Monday, April 1, 2013

Easter Day (Luke 24:1-12)

Oh, it’s you again, isn’t it? Our good friend Death, here to visit us again. Come to gloat, have you? Come to declare your victory? I saw you hanging around on Friday, as the earth shook and the sun refused to shine. The sun did emerge again as we laid our Lord into the tomb, and I’m sure it probably came up again on Saturday, but I really didn’t notice. All was sorrow and gloom, grays and blacks. My Lord was dead: my Lord! You had killed Him, Death; you had claimed Him with the nails and the cross of the Romans. He was dead; truly and completely dead. The centurion, an expert at death, someone who knew all your ways quite well, made sure with the piercing blade of the spear. And then we, who loved Jesus, went into mourning. We cowered in that locked upper room. But this morning, things are somehow different. The light is dawning; for the first time since darkness fell on Friday, I notice the sun. You are all about darkness; what can the light mean? The women go to the tomb to anoint the body, to perform the required rituals on the One you had claimed, but they do not find things as they should. “On the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.” Interesting, don’t you think? The facts are indisputable; two thousand years hasn’t changed them. On Sunday morning, the stone was rolled away and the tomb, your domain, your haunt, was empty. What do you think about that, Death?
But you don’t care about those facts, do you? The facts of Easter morning don’t concern you. You don’t care about stones rolled away or tombs empty or bodies missing. None of that matters at all to you, because they are just that, empty facts without meaning. You can still convince us that you are in charge. An empty tomb doesn’t conquer you, does it? You still assert your power, because an empty tomb simply means that the body is somewhere else. Because bodies don’t get up and walk away, do they? You make sure of that. The women on that Easter morning were perplexed and frightened. The facts made no sense to them. You had convinced them that you are absolute, that you held all power, and they believed you; they sought Jesus among the dead. They still feared you. And that is still your work, isn’t it? You declare that you are still in charge, with every murder, with every war, with every abortion you declare that you rule this world. You take our loved ones, you threaten us. And we fear you, Death, we are afraid of what you can do to us, of what you will do to us.

There is a reason why we have portrayed you in sinister ways throughout the centuries, with a black hood, a sickle in hand, long, bony fingers. We fear you, and we think that you rule this world. The facts of Easter are indisputable: the tomb is still empty! But you convince us that these facts don’t matter. “And returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to the rest…. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” The disciples and this entire world, convinced by you, still seeks Jesus among the dead. And if Jesus is still dead, we have reason to fear. We know you, alright: we see you every day. But we don’t see what is beyond you, and that is what terrifies us. You are a gate, a portal, and you refuse to let us see what is on the other side. The unknown terrifies us, it motivates us to try and avoid you in any way that we can. I think that is just fine with you, because when you do greet us, as you inevitably will, it will be without hope, scared and cowering. Those who claim to have hope, who claim to know what is behind the veil disgust you; the mystery serves you much better. 

You ensnared Peter in that mystery. “But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.” He saw the facts of Easter morning, but your hold on his mind was still firm, he still sought Jesus among the dead. And that couldn’t be too bad, right? Jesus had left a legacy, He had given some good teachings, He had guided us and made us better people. There has to be some value in that; no wonder much of the world and many Christians are happy to consider Jesus just a ‘good moral teacher.’ And you are just fine with that; no amount of morals threaten you. You can even live with a spiritual resurrection; a ghostly Jesus gives you no threat, as long as His body remains in this earth. For you know what Saint Paul knew: “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” We are to be pitied because then you still hold our loved ones captive; you still hold Jesus captive, and you will one day take us. The victory then is yours, in that strange and dreadful strife. We remain in a prison of fear, seeking our own means to elude you, all of which will one day fail, and then you have us, forever.

There is just one problem with your grand plans, your domination of me, the people in this sanctuary, and the entire world: the truth. The women found the tomb empty, but they were not left alone. “While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel.” What these men say will change everything: “And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen!’” Why do you seek the living among the dead? An empty tomb doesn’t conquer you, Death, but a living Jesus does. He is not here, but has risen! You have no hold on Him! He has risen, triumphant over you, breaking your chains, defeating you when He took His body from the tomb. 

Your haunt, the tomb, is empty because the body of Jesus is living, never to die again. He promised that He would defeat you, and so He has: “Remember how He told you, while He was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” You took Jesus, Death, you fool! You swallowed Him up, but He was a poison pill that destroyed you from the inside out. He looked so enticing, so appetizing, being beaten by the soldiers and the crowds, hanging there upon the cross, but that tree you used so often as your favorite tool was turned against you. The cross was the instrument of your destruction. His death was your death. You couldn’t hold Him in, and so He broke out of your prison, leaving you empty, powerless over Him. He promised resurrection, but you didn’t believe Him. You sought Him among the dead, like the women, like the disciples, like Peter, like us in our fears, but He is not among the dead. He is not here, but has risen! Alleluia!

You can explain away and get around the facts of the resurrection—right, Death?—an empty tomb doesn’t necessarily mean a living Jesus. But when the angels proclaim that the tomb is empty because Christ has triumphed over you, it is all over. You are defeated, conquered, because Jesus is only the beginning. Luke tells us that the women “remembered His words.” They remembered, and they believed. They believed that Christ had conquered you, and by that faith, they conquered you too. Paul is doing a victory dance upon your head because Christ’s victory means victory for all who believe: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but He has risen! You are defeated, Death, crushed, you have no more power over Christ, and no more power over those who belong to Christ. We are not among the dead, but among the living; you have no hold upon us. You are a gate, a portal to be sure, but on the other side is not the unknown, it is life, eternal life with the One who triumphed over you. You can rant and rave all that you want to, you have claimed our friends, our children, our parents, but through faith in the Risen One they have slipped through your fingers. You can take me tomorrow or in sixty years, but you do not have the victory. Christ has won, Christ has risen!

Your days are numbered, Death. Have fun while it lasts, because your day is coming. Yes, we will still mourn, we will still have funerals, but we will not grieve as those with no hope. For we have a sure and certain hope, the promise that your destruction is near. Saint Paul, in that chapter that you have to hate, 1 Corinthians 15, declares, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” On the Day of Resurrection, the fulfillment of this Easter morning, you will be annihilated, as Isaiah prophesies: “No more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress.” Christ’s victory is my victory, and the victory of all who are in Christ, who have been Absolved by His Word, Baptized into His Name, fed by His Body and His Blood. Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen! Death, hear this proclamation, then be gone, get far from me, because you have no more power over me: Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia! Amen.

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