Monday, April 5, 2021

The Resurrection of Our Lord

The Resurrection of Our Lord

“Return to the LORD: Return and See”[1]

April 4, 2021

Text: Mark 16:1-8

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!

            What the women saw in the wee hours of that first day of the week, when the sun had only just risen… scared them!  They had already come with great anxiety.  Who will roll away the stone for us?  For the stone is very large.  The tomb is insurmountable.  But when they arrived, they saw that the stone had already been rolled back.  Strange for a tomb sealed only the day before yesterday.  And upon entering the tomb, expecting, as we all would, to see a corpse, they see instead a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe.  In other words, they see an angel.  And now they are really scared.  Alarmed, Mark says, as humans always are when they see angels.  What the women see is a world turned upside down: A burst-open tomb, a living being where there should be a dead one, and the Body of their loved One, whom they’d come to anoint properly for burial, missing from the grave.

            But the women do not have eyes to see… until the young man preaches to them.  Do not be alarmed!  Always angels have to say something along these lines when they appear to people.  Don’t be afraid, Mary.  Do not fear, Joseph.  Fear not, shepherds, for I’ve come to bring you good news of great joy.  I’ve come to preach the Gospel to you!  A Savior has been born, Christ, the Lord.  And so now to the women, do not be alarmed, for something has happened that will cast out fear forever.  You are seeking a Jesus who was crucified, dead, and buried.  But the Creed will never again end there.  He has risen; he is not here.  See the place where they laid him” (Mark 16:6; ESV).  The young man in the white robe preaches the death and resurrection of Jesus to the women!  And hearing the preaching, they are given eyes to see! 

            And then they are given a message.  Go and tell his disciples and Peter… Tell them what?  He is going before you to Galilee.  You will see Him, just as He told you.  Wait, what?  One can only imagine how the minds of these dear women must have struggled to catch up to the Gospel truth proclaimed into their ears and set before their eyes.  If He is not here in the grave… If He is going ahead into Galilee, to meet His disciples… If we will see Him… Then it must be true, what the young man said.  It must be true, what Jesus has been preaching all along.  Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!  But they run away from the tomb, seized with trembling and astonishment, and afraid to say anything to anyone, because, well… You can understand, can’t you?  Can we really believe our eyes and our ears?  And if this is true… and, it’s true!... the whole world has been turned upside down.

            This is why it is so important, what St. Paul writes in our Epistle (1 Cor. 15:1-11).  Paul preaches a Christ who has died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, and has been raised on the Third Day in accordance with the Scriptures.  And this is not a pious myth, like the ancient Greek stories of old.  Nor is it a figment of the women’s, or the disciples’, imagination, as though in their grief, they are unable to cope with reality.  Nor is it that Jesus lived on in their hearts, like we so often say of Grandma, or another loved one who has died… which is really just to say, they are dead, and we miss them.  Nor is it some sort of spiritual resurrection like the Gnostics, and liberal American pseudo-Christians, would claim, whereby Jesus overcame the bondage of His physical body, to arise spiritually in His true form.  When Paul preaches (and when we preach) that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, that means bodily.  And it is an overwhelmingly well-attested fact.  People saw Him.  Touched Him.  Ate with Him.  He ate.  He showed His crucifixion wounds.  People poked around in them.  And the point is, they saw.  There were eyewitnesses.  They had seen Him dead.  Now they saw Him alive!  Cephas (Peter).  The Twelve.  More than five hundred brothers at one time, and Paul is very careful to make the point that, though a few of them have fallen asleep (in other words, they died… but they, too, will rise), most of them are still alive and well at the time of this writing, so you can go ask them about it.  They’ll tell you.  Then to James, the Lord’s brother.  Then to all the Apostles.  And finally, on the Damascus road, to Paul himself, turning this zealous persecutor of the Church into the great Apostle to the Gentiles.  Most of these people died gruesome deaths simply for believing and confessing the truth: Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  And all of them suffered for it.  For they knew what they had seen.  They'd been given eyes to see.  And they were sustained by the preaching.  They’d been given ears to hear. 

            We wish we could see it, what they saw.  Lord Jesus, just let me see You.  Just a little glimpse of Your resurrection Body, and the scars of my redemption.  That would be enough.  But then I’m reminded of our Lord’s reaction to poor Philip, who said something very similar: Lord, show us the Father.  That will be enough for us…  Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip?” (John 14:9).  It is true, we don’t get to meet up with Jesus in Galilee, to see Him with these still-fallen eyes.  Or behind closed doors in the Upper Room, to poke around in His wounds with Thomas.  Or by the Sea of Tiberius, to breakfast on His smoked fish recipe with Him.  Let’s be honest… He doesn’t even knock us on our… backsides… with a blazing appearance on the roadside.  And we’re probably actually thankful that one hasn’t happened, though He does have a penchant for knocking us down when we’re on the wrong road, thank God.  He calls us to repentance. 

            But what do we see?  A man (not very young, anymore, but a man) sent by God, clothed in white, proclaiming good news of great joy.  Do not be alarmed.  All fear is cast out.  Because this Jesus, who was crucified for you, for the forgiveness of your sins, is no longer in the grave.  The impregnable tomb has burst open.  The stone is rolled away.  Jesus Christ has risen from the dead.  Bodily.  Just as He said.  Go and tell everybody.  He is going before you into heaven.  And He is the firstfruits of the Resurrection.  There you will see Him.  Finally.  These fallen, dead eyes, healed.  What your ears have heard, these eyes will see… what is already the reality.  It will be as Job said: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.  And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another” (Job 19:25-26).  Christ is risen from the dead, bodily.  And on that Day He will raise us, bodily.  To live, bodily, with Him forever.

            We live for that Day.  And what a Day it will be.  We don’t yet know, entirely, what it will be like.  But as St. John writes, “we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).  But of all people, the Prophet Isaiah gives us a pretty good picture of that Day (25:6-9), and he, writing in the Old Testament, several hundred years before Jesus was born.  It will be a Feast.  And not just for the Jews.  Not just for the nation of Israel.  But for all peoples.  Even for Gentiles, like those to whom Paul preached, and like most, if not all of us, gathered together in this place.  And it will be rich food, and well-aged wine; meat full of marrow, prime marbled cuts, with wine well-refined.  And we know from the wedding in Cana, it will be the very best, and it will not run out.  And all that now casts a pall over us, this veil that blocks our sight, He will swallow up.  And that includes death forever.  And He will clear our eyes.  He will wipe away all our tears, taking away all sadness and sorrow and pain.  And the reproach we’ve suffered here, the guilt of our sins, the world’s mockery, the devil’s accusations… that will be at an end.  All will know the truth.   They will see it for themselves, that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, that He lives, and he reigns.  And what I find, perhaps, most moving, is what we will say on that Day: This is our God.  We knew it!  We’ve waited for Him to come and save us.  And now, look.  This is YHWH (and we’ll be pointing to the flesh and blood Man on the throne of His Father).  This is the LORD.  We have waited for Him.  And here He is, our dear Savior.  Let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation.

            That Day is coming.  It is coming soon.  We can be certain of it, because the young man preached, and the women saw, the eyewitnesses testified, even unto death, and these things are written that you may believe.  In the meantime, here is a foretaste of the Feast to come.  Here you can poke around in the risen Lord’s wounds.  Eat them.  Drink them.  It is all true.  Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!  And here He is.  Come and see.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son X, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.                  

[1] The theme and many of the ideas for this sermon are from Eric Longman, Return to the Lord: Resources for Lent-Easter Preaching and Worship (St. Louis: Concordia, 2020).

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