Life is a fleeting thing. Time is precious, or so we like to tell ourselves. We often catch ourselves, like a sudden awakening from a dream, where we realize as if for the first time, life will not roll on forever. The things we are pushing-off to tomorrow might never come. The time for the experiences we desire, the relationships we had longed for, the tasks accomplished, might never manifest. We have these moments, usually around the death of someone we know well, be it a grandparent or a friend or a lover, where we are suddenly caught-up in a moment of anxiety and frantic activity in hopes that we might make some meaningful progress on our dreams. We are shocked by death, the suddenness of it, the surprise of it. Yet, it ought to be one of the most normal and regular things of our existence. It happens all the time. Sure, it does not always come so close to us that we feel it, but when it does, it always surprises, always shocks, always causes us to rethink what we are doing and where we are going.
The Word of God teaches us clearly that the “wages of sin is death.” Death is what sin has earned. Death is the reality which comes when there are transgressions. A debt has been incurred and the cost of paying it off is life. Whenever I preach at a funeral, the one thing I do not have to do is say a thing about the Law and commands of God. I do not have to speak about the threats of the Law because the reality of it is staring everyone in the face. It is the reason we gathered in the first place. Someone has died, and death has come because of sin, due to the rebellion of mankind. So, the events of Holy Week, the arrest, betrayal, and death of our Lord, likewise should not come as a shock to anyone, and not simply because you have heard all of this before. No, if Jesus is to be your savior, if He is to deliver you from your sins and open the gates of Paradise, then a sacrifice needed to be made. The wages of sin is death, and if He takes on your sin, then He must die in your place. Jesus must pay off the debt.
But today is Easter. Today is the day when the full magnitude of what your Lord has done for you begins to set in. Death is what we ought to be used to. Death is the norm. Death is what happens. It is what motivates us to get going in life. But today, today we are surprised not by the shortness of life and not by the suddenness of death. No, we are surprised by the suddenness of life. Life springs forth. Life overcomes. Life breaks out of the grave and changes everything. Jesus was not just another great teacher of the faithful. He was not just a martyr who died for a cause at the hands of those who were afraid of losing power and control. No, if He had remained dead, that is all He would have been. But Jesus rises from the dead. He walks out of that tomb to usher in a new thing, a new reality, a new hope, and life for all who believe in His name.
The faithful women come to the tomb early in the morning as the sun is just beginning to rise. They come in their grief and their sorrow. They come with all the trappings of an age which is struggling to get used to the reality of death. Yet, death is what they are prepared for. Death is what they are expecting. However, death is not what they find. An angel of the Lord has been sent to proclaim something amazing. His arrival is greeted with a thunderous earthquake. The angel rolls the stone back that was keeping the realm of death closed off and hidden. Death is exposed and those who guarded the tomb fainted away in fear. But the first thing the angel says to the women is, “Do not be afraid!” Actually, you could translate it as, “Stop being afraid.” Fear and death go hand in hand, but something new is happening; a new hope, a new life, a new promise.
“Do not be afraid, for I know you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said.” You seek the crucified one. You seek Him in the tomb. You seek Him in the most logical place to find a dead person, but He is not here. He has risen and I know this is a shock. I know this is a surprise. I know you did not see this coming. Everything in your life has told you this should not be happening. But this is precisely what He said would happen. Over and again, Jesus proclaimed His resurrection on the third day. He promised these events would unfold in this way. The angel casually sits on the rolled away stone and calls for an end to their fear. Instead, they are to be reminded of what Jesus said. They are to cling to His words. They are given the task of going and telling the other disciples what has happened, to tell them about the surprise of life, to tell them how our Lord keeps His Word.
Now, this call for an end to fear goes beyond just the shock of life. An empty tomb says something about the sacrifice made. The wages of sin is death and Jesus made the perfect sacrifice for sins which were not His own. He stood under the judgment of Heaven, bearing your sins on His body. In other words, you ought to wait with baited breath after Good Friday. The sacrifice was made, your hope is in the hands of the gift given by your Lord, but if the tomb remains closed, if the bones of our Lord crumble and rot over time, we can never be sure if the sacrifice was received, if the gift was complete, if it was enough, if there is not something left-over that you are responsible for. We are left with uncertainty and fear, with doubt and confusion.
But Christ has risen! The Father has lifted His Son from the grave and restored Him to life. He is the firstborn of the dead. Never will He die again. The sacrifice is complete. The atoning blood of the Lamb of God covers all your sin and promises you life eternal, life beyond the grave, life in the blessings of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So, as the women rush off to tell the disciples the good news revealed to them, our Lord Himself appears for them. And what does He say? “Do not be afraid; go and tell My brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me.” Do not be afraid. Fear is beginning to recede in the resurrection of Christ. Fear is losing its hold as the promise of life beyond the grave is being made known. The sacrifice is complete. The atonement is accomplished. There is no need for fear.
Today is the proclamation of the new reality created and sustained by our Lord. It is a reality where the grave does not get the final say, where there is life even in death, where victory is already given to all the people of God. In the surprise of life, we learn about the end of our fear. My friends, today the tomb is empty. Christ is risen! Life has triumphed. Therefore, you are forgiven. You are loved. You are welcomed to the feast. Do not be afraid. In Christ, you now live in the reality of life. You can love. You can forgive. You can tell the good news to all. Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!