Easter Sunday – April 12th, 2009 – John 20:1-18
Christ is Risen – He is Risen indeed, Alleluia +
My dear friends, indeed, my dear brothers in Christ, you who have been bought by Christ, washed in the waters of Holy Baptism, and brought together into His family, united with God Himself and with all the patriarchs, the prophets, the Apostles and saints of all ages, most blessed and joyous greetings be unto you this Easter morning in the Name of Christ our Risen Lord. Did you notice in our Gospel text for this morning, dealing with our Lord’s Resurrection, how everyone’s dire expectations are not met, how what people come expecting isn’t what happens. Mary comes to the tomb, and she expects a dead Body. It’s not there. That’s not what Mary expected that morning. Peter and John go rushing to the tomb – and by rights there should be a Body there. If anything this is probably just Mary being overwrought and confused – there has to be a Body there, John had seen Him die. No Body there. Not what they expected. The resurrection of our Lord turns everything on it’s head. Dead bodies are supposed to stay dead bodies. But not after our Lord’s Resurrection – nothing is as it was before.
There’s a reason why Mary was expecting a Body to be in that tomb. There’s a reason Peter and John don’t make the connection right away with what is going on. They were sinners in a sinful world. They had seen death over and over again. People are born, they grow old, perhaps, and then they die. That was life, or so they thought. But they were wrong. That wasn’t life. That’s wasn’t just nature. That wasn’t what we were created to be, created to do. That wasn’t life, that was death. That was the wages of sin. Sin had turned creation on its head, turned everything upside down. Sin turned people created to live into people doomed to die. Sin turned people created to care for God’s creation into selfish beings who would hurt and harm their neighbors in order to please themselves. And even those who feared God, who trusted in Him, they were still sinners. They might fight against their sin – but they never won completely, and over and over again we see in Scripture how the faithful messed up. We even see this in our own life – the times where we look back and think, “Why in the world did I do that. . . I can’t believe it.” Sin had turned everything on its head – sin had so taken and shaken this world that we had come to expect nothing but death. That’s what Mary and Peter and John were expecting – that’s how the story always ends – and he died. That’s what life in this fallen world had taught us to expect, that’s how twisted, how turned, how fallen we had become.
And Mary walks to the tomb, expecting nothing but death – but there’s no death there. Peter and John run, surely, there must be death, that’s how the story always ends. There’s no death there. Nothing is working like they expect it to be. Peter and John don’t know what to make of it – they wander back to their homes. But Mary, Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. She is still weeping. The story has to be that He’s still dead – she’s so thoroughly turned upside down by life in this fallen world, that that’s just how it has to be. And as she wept she stopped to look in the tomb. Maybe if I look again, the Body will be there, it will all have been a silly mistake. But there is no dead body in that tomb. No, instead, now there is something else – And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the Body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Why are you weeping, woman – do you not see, the World has been made right again – Death has been undone, what is there to weep over! Christ lives – He has risen.
Mary hasn’t seen that yet. She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” She still thinks only of a Body, of an innate, motionless lump of clay – that someone has dragged off, that someone has put somewhere. She doesn’t see, she doesn’t understand that He is not dead, but that He is alive. And she turns, and there He is, standing in front of her – yet she doesn’t see Him yet, not really. Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Mary is so distraught, so caught up in this world of sin and so sure of how things have to work, must work in this world, so ridden with tears that she doesn’t even recognize Jesus. Even when Jesus says to her, “Woman, why are you weeping, whom are you seeking?” – when Jesus says, “Hey, I’m over here, you were looking for me” – she still is so caught up, can’t conceive of expecting anything else, that she carries on, begins to babble quickly. Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where You have lain Him, and I will take Him away.” Just let me be, let me hold on to that dead body because I have nothing more that I can expect in this fallen world.
Jesus said to her, “Mary.” And then the lights come on – then she realizes Who it is there in front of her, what has happened, then she gets the joy, then the wonder is revealed. Christ lives! Jesus who died now lives, to die no more. The Lord is living, and this world of sin, the power of death, the struggles and trials of this life, they are all undone. Christ Jesus has done it – He has undone death. He tells Mary to tell the disciples “go to My brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.” The sin which had sundered us from God, which had cut us off from life, which robbed us of heaven – it’s done, it’s defeated, it is destroyed and is no more. Behold Christ lives. Behold, He is going not just to His Father, but to your Father. Reunited, restored, everything put back to how it should be – for because Christ lives and is with God we too live and shall be with God. That is what Mary finally sees, and that is what she proclaims.
What do you see, this morning, O Christian? What did you gaze upon this morning? It is true that we still live in a world impacted by sin, where things fall apart, where things don’t work right, where decay comes and moth and worm destroy. But did you see the higher reality, did the higher truth shine through the tears of sorrow and pain that this world so often causes? Christ Jesus lives – and all the wickedness of the world, all the sin which clings to us, all the death that threatens us – all of it, is defeated. And it’s not just defeated in general – it is defeated in your own life. Do your tears and trials threaten to overwhelm you, just as Mary was overwhelmed by hers in this text? Jesus calls out to Mary by her name and she understand – guess what, God has called you by Name – there, at the font, in your Baptism, you, by Name, the very Name that is your gift from God, you were called forth by name from this world of sin and death unto Christ’s life. Our Lord has claimed you and united Himself unto you – and nothing tops that. Not even death can destroy that – behold your Lord lives – death can do nothing to Him – it can do nothing to you, for just as God called you by Name at the waters of the font so too at the Last Day He shall call you again by Name and you will answer your Lord’s call. If that day comes before our own death we will turn our heads to Christ and never see our own tomb, if that day comes after we have fallen asleep in Christ we will come forth in risen bodies and shake the dust of our grave off of our feet never to be troubled by it again. Why? Because He lives – and nothing can stop that.
But the world will try to distract us – the fallen world, defeated as it is, will still try to make us miserable, Satan will still scowl fierce and seek our distraction, will try to tell us what Jesus says could surely never be. . . and our Lord continually bursts forth into our lives with His Word, With His Blessed Sacraments and declares to us “I am Here, I am your life, I am your righteousness, I am your forgiveness – and Satan can go burn in hell, you are Mine and I have won you.” And Jesus knows that this world will still try to turn you on your head – and so He comes to us over and over again. What is the preaching of God’s Word but Jesus saying to us once again, “Yes, I see your sins which call out for your death – but I have died and I have risen, you so you shall have My life”? Or consider the Supper? The world sees nothing but bread and wine, but our Lord says, “Behold, this is My Body which is given for you, which has died and risen so that you will rise. Behold, this is My Blood, which I have shed so that you receive my forgiveness and are made clean and whole.” Christ drags our eyes of the chaos and sin of this world, and over, and over again turns us to Himself, holds His love and forgiveness before us, takes the dirges of death in this world off our lips, and places His Body and Blood on our lips so that we might join in the Song of Heaven, the Song of all eternity, singing with Angels and Archangels and all the company of Heaven, our brothers and sisters in the faith who are with Christ now. That is the reality which Christ brings us into, that is the reality which He makes us to see. That is what Christ ensured, guaranteed, that Easter morn when He broke the bonds of death and strode forth from the tomb Alive.
Everything, dear friends in Christ, my brothers, my sisters, you who in Christ are my closest family who will be with me for all eternity, everything is different, everything is more wondrous that it was, more wondrous than we comprehend, because our Lord, Christ Jesus has risen from the tomb, and has undone the fall, and restored unto us life and salvation and paradise. What we have just sung is true:
Christ is Himself the joy of all,
The Sun that warms and lights us.
Now His grace to us imparts
Eternal sunshine to our hearts
The night of sin is ended.
What then remains to us but rejoicing, what remains but feasting this Easter Day on Christ, the very bread of heaven, to celebrate once again the triumph feast of the Lamb who was slain to slay our death? He lives, and so shall we, indeed, so do we. Christ is Risen – He is Risen indeed, Alleluia + Amen.