Updated: Apr 13
St. Mark 16:1-8
When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
We are used to smiling faces on a sunny Easter morning, aren’t we? Many of us are used to having breakfast together at the church, to seeing and smelling the beauty of the lilies. We’re used to the grandeur of the hand bells and the joy of singing Easter hymns together. We’re used to greeting each other with, He is risen; He is risen indeed; Alleluia! But even from our homes on this peculiar Easter Sunday, we celebrate something that cannot be diminished.
Who will do this monumental thing for us? Who will do this? What the women were saying to each other on the way to Jesus’ tomb can be illustrative of a much bigger thing. Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven. Those familiar words are from the Nicene Creed. They confess that something was done for us that we could never do ourselves. Who will do this? The Easter Sunday news is the answer to that opening question: Who will do this monumental thing for us? Christ will do it for us. He has done it, in fact.
The stone covering the tomb’s entrance was the monumental thing the women were discussing. It had been put there by Pilate’s soldiers. It was done at the Jewish leaders’ behest. They wanted the tomb guarded so that the body wouldn’t disappear, and the disciples say He rose from the dead. That thought was so distasteful to them. Were that to happen, the last fraud will be worse than the first, they said (Matt. 27:64). The tomb was even sealed so that it couldn’t be the case. Soldiers remained there too. All bases had been covered. The women had every reason to think that the stone would still be there, and would be a great hindrance to them finishing the burial preparations on Jesus’ body that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had hastily begun before the Sabbath. But then, the unexpected: they saw that the stone had been rolled back. What could it mean?
The women weren’t thinking of the possibility that Jesus had risen. In John’s account, he even says that Mary asked Jesus (thinking Him to be the gardener), “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
It seems astonishing, doesn’t it; that the women (and that the disciples) weren’t anticipating the Resurrection?! Jesus had predicted it a number of times. Mark mentions one of the times in his eighth chapter. It was just after Peter had made a strong confession of Jesus as the Christ. Mark writes: And [Jesus] began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again (8:31). On another occasion, Jesus had charged [the disciples who witnessed His Transfiguration] to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead (Mark 9:9).
The women enter the tomb. A young man is there, dressed in a white robe - an angel, Matthew says (28:5). He reminds the women that Jesus had said these things - that this was what was supposed to happen. He sends them to tell his disciples; go and tell these ones who would be sent out to proclaim the message to the world. What Jesus had said would happen has happened!
But again, this was an unexpected message. Even as two of the disciples journeyed to Emmaus later, and encountered Jesus (though not recognizing Him), the one said, we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel, as if Jesus rising from death - defeating it - was the furthest thing from their minds.
The news was incredible, wasn’t it? And by incredible, I don’t just mean great; I mean, seemingly, not credible. I mean that it’s the kind of thing that seems like it could never happen. It’s an unimaginable thing - someone rising back to life again after being killed (It’s among the first things that scoffers dismiss about the Bible - Could never happen, they say.).
When Peter drew his sword in the Garden to defend Jesus from being arrested, resurrection wasn’t on his mind. He wasn’t thinking to himself, well, I’ll try to defend Him; but He did say He would rise again, so… No. As far as he was concerned, in order for Jesus to be for them what they wanted Him to be - what they believed Him to be, He would have to avoid being arrested, and tried, and convicted, and crucified. If He didn’t avoid that, how could He be anyone’s savior? The dead don’t save people. So, even though Jesus had said that He would rise from death, it seems to have gone right past these disciples. They were devoted to keeping Him alive; not weighing what possibility might exist should He die.
Easter morning was a time of mourning for Jesus’ disciples, and for the women who came to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body. Jesus had asked them to believe something incredible, and there’s no two ways about it; they weren’t believing it. Perhaps the most vocal among them on the matter, Thomas, went on to say, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (John 20:25). But of all of the disciples, it says that when he appeared to them on Easter evening he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen (Mark 16:14).
We confess the Words of the Nicene Creed, including the words, on the third day He rose again from the dead. How casually those words have gone past so many times for us, though, just as for the disciples. Jesus was saying it to them in order to bring them the profoundest comfort and joy; but their minds were on this world’s and this life’s things. So are ours. What a different perspective the Resurrection puts on everything about this life!
Martin Luther wrote to his father, who was dying. He wrote: May our dear Lord and Savior be with you so that, God willing, we may see each other, either here or yonder. For our faith is certain, and we doubt not that we shall shortly see each other in the presence of Christ. Our departure from this life is a smaller thing to God than my journey would be from here to Mansfeld or yours from Mansfeld to Wittenberg. It is only an hour’s sleep, and after that all will be different. This is most certainly true.
Luther writes this because even death means something different for us now in light of the Resurrection. Death doesn’t mean what the disciple who spoke to Jesus on the road to Emmaus thought it means. For Jesus, it doesn’t mean that He must not have really been the Redeemer. It doesn’t mean anymore for us sinners, an entrance to eternal punishment.
Death, now, in light of the Resurrection, is an entrance to life - real life, eternal life. St. Paul testified before Agrippa, that Christ was the first to rise from the dead (Acts 26:23). He has opened the door, that all who cling to Him might follow.
He has opened the door to you. He has answered the question - not about rolling back a stone - but about salvation from the guilt of your sins, who will do this for us? He has answered it by rising from death and defeating it.
Consider the angel’s words to Mary to be said also to you, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. Do not be alarmed. You have the risen Savior you need. The atonement He has made for your sins is proven in the Resurrection. Christ took your doubts and all other sins to the cross, and to the grave, that before, had been a hopeless end. He emerged from that grave with your complete and free forgiveness in hand. That cannot be diminished even in the midst of pandemic quarantine. There isn’t any reason to be alarmed, whether by your guilt before God, or death that is its consequence. Christ has paid it, and is risen indeed, so that you and all who follow Him will rise. Alleluia! Amen.
Behold, my servant shall act wisely;
he shall be high and lifted up,
and shall be exalted.
As many were astonished at you—his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,
and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—
so shall he sprinkle many nations.
Kings shall shut their mouths because of him,
for that which has not been told them they see,
and that which they have not heard they understand.
1 Corinthians 5:6-8
Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.