open, and the large stone that had closed it in was rolled back. She rushes back to Peter and John and tells them what she saw and believes that someone has stolen away with the body. This is the only explanation that makes sense, for life only goes in one direction. Peter and John then rush there and begin to make a forensic examination of the tomb. It is empty; the body is not there. They see the linen cloths and the face cloth and neatly folded up, but where is the body? They head back to ponder what this could mean, to try and figure out their next move but Mary stays behind.

She is grieved. And rightly so, for not only has her Lord died, but now there is insult to injury as someone has denied them their ability to properly care for the body, to honor the dead in the right way. She takes another look into the tomb and this time she is greeted by the sight of two angels sitting in there. They say to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” And she confesses, “They have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him.” And then she is questioned again, this time from a voice behind her. It is her Lord, not dead but very much alive. It doesn’t make sense. That is not the way things work. Life leads to death and never the other way. So, she thinks that he is a gardener and continues her plea for the body of Jesus. But then he calls her by name and Mary becomes the first person not to be surprised by death but by life.

This here is something radically new, something that goes in the opposite direction of everything that our world would have us believe. Degeneration and sickness and separation and sorrow are not all that there is. In Christ there is something more, something greater than the grave; there is a new life. There is hope and salvation and victory.

What we celebrate today is the great miracle of life over the grave. Since Jesus was victorious over the grave, then he is victorious over sin and victorious over the devil as well. For it was your sin and the devil’s accusation that brought him to the cross in the first place. And all this he does for you. Whether you are here with eager joy and expectation, or here filled with curiosity and doubt, or here with a chip on your shoulder, he surprises you with life. Life is yours in Christ Jesus. Forgiveness is yours this day, Hope is yours without hesitation or demand upon you. This is why we celebrate this is why we gather; this is what our faith is all about.

Jesus Christ has risen today declaring the work of your salvation to be complete. It is finished. You are forgiven. You are loved. You are given the promises of God, that in Christ alone the grave will not have the final say; life will triumph. Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia.