Resurrection of Our Lord
What a week it has been. Jesus rides into Jerusalem, hailed as a king. He is captured by the representatives of the temple, beaten and mocked. He is brought before the Roman governor, found innocent, before Herod, found innocent, before the Roman governor, found innocent, innocent, innocent, then guilty of nothing. He is beaten and mocked again, scourged to within an inch of his life, and ultimately, crucified.
The day was getting late, so the people asked Pilate to have the legs of the three men broken so that they would die faster, so that they would die before the Sabbath. The two criminals on either side of Jesus have their legs broken, but the soldiers find Jesus already dead. His bones they did not break. To confirm that He was dead, one took a spear and pierced His side, and at once, blood and water came forth.
He's dead. He's brought down from the cross. He's covered in spices and oils and wrapped in linen cloths. He's put into a tomb in which no one had yet been buried. A stone is placed in front of the entrance to the tomb. The deed is done.
"Then they returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment." It is now the Sabbath—the seventh day. Even in death, Jesus obeys the Law perfectly—He rests in a tomb.
The next day, the first day of the week, the women go to the tomb to do what is expected of them. These women—among whom is Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, but also many other women who had followed Jesus and attended to Him—they bring their spices and oils—their myrrh and aloes. They approach the tomb and find a frightening sight: the stone door had been removed! They had gone to "spice up" Jesus' body, and now they wonder if the body is even there.
Now, ponder this for a moment. I have heard it said that the door was pushed aside not to let Jesus out, but to let people in. It makes sense: the risen Lord is able to appear to the disciples hiding out in the upper room with the doors locked—He made it in without an open door. Therefore, He didn't need an open tomb to get out. But for these women, and later for Peter (and John according to other accounts), the stone was pushed aside so that they could go in and look.
So, these women go into or peer into the tomb. They find that Jesus' body is not there. John tells us that they thought that His body was stolen. They were troubled by what they had found—an empty tomb, bereft of a body—they were greatly perplexed by it. Many secular theologians have used this to state that His body was removed and hidden away somewhere so that they could prove the false notion of the resurrection.
And that's when it happened. Two men appeared before them in dazzling white clothes. The women, having their own mountain-top experience, fall to the ground. The Divine is manifesting in their presence—He has sent representatives, messengers, to them—and the women are afraid.
And they ask, "Why do you seek the living among the dead?" These are words designed to allay fears. "He is not here, but is risen!" These are words designed to change their perception of the empty tomb. "Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, saying, 'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.'" These are words designed to bring to mind what was taught to them...what was spoken to them.
They recalled the Jesus' words. They dropped their spices. They hurried to report what they had found.
What they had found... Such simple words turn a frightening and saddening and perplexing situation into one of immense joy and hope. "Why do you seek the living among the dead?" They go to the tomb expecting a dead body to "spice it up;" they depart from the tomb with joyous news: "Christ is risen!" Dr. Arthur Just wrote,
The women begin this eight, eschatological day—"the first day" of the new week—from the perspective of the old covenant. But now they remember the words of the Lord and through faith are incorporated into the new covenant. They have been transformed through the announcement of the angels on the first day of the new era of salvation.
Such simple words can turn a hopeless situation in our world around, especially if they are received in faith. Life is so often sought among the dead: dead works, dead people, dead religions, even in our dead selves. All our works amount to nothing, they do not bring life. People around us, no matter how much charisma they may possess, do not bring life. Being good, doing things the right way, keeping to a good pattern of living or set of habits does not bring life. Finding our "inner selves" and "inner peace" does not bring life. Following these "dead things" is death. Why look for the living among these dead things? He is not in them, but Christ has died and Christ is risen, as He said.
As He said... It is as Peter once said, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You," You alone, "have the words of eternal life," even as Jesus before that had said, "The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life." And so the words He spoke are spoken again: "The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again." "Remember these words," the angels instruct the women. In them are life. They are the words of eternal life. They are life!
Oh, to be sure, you can get great examples of good works from motivational speakers and spiritual leaders, but there is no dying and rising there. You can get a good set of rituals to follow from religions, but there is no dying and rising there. You can even meditate to bring about what others would call "harmony" or "peace" within yourself, but there is no dying and rising there. The answer to that dreaded question "What would Jesus do?" is die and rise from the dead.
Dying and rising is uniquely Jesus. It is what He said. It is how He saved the world. He didn't come to set a good example of good works. He didn't come to establish a new religion. He didn't come to teach us how to search within ourselves for true peace and happiness. These are dead things. Christ died to them that we may die to them and rose again that we may pass from death into life with Him. That's how He deals with us—with our sins and clinging to dead things—by dying in our place and rising from the dead on the third day to give us life. It all goes to show us that there is life in nothing else, except Him, so that we can echo Peter's words, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."
Jesus answers, "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life." St. Paul explains, "We were buried with Him through baptism into death...For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection."
It's a good thing to hear these words again...to hear them again and again and again. Why? Because we are bombarded by death everywhere we look. We see friends and family die. We see dead animals along the side of the road, and must even endure the death of pets we love. We get the news of a terminal illness, putting our own mortality before us! We have the tales of all of those "dead things" mentioned earlier placed before us and are constantly enticed by them. All of this death and mortality can leave us hopeless. Death is an unnatural part of this sinful life; so, we need to hear constantly the news of everlasting life, of that restored perfect life once intended for us—we need to hear constantly the words of eternal life.
We need Easter...constantly. We need to hear the news of the stone pushed aside, that the tomb is empty. We need to hear that, because it is not the distressing fact that someone has taken Jesus' body, but because of the joyful fact that Jesus is living and not to be found among the dead! We need this constantly because it is life for us, life in the midst of death! "[O]ur Savior Jesus Christ...has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light", St. Paul wrote to Timothy.
And so, we need Jesus...always! That's why we come to this place of the living, where Jesus is, to receive Him. We hear the good news of sins forgiven as God's called angel speaks, "I forgiven you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost." We hear the good news of sins forgiven as we sing hymns of Jesus' work on our behalf. We hear the good news of sins forgiven as the Word is proclaimed. We hear the good news of sins forgiven as we receive the very body and blood sacrificed for us on the tree of the cross. Dear hearers, not only do we hear of this good news, but we receive it personally as it is applied to each one of us and does the forgiving thing to each one of us. "For the word of God is living and active!"
"Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen!" Such joyous and hope-filled words. The women rush to tell this good news. They report what had happened. Most who heard this good news thought it nonsense, but not Peter.
Hopefully and expectantly, He rushes to the tomb and finds only the linen cloths in the tomb. "Just as the baby wrapped in strips of cloth was a sign of the Messiah's birth, so now the 'linen cloths alone' are a sign of the Messiah's resurrection." He goes back, marveling at all that had happened. Marveling is a reaction to the things Jesus has done throughout Luke's gospel, not of outright rejection or disbelief, but of struggling to understand what one cannot explain. "Christ is risen!" Peter's hope has been confirmed, even if he has a hard time putting it all together.
It's a hope we share, even if we fail to comprehend it or comprehend it fully. Thankfully, our life in Christ is not dependent on our comprehension. Thankfully, our comprehension doesn't cloud the proclamation of the good news the angels announced—"He is risen!"—nor does it dim our hope found in that announcement—"He is risen!"
That is shout of joy this day and every day! It is our word of hope in a lifeless world—a world dead in sin. "Christ is risen—He is alive!" Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live." St. Paul explains, "For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive." Therefore, you can look death in the face with joy and hope knowing that since you are in Christ, you will be made alive, you have been made alive—you have life! Therefore, you can "live as those who have nothing to lose—for you already died and your life is hidden with Christ in God—and die as those who have everything to gain—for to live is Christ and die is gain."
Christ has died for you and Christ is risen for you! Hallelujah! You have died and were buried with Christ through Baptism into His death—that is, you have been united with Him in the likeness of His death—therefore, you will be united with Him in the likeness of His resurrection. Hallelujah! Therefore, you are forgiven for all of your sins! Hallelujah!