Defeating Death

Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia! This is why we are here. That is the whole point of our gathering together on this morning, which is what the celebration is about. It is what all the fuss is focused on. It is the focal point of our hope and the source of our confidence. Behind the bunnies and chocolate candies is an empty tomb. Behind the Easter baskets and egg hunts is a celebration which has been observed for 2000 years. It is the celebration of the one time death was defeated, that one time the grave did not get the final say over the life of man. What a shocking and wonderful turn of events it is. Death was the norm. Death was expected, but no one expected life. No one expected victory from the grave. This is a new story, a powerful story that changes everything. And what a story it is.

Our Lord suffered for the sins of the world. He was stricken, smitten, and afflicted. The penalty was exacted from His flesh and blood. His corpse was taken down from the cross, wrapped in linen cloths, and placed in an unused tomb before the sabbath. For a while it seemed as if nothing had changed, everything that had gone on before continued to roll-on the same way. Death was victorious, just as it always had been. So, early that Sunday morning as the light of the new day began to dawn, several of the faithful women who knew Jesus and where He lay made their way to the tomb. They knew things had been done in such a hurry. They knew the body had not been properly prepared for interment, so they went to the tomb to finish caring for the One they loved.

What unfolds changes everything. As they approach the tomb, they find the stone already rolled away from the entrance, granting full access to the place of death and decay. But the body of our Lord is not found. Instead, angels greet them. Two men in dazzling white appear before them and make an astonishing statement, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here but has risen.” This is a place for the dead. This is a place where bodies decay, dreams die, and life stands still. Why would you look for Jesus here? Not only has Jesus risen from the dead, but He has risen precisely as He said He would. He kept His word. He is faithful and true to His promises. The angels say, “Remember how He told you, while He was still in Galilee.” Remember what He said, “The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” Well, here we are on the third day and Jesus is faithful to His word. He is risen.

Now this is profoundly good news, a not simply good news for Jesus, not just good news for those faithful women going to the tomb, and not only good news for the rest of the disciples who hear about what the women found. No, this is good news for you. The simple fact that even death and the grave cannot stop Jesus from keeping His word, from fulfilling His promises, ought to fill you with greatest of joy today. Think about the promises He makes to you. He says, “God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” He promises that to trust in Him is to receive entrance into eternal life. He adds to that saying, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through Me.” Jesus Himself is the Way to all the blessings of Heaven. It is not your good works, not your righteous deeds, and not your elevated understanding of the things of God. It is also not your good intentions or lack thereof. No, Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. He is the sacrifice. He is the deliverer. He is the one who promises the gifts of God. And He is faithful.

You see, it is because the grave is empty that we listen to our Lord. It is because He is faithful that we cling to His promises. Our faith is rooted in human history, in an empty tomb on Easter morning. As Saint Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile, and you are still in your sins… If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” The resurrection of our Lord opens to us the true hope of the Christian life, the hope of the age to come, and the hope of the joyful reunion with all those who have gone before us. It is hope for the lost and the hurting, hope for the displaced and disgraced, hope for the proud who think they have done enough to earn eternal life, and hope for those who know their sins are too insurmountable to overcome on their own. This hope rests in Christ alone, His sacrifice, His death, His resurrection. It is a hope which dares us to trust that as our Lord rose from the dead, so we too will walk in newness of life. We too will rise to eternal life where there are no more tears, no more suffering, and no more death and grave.

We are told in our Gospel reading today how this incredible news of the women is not exactly met with joyful acceptance. There is hesitation. It sounds too good to be true, and as we know if something sounds too good to be true it probably is. But Peter gets up and runs to the tomb to check it out for himself. It may seem like an idle tale, but he cannot simply ignore it. In the text, we read this, “Stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.” I have always been fascinated by that curious observation. Why does he want us to know the linen cloths were left there by themselves? Some suggest it is further proof the body was not simply stolen, for who would unwrap a dead body and carry it away like that? Others suggest it ties back to the image of our Lord as a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. This way it works as an image that our Lord has completed the task for which He was born.

While those may be good ways to think of it, I want to add another. In the most basic sense, what were the linen cloths for? They are the beginnings of the preparation of a body for burial. To have a body wrapped up this way and laid in a tomb would have been the normal procedure. It was how it was usually done. In this way, the linen cloths are symbols of death and grave. So, a resurrected Lord has no need of such symbols, no need of such trappings. There in the tomb, He lays aside death, decay, and all the trappings which come with it. He is the firstborn of the dead, never to die again. The linen cloths remain because He no longer has any need of them.

But this is not all He leaves behind in the tomb, for this is the only begotten Son of God. This is the One who came to bring deliverance and reconciliation with the Father. So, into the tomb He carried all your sin and failure. He bore in His body all your sinful thoughts, words, and deeds. He took the times you lived as if God did not matter and as if you matter most. In His flesh He carried the time you should have acted with love and compassion but failed to do so. He carried the times you intentionally hurt the ones you ought to love. He took all the action and inaction which deserved the wrath and punishment of God, all that separated you from the love of the Father, and He buried it in the tomb. He laid it aside with the linen cloths and walked forth in victory.

His resurrection is not just His defeat of the grave, it is yours as well. His resurrection is not just His victory, it is yours as well. For it is for you that He came, for you He died, and for you He rose victorious. Because the tomb is empty you can be assured of your salvation, you can know this day you are loved, you are forgiven, and you are the saints of God. Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!