Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Let those words ring out as we celebrate the Lord’s resurrection today. Let those words ring out as we welcome the spring and coming summer months after a long year under the dark shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic. May those words form the theme of the psalms, hymns and spiritual songs we speak to one another, making music in our hearts to the Lord. May those words motivate us to give thanks to God in all circumstances.
Because I live, you also will live (John 14:19). These words of Jesus change everything. Jesus spoke these words to his disciples in the upper room, on the night before his crucifixion. There he’d shared with them his Last Supper. He’d washed their feet and taught them. All this we considered at our Maundy Thursday service here. But they had no idea what lie ahead in the next 24 hours. What he’d taught them about his departure did not register with them.
The disciples faced the anguish of loss. The loss of a friend to death, the loss of their daily routines, the loss of their teacher, the loss of his words. But what is even worse is the loss of their hope. The women, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, whom the Gospel of Mark numbers among the followers of Jesus in the preceding chapter, go to the tomb early on the first day of the week. But they do not go there in expectation of meeting the risen Lord. They go there in expectation of finding a brutalized corpse, to which they are going to apply their ointments. They are drawn to the tomb, not because they remember Jesus’ teaching that after three days he must rise again, but because they have in mind to render one last service to their Lord.
The women are still grief-stricken, still overwhelmed with sorrow. The evidence for this claim is that they gave no thought about how to move the stone before they set out. Our minds are often confused and disoriented when we first undergo a devastating loss. With the crucifixion, their hearts are troubled. It seems that the world has won. The religious leaders, who antagonized Jesus from the very outset of his ministry, have succeeded in silencing the voice of his God. The imperial powers, swift to extinguish any perceived threat to the stability of public order, have succeeded in exterminating Jesus and defeating his mission. Or so it must have seemed to them. The women do not come to the tomb with any sense of hope.
In our world many today feel lost and hopeless. We have been enduring a pandemic. According to Fair Health, a non-profit organization that collects and studies health insurance claims data, overdoses are up 119% in kids 13-18 years old compared to numbers from 2019. For the same age group, anxiety is up 94%, along with depression spiking 84% higher. But should we expect otherwise? Stuck at home, forced to study and work remotely, not allowed to visit friends and family members, “socially-distancing, “quarantining,” and “self-isolating,” people are vulnerable. These figures are inevitable. And yet, despite the collective measures we adopted to mitigate spread, Covid was still the nation’s third leading killer, after heart disease and cancer. Many of us have had to cope not only with feelings of loneliness and isolation, but also with feelings of loss and sadness over the death of a loved one. In our Old Testament lesson, the prophet Isaiah tells us that the entire world is veiled in a funeral shroud that is spread over all nations and cast over all peoples. It’s an apt image when we consider that no part of the world has been spared from the scourge of the pandemic.
On that night before his crucifixion, Jesus told his disciples, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
It’s hard to imagine a more powerful symbol of this “overcoming the world” than an open tomb. On the way, the women fretted about the stone; now, when they look up, they discover they have been anxious about entering a tomb already open. Mark is not interested in telling us about how the stone was moved. The tomb is open so that the women can enter and see that Jesus is not there. But while the tomb is open, it is not empty. Looking into the tomb, the women find a young man clothed in a white robe sitting on the right. Who is this figure? According to Matthew’s account, the figure the women encounter is an angel. Whoever he may be, he delivers the message in simple, straightforward language, but one no less world-changing for that reason. His greeting assures them they are in the right place. “See the place where they laid him.” “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here.”
Today the young man in the white robe reminds us of the same truth. The crucifixion was a defeat, but not of Jesus. It was the defeat of all the things that cause us to lose hope. On the cross, Jesus overcame the darkness of sin and death and the power of evil. By the cross, our sins are forgiven and our lives are reclaimed for God. Far from failing or losing, Jesus accomplished on the cross our reconciliation with God. By the shedding of his blood there, he has opened for us a new and living way to God, to whom we can now draw near with confidence and the full assurance of faith.
The resurrection is the seal and guarantee that Jesus really did accomplish these things for us on the cross. His resurrection makes them real to us, beginning now, in this life, as well as in the next. Because Christ is alive and still present to us by his Spirit, he is able to take us through the darkness of our own failures, the damage we do to ourselves and to others, and emerge with us into a new kind of future. It’s not without reason that the Gospel of Mark observes that the resurrection takes place very early in the morning, with the rising of the sun, on the first day of the week. The rising of the sun dispels the darkness that covered the whole land during the crucifixion. The beginning of this week marks the dawning of a new beginning for human beings. In Scripture, God’s help comes to the hurting especially in the morning: “Weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning,” as the Psalmist declares in Psalm 30.
There is a man, whom we will call Michael. A former alcoholic, Michael looked back on all his wrong decisions, broken relationships, and failed attempts at dealing with his addictions. But when he came to faith, he found that with God nothing is wasted. His life, including the hurt that he caused both himself and others, mattered to God. Michael realized that, in virtue of the resurrection of Jesus, God was making a new creation out of the whole of his life, using it to enable him to minister to others from all that he’d learned from his experiences.
The resurrection of Jesus means his ongoing involvement with human beings. The resurrection releases a power that works within us in the ordinary and the everyday, enabling forward movement into something new. Michael’s life was made new in the healing of his broken past. And this healing of the past can happen for anyone. It’s just as the songwriter says: There is no heart God’s can’t rescue, no war he can’t win, no story so over that it can’t start again. This is at the heart of the message of the resurrection of Jesus.
The young man in the white robe charges the women to tell the disciples and Peter to go to Galilee. Throughout the gospel, Jesus has been on the move. This doesn’t change after the resurrection. He is not at the tomb so that the women can cling to him and embrace him. The story cannot end with a joyful reunion because the resurrection is the content of the gospel that must be proclaimed throughout the world. That is why he goes ahead of them. The word used here is a strong one. In the ancient world, it is used in a military context. It means to lead troops forward, to make an advance. There’s work to do. The women must go to the disciples, who must in turn go to Galilee. There they will see the risen Christ.
But why Galilee? It is the place of beginnings. Galilee is the first place of Jesus proclamation. It is where the disciples are called. It is where he first went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by disease and evil spirits, to proclaim not only in word but also in deed the kingdom of God. In telling them to meet him there, Jesus is signaling that there will be new beginnings, for his disciples then, and for his disciples now.
Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia. Again, let these words ring out. For the Lord of hosts, in the Person of his Son, Jesus Christ has destroyed that funeral shroud that is spread over all the nations and cast over all the peoples and swallowed up death forever. By submitting himself to death on a cross, he burst it apart from the inside out. Soon he will wipe away the tears from all faces. Therefore, he invites us to be glad and rejoice in his salvation. His body and his blood, crucified and risen, in which we will share later in our Easter celebration during communion, are a foretaste of the feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines, that the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples, as our Old Testament lesson tells us.
We enter into this feast through baptism. Through baptism, our old life is buried with Christ in death, and we are raised up in him in the power of his resurrection. What more appropriate time than Easter Sunday to celebrate the sacrament of baptism? Indeed, it reflects the practice of the church from the earliest centuries. The fourth century church father St. Basil declares that baptism implants in us the seed of resurrection. Let us therefore receive the grace of resurrection on the day of resurrection.
Today we have the privilege of witnessing the baptism of Zach and Alex, that they may share together with us in all the blessings that are ours in virtue of our belonging to Christ. Let us therefore enter into this event with them, remembering our own baptism and all that it signifies.
Since we have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus (Rom. 6:3-5), since we have been crucified with Christ (Gal. 2:20) and joined to his resurrection (Col. 3:1), let us listen to him. Believe his words: “Because I live, you also will live.” Trust him to shepherd you, to care for you, to guide you. Be certain of his resurrection, and yours. Amen.