Today is the most joyous day as we celebrate that most joyous event in the history of the world–Easter, Jesus’ triumphant resurrection from the dead. Jesus rose from the dead, triumphant, never to die again. This is the heart and core of our holy Christian faith. Without Easter, there is no Christianity; then Christianity would be like the other religions of the world–its founder dead and buried and decayed in some tomb somewhere. Then think about it–all those Christians down through the years who suffered and died for their faith in Christ would have suffered and died in vain; the apostles who suffered greatly while spreading the message of Jesus crucified and risen and died horrible deaths on account of it would have done it for nothing/would have done it for what they knew to be a lie. St. Paul talks about this in the epistle where he says [1 Cor. 15.17,19, 20]: If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!...If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable… And so, dear Christian if Jesus had not risen from the dead, then all that we know and believe about God, His grace, the forgiveness of sins, heaven, would all be worthless; we would be living a lie, delusion. But what does the apostle triumphantly declare and what is our Easter celebration today? But now Christ is risen from the dead!
And what was the starting point of Easter? What was the last thing we heard on Good Friday? Pilate said to the Jews who had come to him [Mt. 27.65-66]: You have a guard; go your way, make [the tomb] as secure as you know how. So they went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard. The guard would prevent violence, the seal would prevent fraud and the stone would keep the body in. Really, what could have seemed more ridiculous–to guard a corpse to prevent it from rising?
All hope seemed gone and that gloom and hopelessness is reflected in our text: On the first day of the week, very early in the morning. That very early in the morning is literally “at deepest dawn”– when it’s darkest right before the sun rises. That gloom and darkness must be an image of what the hearts of all those who loved Jesus must have been like. With what deep sorrow these women must have set out. Jesus had already been quickly prepared for burial that Good Friday evening by Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea with about a hundred pounds of myrrh and aloe and wrapped in linen strips. Nothing says death and finality and hopelessness more than that! And now these women are going to finish the job that was started on Friday and interrupted by the Sabbath. The women went to the tomb, carrying the spices they had prepared. They had prepared them because they thought Jesus’ body would need it, that it would decay.
But they came on Easter, that most glorious festival! Easter is a day of the most glorious joy. And they would experience that greatest of joys–that joy would be heightened–as they come that morning in deepest sorrow and gloom. That joy of Easter would be heightened by that glorious surprise–the thing they were not in any way expecting–Jesus’ resurrection. Had they expected Jesus to rise, would they have even come? Had they expected the resurrection, would there have been that glorious surprise? Would there have been that great joy had they been expecting it? So, too, in our lives–perhaps it is that the Lord lets us come into great sorrow so that our joy will be greater when He rescues us; perhaps the Lord allows us to come to hopelessness and despair so that He might surprise us in a most wonderful way, so that we may clearly recognize it. In our times of sorrow let us remember that it may be the prelude to a great surprise of joy, like Easter was for these women.
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women went to the tomb, carrying the spices they had prepared. What do we see with these women? Why did they go? What was their motivation? After all, they say Jesus was clearly dead and buried; they knew that all He had done and stood for was seemingly dead and buried with Him. What brought them to that tomb? –Love! It was a desperate and unbelieving love–they came not to see Him risen but to prepare a dead body with spices for burial. They loved Jesus. They did not feel themselves hurt or deceived by Jesus; they did not say that since Jesus was dead and buried that He was a false Messiah, a deceiver. No! His life was too pure, rich in mercy for that. Love brought them to the tomb and because of that love they experienced that most glorious joy! They had that great joy, they experienced Easter because they, in love, still went to Jesus. That is vital for us to remember. Let us keep going to Jesus in love. Yes, our old sinful nature will want to keep us from going to Jesus; yes, the devil will want to keep us from going to Jesus–to His word and sacrament; yes, we will face all kinds of obstacles, but as we are like the women, filled with love of Jesus no matter how it looks, ours will be the greatest joy.
They found that the stone had been rolled away from the tomb. When they went in, they did not find the body of Jesus. They had that glorious joy because not only did they love Jesus but they boldly sought Him. Not only did they go to the tomb but they ventured in seeking Jesus’ body! Isn’t this a glorious description of faith–loving Jesus and boldly seeking Him. Otherwise they would never have heard the angel’s glorious announcement: He is not here, but has been raised! Let that be us–let us be bold and continue to seek Jesus in His word and Sacrament. Then, as we hear Him and receive Him in the word and sacrament and as He there gives us the great gifts of forgiveness of sin, eternal life, peace, joy, etc. what great joy we have! The women heard the Easter message from the angel because of their love and boldness. Let that be us–in love boldly seeking our dear Lord Jesus. Then ours will be the most glorious joy!
And why this most glorious joy for the women and for us as we in the boldness and love of faith follow them this glorious festival day to the empty tomb? Because of Jesus’ most glorious victory that first Easter Sunday! Easter means that Jesus did not stay dead–if He did, remember, we’d still be in our sins and heaven would be shut to us and hell and damnation would await us. But Jesus rose from the dead! They found that the stone had been rolled away from the tomb. Why was the stone rolled away? So Jesus could get out? Hardly! When Jesus came to life again in the tomb that first Easter, the first thing He did was, as we confess in the Creed, to descend into hell to proclaim His victory over sin, death and devil in hell itself–the very citadel of Satan. He didn’t need an open tomb to get out! And then on Easter Sunday evening Jesus came to His disciples and not even the locked doors could keep Him out.
Instead the stone was rolled away as a preaching of the resurrection victory–come look inside: Why are you looking for the living among the dead? He is not here but has been raised. Now, the linens are lying there in the tomb, unnecessary; the stone had been rolled away for people to witness the resurrection–the tomb is no longer needed; Jesus has overcome sin and death! That’s the most glorious victory ever! And no stone will block anyone from seeing that victory.
And on top of that, who announces Jesus’ most glorious victory? A holy angel! Suddenly two men stood by them in dazzling clothing. The women were terrified and bowed down with their faces to the ground. The men said to them, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has been raised!” Such a glorious joy and victory that only a holy angel is worthy to announce it first. And only an angel can announce it–no human would have thought of it/ come to that conclusion; it had to come from God Himself! He is not here, but has been raised!
And the women’s love, faithfulness and boldness are rewarded!–they see the angels and are the first to hear the Easter Gospel, that jubilant announcement that continues to sound throughout the world–especially today: death does not have the final word. Luther puts it this way in the hymn: It was a strange and dreadful strife When life and Death contended; The victory remained with Life, The reign of Death was ended; Holy Scripture plainly saith That Death is swallowed up by Death, His sting is lost forever. Where death is destroyed, so is sin, devil and hell. Jesus won the battle and now through faith in Him His victory over our spiritual enemies is ours.
When the women heard the angels’ message their faith in Jesus was confirmed–He truly is the Son of God and the Savior of the world. What a glorious word of reassurance the women heard–in spite of what they saw: Jesus dead and buried; in spite of what they were doing: bringing spices for His burial–that glorious Easter proclamation: “Why are you looking for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has been raised!” Their spices, preparations, fears were all unnecessary in light of the Living and Resurrected One; their faith was correct.
We too need that word of reassurance that our faith is correct. With all the things going on in the world, all the things in our own life going out of control, we often feel the temptation to wonder where is God, what is He doing, is my faith in Jesus even right. But then there's the glorious pronouncement of Easter: “Why are you looking for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has been raised!” Jesus is living and He is reigning; sin, death, devil and hell are all defeated. This is our faith. It is a glorious faith because it is worked by God and is true. Is it easy? Hardly! But that is what makes faith faith; it is by nature difficult. But it is glorious. Let us hear and take to heart daily–especially in time of trial–Easter’s glorious proclamation: “Why are you looking for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has been raised!” What more do we need? That’s the faith of Easter–that most glorious festival.
Easter is the fulfillment of the divine plan to save us from our sin, from death, devil and hell. Hear again the angels’ Easter proclamation: Remember how He told you while He was still in Galilee that the Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again?” But then those glorious words: Then they remembered His words. As we remember Jesus’ word, as we hold them fast in faith and receive/ unite with Jesus in the Holy Sacrament then, we, like the women, are no longer filled with fear and doubt but are full of joyful trust and belief in Jesus and His glorious resurrection. And where there is this Easter faith, there is great joy and a glorious hope. Often we are like Peter in our text: Bending over to look in he saw only the strips of linen cloth. He went home amazed at what had happened. He heard the women; he saw the evidence in the tomb but was not yet ready to believe. He was merely amazed because He didn’t believe Jesus rose and yet didn’t think the body was stolen since the linens were still there. He wondered but did not believe the resurrection. For us, today, dear Christian, we have again today heard the Easter Gospel: “Why are you looking for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has been raised!” For us to have that glorious hope of Easter, whether Easter today means anything for us, all depends on whether we believe that everything else will pass away but what really matters is what Jesus says [Jn 14.19]: Because I live, you will live also. When we believe this, we have a glorious hope; we have great peace and joy in the Lord and everything else fades in importance.
Easter is a most glorious festival–of most glorious joy, of victory, of faith and of hope. Blessed Easter. Christ is risen. INJ