Looking in the Grave

Many have lamented the fact that Easter has fallen during this global pandemic. Plans have been ruined, celebrations are cancelled, and reunions get pushed off to a later date. I do not get to preach to your faces and miss seeing the reactions, the smiles, the tears, and the confusion at times, as I proclaim the Word of God. We are separated by the workings of a world captivated by death. Death mocks us and shelters us in our homes. Death incites government control and turns neighbor against neighbor. We all long for it to be over, to be able to return to some sense of normalcy. Yet, it is precisely because of all this that I find great joy in celebrating Easter this year. Easter is precisely what we need when we face the specter of death.

This pandemic has not really changed much about the reality of death. It has only made death more visible to us, more directly contemplated. You see, we had the luxury of avoiding it. We had gotten good at hiding it away. We only deal with it when there is a crisis, when cancer claims those we love, or a freak accident changes our lives. The truth of the matter is death is always with you. You were not going to avoid it forever. Something sooner or later will, in fact, kill you and it probably will not be how you think it will be. It could be a violent thing or a peaceful thing. It could be an accident or a long disease or a virus that fills your lungs with fluid. Death is all around us. We are saturated in it and, so, we ought to give thanks that Easter has come right in the midst of it all.

Death weighed on the minds of those women who went early in the morning to the tomb of our Lord. Death was why they were going. Death was what was expected. Death sent out the invitation and laid out the terms. Imagine what they spoke about. Imagine how they recounted the horrors of what had happened. Imagine the violence, blood and tears which now bound them together. But they had to do something, anything to provide some comfort, some closure for the reality of death. So, they go to the tomb. They go to properly care for the body because they know everything was done so hastily. On Sunday morning they journey out to meet death wondering how they are going to roll away the huge stone that closed the grave off from the land of the living.

But God beats them to it. Early Sunday morning there is a great earthquake. Why? Because an angel of the Lord descends and rolls away the stone. The guards at the tomb faint from fear as they behold this gleaming white being. It truly must have been a powerful thing to behold, the earthquake, the moving of the stone, the dazzling appearance. The text says they became as dead men. Fear is not a joke. Fear can shut down an economy and lock people inside their homes. Fear can reduce brave soldiers to useless paperweights. But before the women even have a chance to respond the Angel calls out to them. He just sits there on the stone he rolled away, so callously, so free from fear and worry and doubt. He calls for them to join him in his confidence. “Do not be afraid,” he says, not you, not today.

The Angel says to the women, “I know you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, as He said. Come, see the place where He lay” (Matthew 28:5-6). Here we see how he did not roll the stone away to let Jesus out of the grave. He did not open it up to simply move the story forward. No, he is there to let them look in. He opens the grave so they can poke around inside of it. They came looking for and expecting death, but they find something else. They find the promise of life. Right there, right in the grave they are greeted with the promise of Jesus. He rose just as He said He was going to do.

The promise of life begins in this moment, right where those women were standing. The promise of life begins with an empty tomb. This message they will proclaim to the disciples and the disciples will proclaim the message to the world, a message we proclaim today. On this day, amid death and fear all around we have the promise of life. Do not be afraid for the hands of the grave have been turned backward by our Lord. Death is not the end, and more, death does not get the final say. Death is what everyone expects but what we find is life: Eternal life in the gifts of Christ.

So, take some time today, perhaps all throughout the day, and turn off the peddlers of fear and death streaming into your homes and rejoice in the promises of Christ. On this day you have journeyed with those women and stared at death from the inside. From the inside of the tomb you have found that, with Christ, death’s threats are empty and vain. Their pain and fear are bound only to this age and will pass away with it. For Christ promises you a greater reality, an eternal life, a resurrection from the dead.

Running from that tomb full of joy that seems too good to be true they run right into the man Himself. The crucified One who vacated the tomb. What are His words? “Do not be afraid!” Do not be afraid my friends. You cannot stop Easter. You cannot bind up the proclamation of the Gospel. There is boldness for us on this Easter morning, a boldness to display before your family and friends, a boldness rooted not in wishful dreams or shallow hopes but in an empty tomb and a God who keeps His promises.

This world of death and fear cannot stop the promise of Easter. It cannot stop a Lord who suffered, died and rose for you. It cannot stop His love which continues to overflow for you this day. It cannot stop the forgiveness echoing in your ears this morning proclaiming the assurance that you are declared righteous by the blood of Christ. This is our joy and our confidence. Easter has come… just when we needed it the most.

Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia!