“Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Alleluia, Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia, Amen. Alleluia, Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia, Amen. Alleluia, Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia, Amen. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning of joy is the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the twentieth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint John. Dear friends in Christ: confusion; misunderstanding; chaos. Women run to the tomb, and run back. Mary Magdalene comes alone, sees the gaping hole. Peter runs. John runs. John arrives, but doesn’t go in. Peter arrives, and walks right in. Angels. One angel? Two angels? No body. Where’s the body? Where are the soldiers? Gravecloths. Head coverings. Gardeners. Fear. Trembling. Weeping. Where is Jesus? The tomb is empty; Jesus is gone. The cloths are there, neatly folded; no evidence of robbery, of forceful removal. “Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed.” He believes, but he does not understand. “For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise from the dead.”
No alleluia’s yet; just confusion and misunderstanding, people running to and from the tomb, muddled reports coming to the disciples in their bunker. What has happened? What does it mean? The tomb is empty, that much is certain, but where is Jesus? “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” No one understands, no one comprehends; something has happened, but the world doesn’t understand. In Rome, in Gaul, in Asia, in Egypt, people rise and go about their work, the difficult struggle to keep alive in the ancient world. The sun comes up as it always does, warming the Mediterranean world, on its journey to warm places that haven’t heard the name of Rome, much less the name of Jesus. The world doesn’t understand; for them, Easter hasn’t changed anything. In Lincoln, Nebraska, two thousand years later, people sleep in, they enjoy a few days off from work, but Easter hasn’t changed their lives. Even in the pews of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Easter simply means a yearly trip to church, some nice clothes, and an egg hunt in the afternoon. Then back to our routine. Nothing has changed. The world continues to turn, people continue to live as they always have, whether the tomb is empty or not.
Mary Magdalene stands at the entrance of that tomb, weeping. The gaping emptiness of the tomb matches the gaping emptiness of her heart. She turns, and she sees Jesus, but she doesn’t recognize her Savior. “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” His response? One word. “Mary.” “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.” He calls His sheep by name, and in a moment, everything has changed. Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia, Amen. Easter has changed everything. Or has it? With His one-word greeting, Mary could hope that Good Friday was simply an interruption, that everything would go back to the way it was before, that He would be with His friends again, doing miracles, preaching and teaching. “For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise from the dead.”
She does not yet understand: Easter has changed everything. “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Good Friday was not an interruption, and now that Easter has come, Jesus can get back to His ministry; no, Good Friday and Easter have changed everything. Nothing will remain the same. Jesus is on a journey to the right hand of the throne of God; Easter leads to the Ascension. The sheep cannot cling to their shepherd in the same way they did before; Jesus will no longer walk among them as He did for the past thirty years. But this is no reason for sorrow and despair. Easter has changed everything. When He ascends to the right hand of the throne of God, you, along with all believers of every time and place, will cling to Him in faith. In the Word, in the Supper, He has a fellowship with you that is more intimate than any He had when He walked this earth. That is what He will teach the disciples at Emmaus; in the Holy Supper, He is with you physically, with His Body and Blood, in a way that He never was before. And eternity has been set aside for you to see Him face to face.
Easter has changed everything; all things are made new. “Go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” My brothers. Jesus calls them ‘my brothers.’ Easter has changed everything. That rotten mess of failures, who abandoned their Lord at His most desperate hour, Jesus calls them ‘my brothers.’ They ran, the fled, they denied, and then they cowered behind locked doors. But Easter has changed everything. They are now His brothers. Restored, forgiven, redeemed. The blood shed upon the cross of Calvary was shed for them; He is their Savior, their brother. Satan’s lie to you, Satan’s lie to the world, is that Easter hasn’t changed anything. It’s just a holiday on the calendar, a day to dress up, or a chance to sleep in, a four-day weekend. Look around you, Satan says. You still see sin, death, and suffering, everywhere, but especially in your own life. Easter hasn’t changed anything. You are still in your sins; God is still a wrathful judge. You must cower, hide, live in fear of God’s judgment. But the empty tomb, the risen Jesus, and these words expose the lie; Easter has truly changed everything.
You were an enemy of Jesus, His denier, His betrayer, but no more. He now calls you ‘my brother.’ The One who conquered death and hell, who triumphed over Satan, who the grave could not keep, calls you ‘my brother.’ And as His brother, everything that Christ has is yours, everything that He won He gives to you. Easter has changed everything; most importantly, it has changed you. You are no longer an enemy of God, you are no longer in your sins, suffering has no hold on you, you are no longer held captive by the grave. “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Christ rises, and the Creator of the universe is your Father, your God. Christ rises, and you are no longer estranged, no longer severed from God, no longer subject to His wrath. Easter has changed everything. Easter has changed you. You are Christ’s brother, you are part of the family, Christ’s victory is your own, and He is eagerly awaiting the moment when He will raise you up with Him. No one could tell on that first Easter morning, but when Jesus left the grave behind, the clock started, the countdown began. This world is passing away, for Christ has conquered it, and it will be remade on His return. He ascends in order to return, to return in glory to give to you all that He won, to put a final end to sin, death, and Satan, to raise you up to live before Him, body and soul, in the new heavens and the new earth, forever.
That is what the empty grave means; that is what the risen Jesus means. That is what the disciples would learn to understand and then proclaim to the world. “For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise from the dead.” He must rise, for He died bearing the sin of the world. He must rise, for His death was not for Himself, but for you. He must rise, for His death conquered death. He must rise, for the Father must vindicate His Son. He must rise, so that His victory can be proclaimed throughout the world. He must rise, for the bonds of death cannot hold the One who paid the price for all sin. He must rise, for He crushed the serpent’s head. He must rise, because He is the firstborn from the death. He must rise, for this is what the Scriptures foretold. “It was the will of the Lord to crush Him; He has put Him to grief; when His soul makes an offering for guilt, He shall see His offspring; He shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in His hand.”
Do not cling to a Jesus who was simply a good teacher, a miracle worker in ancient Palestine. Do not cling to a Jesus who is a good friend, but little else. Do not cling to a Jesus who didn’t really rise from the dead. Cling to the Jesus who made an offering for guilt; His perfect life and innocent death in the place of your sin. Cling to the Jesus who has risen in victory over the grave. Cling to the Jesus who comes to you in water and Word, the bread and wine which are His Body and Blood, which give you a more intimate fellowship than any who clung to His garments or His hand as He walked this earth. Cling to the Jesus who is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. Easter has changed everything. It has changed you, it has changed this world. Death no longer rules you, Satan no longer accuses you, your sin no longer condemns you. Christ is risen, and nothing will ever be the same. Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia, Amen. Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia, Amen. Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia, Amen.