Easter Sunday Sermon 2009| Rev. Rolf Preus| Mark 16, 6
“Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him.” Mark 16, 6
They looked for Jesus in the tomb. But the tomb is for the dead. Jesus is not dead. He died. He was dead. But he is not dead. He is risen. He is alive.
To say that he is alive is not the same to say that he is risen. Look around you and you will see people who are alive. Yet I don’t think that any of us has risen bodily from the dead. On Easter we proclaim and we confess the risen Jesus. He was dead. He is risen.
He is risen. The angel does not say that he was risen as if perhaps he might die again. No, he is risen. He rose and remains risen. He cannot die again. Death cannot touch him.
He said he would rise from the dead. He did not boast. He promised. He said, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” He was referring to his death and resurrection. He said, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12, 4) He made it crystal clear. Jesus told his disciples repeatedly that he had to, in his words recorded by St. Matthew, “go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.” Jesus made it clear that he would rise.
The Old Testament taught that Jesus Christ would rise from the dead. We read in Psalm 16:
Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices;
My flesh also will rest in hope.
For You will not leave my soul in Sheol,
Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.
Yet he did not die boasting of his impending resurrection. He faced his death in deep humility. He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He begged for water. He prayed for his tormenters. He died entrusting himself to his heavenly Father. How humbly he faced his death! It boggles the mind. It was as if it were the end.
And it was the end. It was not the end of Jesus. It was the end of death. He died once. When we are joined to his holy death by Holy Baptism we die. We die once and only once just as Christ died once and only once. He is risen. He is risen nevermore to die. And so are we.
They sought a dead Jesus. They were afraid. Even after hearing of his resurrection they were afraid. Their hearts were set on death. Had they found a dead Jesus they could have at least honored him by giving him a proper burial. That’s why they went to the tomb with spices to anoint his dead body. They were determined to honor him. But though he was risen from the dead and though they were told he was risen they could not see him so they were afraid.
Knowing where to find Jesus is the most precious knowledge any of us can have. It is not enough to know that Jesus died and rose. We must know where to locate him. We need to know how we may be with him and receive from him the benefits of his death and resurrection.
There is a song about the resurrection of Jesus that includes this verse:
He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.
He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know he lives?
He lives within my heart.
And so there it is that people look for the risen Lord Jesus. They look within their hearts.
Jesus does dwell in the hearts of his Christians. Faith holds on to Jesus. Faith is something inside of us. It is personal. But faith isn’t the only thing within us. Sin lives within. Sin is doubt. Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin and whatever proceeds from faith is good. So alongside of the faith within us is doubt, that is, unbelief. We believe. We doubt. Looking within our heart we may see our faith. And we may see our doubts. And we may become confused about which is which. So we sanctify our doubts and twist them into a bogus sort of faith. That’s what we do. Count on it. That’s what we’ll do if we look for the risen Lord Jesus within our hearts.
The angel told the women to tell the disciples that Jesus was going before them to Galilee where he would meet them just as he said he would. That’s how we know where Jesus is and what Jesus is doing. We go by what Jesus says. We don’t go by what we feel within our hearts. That is a fickle sort of foundation for faith. We go by the word of God for that won’t change with our feelings.
Jesus told his disciples that he would go ahead of them to Galilee and meet them. He met them. He gave to them what we call the Great Commission. He gave to them and through them to his entire Church on earth the authority he gained by his death. On the cross Jesus won for us the forgiveness of sins. The risen Lord Jesus gave his Church the authority to forgive sins. He gave her the gospel and the sacraments. These are and remain until the end of time the power of God to bring the spiritually dead to life. Jesus is present with his Church wherever his gospel is preached purely and his sacraments are administered rightly.
The women were looking for Jesus in the wrong place. The living is not among the dead. We don’t look to the grave to find Jesus. We look to where Jesus has promised to be. He promised he would rise. He did. He promised he would be with his Church whenever and wherever his gospel was proclaimed and his sacraments were administered. And so he is.
It does not always seem so. The women could sense only death. The dead Jesus was laid in the tomb. They did not see him rise. They had experienced his death and so their hearts were set on death.
We live our lives as Christians. We are Christians. We know how God wants us to live. We look to Jesus and we see the author and finisher of our faith. But we don’t find Jesus in our living. Oh, he’s there. He has joined himself to us. He promises never to leave us. But we don’t find him by looking within ourselves. We can search our feelings, examine our emotions, and consider our experiences and we’ll come up with all sorts of things but we won’t find Jesus as Jesus wants to be found.
We look for Jesus where Jesus promises to be. He is the One who was crucified and is now risen. We look for him in our baptism. Every single day we can lay claim to the promises God gave us when he baptized us and joined us to the death and resurrection of Christ. If we are baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit we can depend on the promise that our sins are washed away, the Holy Spirit lives in us, God is our Father, and we belong to the body of Christ.
We look for Jesus in the gospel. We confess it. We sing it. We pray it. We recite it. We listen to it preached. It tells us that all of our sin and guilt and everything that kept us away from God was laid on Jesus who suffered and died and took it all away. The gospel does not tell us how to get God to love us and forgive us. The gospel tells us that as surely as Jesus is risen from the dead God forgives us all our sins for Christ’s sake.
We look for Jesus in his holy Supper. We eat and we drink the bread and the wine. We see nothing but bread and wine. We feel nothing but bread and wine. Just as the women at the empty tomb saw no risen Jesus so we see no visual proof that we are receiving anything but bread and wine. But we have Christ’s own words that the bread is his body and the wine is his blood. We know by the authority of the One who died and rose again that we receive forgiveness of sins, peace with God, and everlasting life when we receive Christ’s body and blood.
Jesus died. He died once for our sins, the just for the unjust. He who was dead is now alive. He is risen! His resurrection is our absolution. It is our life. Just as surely as Jesus is risen from the dead we who know him by faith will live forever. We have nothing to fear from death. It is but an empty form. Christ’s death has destroyed our death.
Christ Jesus lay in death’s strong bands,
For our offenses given;
But now at God’s right hand He stands,
And brings us life from Heaven.
Wherefore let us joyful be,
And sing to God right thankfully
Loud songs of Alleluia! Alleluia!
It was a strange and dreadful strife
When life and death contended;
The victory remained with life;
The reign of death was ended.
Stripped of power, no more it reigns,
An empty form alone remains
Death’s sting is lost forever! Alleluia! Amen