Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter Sunday Mark 16:1-8

The Resurrection of our Lord                                        April 8th, 2012
Mark 16:1-8

The disciples were afraid on that first Resurrection morning, and the women were sad.   How strangely different from our joyful mood this morning!  We celebrate life, they were mourning a death.  The women were bringing spices to the tomb to give Jesus this one last honor before leaving his body to decay.  And so with heavy hearts they walked to the tomb early in the morning on Sunday, and they wondered how they would roll the heavy stone away.  It doesn’t seem that the thought ever crossed their mind that Jesus perhaps might not be in the tomb.  They did not remember all those times when Jesus said that he must die, and rise again on the third day.  Their only thought was that their Lord was dead, and it was all over.
But then they caught sight of the tomb, and saw something they had not expected.  The stone was already rolled away.    How strange!  Had someone taken the body?
They went into the tomb, and to their surprise, there was an angel!  He looked like a young man, and he was dressed in a long dazzling white robe.  They were startled, surprised, shocked, speechless.  The word Mark chose translates that they were scared out of their wits— just as any of us would have been.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be alarmed.”  Why not?  Because there is good news!  The angel said,  “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified.  He has risen!  He is not here.  See the place where they laid him.”  Perhaps for the first time, they looked over to the stone slab where the body had been laid, and they saw that Jesus was not there!
No time to sit around and stare, though.  This good news needed to be told to the others.  The angel told them, “Go, tell his disciples and Peter, “He is going ahead of you into Galilee.  There you will see him, just as he told you.”
But the women, trembling and bewildered by the whole experience, left and did not tell anyone, because they were afraid. 
We have to ask, “Why didn’t those women tell anyone that Jesus was alive?”  “Why were they afraid?”  I think we can understand that they thought the disciples would not have believed them.  The women themselves probably didn’t know what to think either.  The sight of their dead Lord was still fresh in their minds, and it would take a lot to overcome that memory.  It seemed like it was all over, and it would have been hard to believe anything else, even from the mouth of an angel.
I think we can understand how they would think that Jesus’ death was the end.  They had seen him raise other people from the dead before, but he had seemed so powerless to save himself when they arrested him and put him on trial, and when they crucified him.  How could they expect him to do anything now that he had died?
Isn’t it true that we would also have thought that Jesus’ death was the end?  Isn’t it natural for us to think that death is the end?  We have heard all his promises of resurrection for those who believe in him, but still, any time someone you love dies, it is so natural to think that you will never see that person again.   Even after we have heard that Jesus himself rose from the dead, it is difficult to believe that we really will live with him.  Sometimes we even do things that make it seem like we don’t believe it at all.  Why do we fear death?  If our Lord is alive, where does our fear come from?  If a gun were pointed at your head, and someone told you to deny the resurrection, would you be afraid?  Would you deny your Lord, knowing that he is alive and he will know what you have said?  Wouldn’t you know that your Lord will welcome you into heaven if you are killed because of him?  Wouldn’t you know that your living Lord would care for your family and comfort them after you are gone?  Or would you be too afraid to risk dying for what you believe?  That’s something to think about, isn’t it?  The truth puts us to shame.
Christians, we face death as a reality, and we have not seen yet what happens on the other side of death.  But Jesus has seen, and he is alive again for us!  Now our Lord Jesus knew that we would have a hard time believing in a resurrection that we have not seen.  He knew it would be natural for us to think death is the end, because death is all that we have seen.  And so he gave us every possible proof that he is alive.  Every detail of that Resurrection morning was prepared for us, because Christ knew what we would need to see.
Now, unfortunately for you, you will not get to see the empty tomb with your own eyes.  You have to look through the eyes of the eyewitnesses.  Mark did not see these things, but Peter did, and so did the women.  Mark worked closely with the apostle Peter, as an interpreter, and Peter told him all that had happened.  So what we have in Mark’s Gospel is actually a collection of eyewitness accounts.   It was written for you, so that you too can see that Jesus the Nazarene is risen.  Pay attention to every detail, because Jesus did these things for you, to take away your fears.
First of all, on that Resurrection morning, we notice that our Lord had been planning to make sure everything would happen just right.  Just as he had arranged his Palm Sunday entrance, just as he had arranged his Maundy Thursday Supper, so now he arranged for the women to come to the tomb on Sunday morning and find it empty.  If Jesus had died any earlier on Friday, none of this would have happened.  If Jesus had died earlier on Friday, the women would have had time to buy the spices and prepare his body for a proper burial.  They would have had no reason to return to the tomb on Sunday morning, and they would have been left with that fear that Jesus’s death was the end.  As it happened, by the time Jesus was taken down from the cross, it was too late to do all of that.  The Sabbath was coming, when they could do no work and touch no dead bodies.  They had to wait until after the Sabbath, until Sunday morning.   Isn’t it just like the Jesus we know to die at exactly the right time, so that the stage would be set for the women to return to the tomb on Sunday morning and see these things that would take away their fear!
But then what would have happened if the stone had not been rolled away?  Jesus had already considered that.  He knew that the women would be coming to the tomb, and he knew that they would not be strong enough to roll the stone away.  He wanted them to see that he was not in the tomb anymore.  So he helped them out, by making sure the stone would be rolled away before they even got there.
Now what if none of that had happened, and the women had not seen the empty tomb?  If they had not seen that his body was gone, when they saw him later they would have believed that he was a ghost.  As it is, he had a tough time convincing them that he was not—our fear that death is the end is so strong!   But Jesus gave them this proof to take away their fears—the women entered the tomb and saw that the body was not there.  The cloths that had wrapped Jesus body were there, Jesus had left them neatly folded on the bed, as if he had simply woke up, changed clothes, and left.  He rose from the dead, truly, in every sense; with a new, perfectly alive body.
What if an angel had not been there to tell us what it means?  We do know that Mary Magdalene did not go into the tomb, and did not hear what the angel had said.  She thought that someone had taken the body.  The other women would have thought that also.  As for us, our faith in those promises Jesus spoke about his resurrection would not be strong enough to conquer our fears that his death was the end.  We would not connect the empty tomb with his promises that he would rise from the dead.  That needs to be explained to us!   And look what Jesus did to take away our fears—he sent an angel to preach that first Easter sermon!
What if the angel had not made special mention of the disciples and Peter?  They might have been afraid and ashamed to see him again in person.  But Jesus  wanted to take away their fears.  He sent a personalized message to them, to show that they were still in his heart and on his mind.  Though they had deserted him, they would see that their Lord still thought of them and wanted them to know this good news that he was alive.  Peter especially, who had denied him—he would hear that the angel had made special mention of him.  Peter would hear that Jesus wanted him especially to know this good news.  But here’s the really neat part—that special message also takes away our fears.  We can count ourselves with Peter and the disciples who deserted him, for every time that we have failed our Lord.  He sends good news to all who have denied him, and all who have hid their Christian faith.  He is risen!  He wants you to know that he is your living Lord!
But what if Jesus had not gone a step farther, and appeared to them in person?  Mark tells us that the women were still afraid after all of these proofs.  The stone was rolled away, the tomb was empty, the angel’s preached a sermon, and yet they were too afraid to tell anyone about this.  Jesus knew that his people would still need to see him in person.  St. Paul tells us that he appeared to the women, the apostles, and more than 500 other people.  Who could argue with all those eyewitnesses?  There really is no reason to doubt or fear, because Jesus certainly has risen from the dead!

Conclusion:  The Proofs Give us Peace 
I know it’s hard for us today to believe in a resurrection we haven’t seen.  I know that death still seems terrifying because we don’t see what will happen on the other side.  But give your heart a little peace in knowing that your Lord Jesus  has seen the other side, and he has given you all these proofs that he is alive again.  Believe the eyewitnesses!  There were more than 500 of them, and they were willing to die rather than deny that Christ is risen.
And there is one more proof.  You have a powerful message before you today.  These words from Mark are so powerful because they are not words from a dead man.  He lives!  This is a message from your living Lord!  It was preached by an angel.  It was seen by the women, and Mark wrote it down for us.   Your Lord is alive, and he has sent this to you!  So don’t be afraid, be at peace.  Jesus is still with you to help you in every need. 
And not only that—the whole Bible in fact is a message sent from your Lord to help you in every trouble.  And even though it was written so long ago, it still works because the Lord who gave it to us is still alive!  For example, because Jesus said in the Bible that we should speak for him and forgive sins, the pastor speaks for Jesus and says, “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” And you know what?  It actually still works, because our Lord who commanded us to do this is still alive!  And in the same way, when you receive the body and blood of the Lord for your forgiveness, it still works!  Jesus still gives himself to you, the Father still sees Jesus with you and in you, and he forgives your sins because Jesus is still alive.  And Baptism works because Jesus is alive.  The water of Baptism marks you as someone who belongs with Christ.  What good would that do if Christ were dead?  None at all.  But Jesus Christ is risen, and that does a lot of good.  Your baptism now means that you must rise from the dead also, because you belong with Christ, in heaven, and not in the grave.
If that seems like a lot to believe, remember the proofs.  It was just like our Lord to know us so well that he would give us all the proofs that our weak faith needs.   Let your faith rest in the facts.  The tomb was open, empty, and the angel preached that Christ is risen.  The women saw him and the apostles also, and many more people besides.  Don’t be afraid of death, because Christ has given you all this proof that he is not dead.  Christ is risen, and he showed you these things so that you would have peace.  Amen.