All our hymns speak of the joy of Easter, but the women who came to Jesus tomb that first Easter were consumed by grief that was soon overshadowed by great fear. Why are we so happy?
As the sun was getting low Friday evening, Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the council that had condemned Jesus, went to Pontius Pilate and requested the body of Jesus. He wrapped it in linen and placed it in a tomb that he had had cut for himself and rolled a large stone over the entrance. Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of Joses and the younger James, saw where Joseph had placed him. Then, because it was getting dark and would soon be the Sabbath, Joseph returned to his home and the women went to the place where they were staying for the festival.
After sunset on Saturday, the two Marys and Salome, the mother of the James and John, bought the spice ointments they would need to finish Jesus funeral rights. Then, very early the next morning they headed for the tomb where Jesus had been buried.
You know what they expected to find and what they found instead, but I would like you to consider for a moment how they felt that morning. Mary Magdalene had been possessed by seven demons when Jesus found her and freed her. The other Mary had been severely ill until Jesus healed her. One of the women, probably Salome, was the sister of Jesus’ mother, Mary. All three of them and the other women who were with them that morning had been traveling with Jesus for some time. Luke tells us that they had been caring for Jesus and his disciples often using their own funds to support them.
All of the people around Jesus were hoping that he would usher in the Kingdom of God. They had believed that he was the Christ and that he would be the one God would appoint to rule the nations. They were expecting him to judge all the peoples of the world and to bring peace and justice to a world where both were often lacking.
Then, within a matter of hours, Jesus had been betrayed, sentenced, and executed. It was a gross miscarriage of justice, perpetrated by the chief priests and other religious leaders, with the cooperation of Rome. All their hopes had been dashed.
Many of us have experienced disappointing turns of events that can give us an idea of what they may have felt. In my experience, the sudden end of great hopes leads to feelings like sorrow, anger, and despair. But their distress would have been made even deeper by the things that Jesus had done for them. Also, because they had been denying themselves to follow him and care for his needs, great grief and an overwhelming sense of loss are likely. He was more to them than just a possible Messiah, he was also someone they cared for deeply.
But early that Sunday Morning there was work to do. They were going to ensure that at least he had a burial that befitted their memory of him and so they headed for the tomb.
As they neared the tomb, they wondered who would move the large stone that blocked the entrance, but as they walked up, they were shocked to see that it had already been moved.
When they stepped inside that their world suddenly changed again.
Instead of Jesus they found a young man clothed in white sitting inside the tomb. Mark says they were alarmed and the young man tried to calm their fears:
“Don’t be alarmed,” he said, “you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him? But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”Mark 16:6-7
That really didn’t help much. It just added to their confusion and fear. Mark says they began to tremble and were bewildered by what they had heard and that they ran from the tomb.
Our hymns this morning are filled with joy and alleluias, but that first Easter wasn’t a day of joy. It was a day of grief and sorrow and fear and trembling and great confusion and disbelief
That doesn’t make it wrong for us to rejoice this morning. We aren’t trying to figure out what is going on. We know that Jesus had risen from the dead.
We’ve also had a chance to realize what that means.
To begin with, it means that Jesus wasn’t a fraud. He had said repeatedly that he was going to Jerusalem to suffer and die and rise again just as the scriptures had foretold and that was exactly what happened.
Jesus once asked his enemies, “Which is easier to say your sins are forgiven or pick up your bed and walk.” and then he said to the paralytic whose sins he had forgiven, “pick up your bed and walk” and the man did.
So I ask you, which is easier to say, “On the third day I will rise” or to actually do it? Jesus did it. It is something no one else has ever done. There should be no doubt about anything Jesus said.
Further, such things can only be done by divine power. By raising Jesus from the dead, God put his stamp of approval on what Jesus taught and did. Paul says that by raising him from the dead, God declared him his Son with power.
Therefore, we believe and teach that this man was also the Son of God in a way you and I are not. Jesus is God’s only begotten Son, the inheritor of all the power and authority promised by the prophets to the Christ.
He is the one who reigns at God’s right hand. He is the one who will rule all nations. He is the one who will remove the shroud of death from all people when he on the last day he calls them from their graves. He is the one who will come again in glory to judge both the living and the dead.
But there is more to the good news. Jesus death had a particular purpose. Sometimes his crucifixion is presented as people rejecting the one that God had sent. That’s true, as far as it goes, but with thousands of angels at his disposal Jesus could have prevented his own death. He would not have had to suffer the pain of the cross just because some powerful people didn’t like him.
To get at the reason for his death think back to what we read earlier. We read a passage from Isaiah that says that God would one day remove the curse of death from all people. Later in his book he says that that would be accomplished by someone who would be stricken and die because our sins and willful violation of God’s law had been laid on him and that then that person would rise. That someone is Jesus.
The sacrament that we share this morning is celebrates the victory of Christ and our God, but it is also a reminder that he bled and died so that our sins could be forgiven.
As the Son of God, he had a role in our creation and could be held accountable for sins, endure the wrath of God, and rise from the dead. But he had to be a man to die. In the sacrament we share the body and blood that were given and shed upon the cross and through them we receive the gift of Christ’s resurrected life.
The women and Jesus other disciples were dismayed when they lost everything they had hoped Jesus would be, but God gave them something so much better. Had Jesus not died the fulfillment of the promises they had so long desired would not have benefitted them. First God had deal with sin. The rest could come later. But they were not to receive the final kingdom without us.
Christ’s resurrection ultimately removed their sorrow, grief, and fear. Let us trust that God is able also to help us in the face of disappointment and despair. Our hopes and desires will often go unfulfilled, but God is more than capable of bringing bright new realities from the dust of those shattered dreams and he desires only good for us.
Let me close with this thought. We know all these things even though the women fled the tomb and didn’t tell anyone what they had seen. That we do know them is testimony to the persistence of Christ and to the work of God, who wants everyone to come to a knowledge of the truth lest they perish.
So, this morning we say loud and clear “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!” and rejoice in his work on our behalf.