Beloved. Today Easter and April Fools’ Day are on the same day. And that is really quite fitting because Easter—Jesus’ resurrection—really is the best April Fools’ of all: it is God’s April Fools. On Good Friday, Jesus was crucified and truly dead. The Roman soldiers standing guard at the crucifixion declared Jesus dead [John 19.32; Mk. 15.44] and Pilate agreed with their verdict and allowed Jesus’ body to be buried. Then the religious leaders of the Jews wanted a guard to watch the tomb so that no one could come and steal the body and stage a resurrection. St. Matthew [27.66] states that the Jews then went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard. There was no doubt about it. Jesus was dead—declared so by the governing authorities—and buried, His body guarded by agents of His enemies.
But what? April Fools! God’s April Fools! On Easter morning the tomb was empty. Jesus was raised from the dead. That means that death had been conquered—Jesus went into death and did not stay dead but came back to life. Death’s power/ stranglehold was broken. If death was conquered—death which is the result of/ consequence of sin—that also means that sin was conquered. After all, remember that Jesus never once sinned; instead, He took all of our sins on Himself, was made sin. And because Jesus lived that holy, sinless life for us in our place, offering to God that perfect obedience to His Law that God demands of us but that we do not give Him; and because He offered the once for all perfect sacrifice for our sin on the cross, Jesus has reconciled the sinful human race to God and brought us the forgiveness of sin. And now with the forgiveness of sin, life and peace with God, we have been rescued out of the devil’s kingdom.
That’s God’s April Fools. Precisely when it looked like the devil and his allies had conquered as they got Jesus to the cross and killed Him, precisely when it looked like Jesus, the Savior of the world, was out of the way and the devil and his evil triumphed—April Fools! The tomb is empty. Jesus rose from the dead. What makes this the most dramatic April Fools’ Day is that exactly what the devil used to try to destroy Jesus—the cross and death—are the very means Jesus used to turn around and overcome/ conquer the devil, sin and death. When it looked like the devil, sin and death had conquered on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, that was the set up to the greatest April Fool ever!
Since we had meditated upon St. John’s Passion account this past Lent in our Wednesday evening services, it does us good to examine for a few moments this morning His account of that greatest ever April Fools: Easter morning. Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. There was God’s April Fools—He had the stone removed from the door to the tomb, not so that Jesus could get out —but so the world could see that the tomb was empty. There with the stone rolled away from the tomb was God’s proclamation of His bringing to naught the evil counsel of the world, His annulling of all that rose up against truth and faith. We read in the psalm : Why do the nations rage, and the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, “Let us break Their bonds in pieces and cast away Their cords from us.” He who sits in the heavens shall laugh—that’s the Lord pulling His April Fools: He raised Jesus from the dead—And He shall speak to them in His wrath: “Yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion.” Precisely with His crucifixion and resurrection Jesus establishes and gathers people into His kingdom, the Church. And with the stone gone from the tomb, the Lord wants all to see His verdict—Jesus is the King.
St. Mary Magdalene sees that the stone had been taken away and runs to the apostles to tell them. Sts. Peter and John were running to the tomb. First, St. John gets there: And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Let us be like the holy apostles this Easter and go to the tomb, peer in and then enter to see Jesus’ linen burial cloths and let them preach Easter—Jesus’ resurrection—to us and to announce God’s “April Fool” on our spiritual enemies of sin, death, devil and hell.
We first read earlier of Jesus’ burial cloths on Good Friday [John 19.40]: Then [St. Joseph of Arimathea and St. Nicodemus] took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury. Now as we peer and go into Jesus’ tomb with Sts. Peter and John, the burial clothes preach Jesus’ resurrection to us with the simple fact by their just being there. The most basic thing they preach is that Jesus’ body was not stolen. Even assuming robbers had come to take the body and had gotten past the guards the Jews had put there—wouldn’t they be in a hurry and not take the time to unwind the strips of linen? And even if they had the time, why would they do the time consuming task of unwinding the strips? And one scholar even claims that the myrrh would have “glued” the linen to the body like lead, making it even more difficult. What purpose would it serve to unwrap the body?
And, of course, the other basic question: who would benefit from a missing Jesus? St. Mary Magdalene was probably thinking the Jews took Jesus’ body since she told the disciples: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” But that is non-sensical since the Jews were the ones who put the guards there to prevent the disciples from taking the body. Obviously she didn’t know that and perhaps she was thinking that they took Jesus’ body so the disciples couldn’t make it a shrine and go there to pay Him homage.
Perhaps the Jews were right [Mt. 27.. 62-64]: the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Really the only ones to benefit from Jesus’ body being gone would have been the disciples. But they were clueless; St. Mary Magdalene’s reaction and the disciples’ reaction show that taking the body was the furthest thing from their mind, as full of shock and fear, they went out…and…were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together. Jesus’ burial cloths preach to us the fact of the resurrection just by their being there.
Our text: And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. The linen cloths were just lying there. They hadn’t been touched, that is, they weren’t unwound nor were they cut. They were just lying there. You can imagine these linen cloths lying flat pressed down by about 100 pounds of aloes and myrrh. You can imagine the face cloth folded up in a place by itself, that is, still bunched up, rolled up at the end of the slab where the body had lain. What is all this a picture of? It’s a picture of the linen cloths and face cloth laying there as empty shells of where the body had been but had slipped out, had passed through. They were like a deflated balloon. The outward covering was there but the inward/ what they covered was gone. Jesus’ resurrected and glorified body simply went through the burial cloths. The body was gone, the cloths still trying to do their job and cover something that was no longer there. Just as Jesus could appear on Easter Sunday evening to His disciples who were behind locked doors—since doors and walls were no obstacle to Him coming physically and being with them bodily—so also now in the morning, the burial linens—and the stone barring entrance to the tomb—were no obstacle to His leaving the tomb. God’s April Fools!
Now, after His resurrection, Jesus had that very same body that was placed into the tomb on Good Friday. But on Easter, it was different. It was glorified. It was still real flesh and blood—as Jesus told His disciples when He met them that evening [Lk. 24.39]: Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have. Here we get a glimpse of how we will one day be in heaven after the resurrection on the Last Day—as we confess in the Creed: I believe in…the resurrection of the body. Come the Last Day our bodies will be raised from our graves and they will be glorified, like Jesus’ perfect body now is, and fit for an eternity in heaven. They will be reunited with our soul and we will then be for all eternity in heaven before the holy Triune God in perfect joy and bliss as God intended us to be purified soul and glorified body. Because Jesus rose from the dead, we too will one day rise from the dead—on the Last Day, at Jesus’ command; just as His body was raised holy, perfect and glorious, so, too will ours be. Though we mourn at the graves of our loved ones, come the Last Day with the resurrection of the body and reunion for all eternity of body and soul, God will again say, if you will, to all our spiritual enemies: April Fools! Jesus won!
However, Jesus’ burial cloths can only do so much. They give the evidence that yes, indeed, Jesus rose; but Jesus’ burial cloths do not and cannot create faith. Only the Holy Spirit working in the word and sacrament can do that. Notice our text: Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. They see the signs of the resurrection in the empty tomb. The deflated burial cloths, showing the body that is supposed to be there but is not, led them to know the fact of the resurrection—or at the very least something “different” had happened. But now armed with the “physical” facts they were prepared for faith, prepared to understand that Jesus did rise from the dead and what that means.
St. John saw and believed but his faith was still a weak and wobbly thing. There was certainly much doubt and uncertainty. Even later that day, St. John reports that he and the other disciples were behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. The disciples were very well known for thinking their own thoughts. Even other believers in Jesus like St. Mary Magdalene whom we met at the beginning of our text told the disciples: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Even though we see in her a strong faith since she still calls Jesus Lord even though He was crucified and died, she had no thought of even the possibility of a resurrection.
Jesus was gracious to them and us today who pray “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!” and didn’t leave it with the “preaching” of Jesus’ burial cloths. Instead, as we see elsewhere Jesus showed His disciples from the OT prophecies that it was necessary for Him to have suffered these things and to rise and enter into His glory [Lk. 24.25-27]. Be in church this Easter season to hear and ponder the richness and blessing Jesus won for us by His death and resurrection. Be here to receive Jesus in the Holy Supper as He there gives us His risen and glorified body for the forgiveness of sin, strengthening of our faith and for eternal life.
The burial cloths preach the resurrection but the Holy Spirit leads us to the word and a right understanding of Scriptures that teach that Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection for the salvation of the world, to rescue you and me from sin, death, devil and hell, for God’s great April Fools. INJ Amen.