Easter Sunday 2015

Easter Sunday
5 April 2015
Mark 16:1-20

 In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The cowardice of Nicodemus in his comfortable religion is no stranger to us. But Nicodemus, for all his weakness, did serve the Lord with Joseph of Arimathea, who likewise was ashamed of his faith. Together those two imperfect saints were more brave than the disciples. They went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. That took some courage. They then dressed His Body with expensive spices and wrapped it in a linen cloth for burial. That took some reverence.

Pilate dismissively spoke of the “corpse” of Jesus’ body when he released it to them, but even though they were respectful, reverent and even somewhat brave, they also expected that that is what they would get: the dead body of Jesus that would stay dead. It is much the same with Mary Magdalene and the other Mary and all the disciples. They loved Jesus, but they thought that He was dead forever.

There is irony however. Pilate is less sure than they are. He protests a bit too much. Why be so crass in speaking to those who mourn? Worse yet, why set a guard? Who guards a dead man? Who continues to mock and resist a defeated enemy? Why do they dread, even to this very day, One who is dead? If He is only Man, then His words, “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it” is an idle threat. If He is only a Man, then He will stay dead and He will never trouble Pilate and the Sanhedrin again. And then His followers and their morality are not objects worthy of scorn. Unless, of course, His Word is true and He rises. If that is the case then it is an altogether different problem for Pilate and the Sanhedrin.

Alleluia. He is risen.

He is risen indeed, Alleluia.

In fact, Pilate and the Sanhedrin dread this Man that they hope with false hope is dead. The modern enemies of the Gospel do the same. Muslim bakeries are not under attack, even if they call for the extermination of homosexuals with nearly as much zeal as hateful, self-righteous men call for the lynching of ignorant owners of pizza shops. The enemies of Christ labor in vain. He lives. But even if their labor is in vain, it still hurts. Mary is heart-broken. The disciples are afraid. There is sorrow on every hand. But the Christian response to their ignorance, hatred, and fear is not hatred and anger but pity.

Indeed, it does not matter what they say they hate, hatred is hatred, and being the victim of slander and threats is painful no matter how stupid it is. Hatred is all the same, even if what it claims to hate is hatred. Christians, redeemed by Christ, do not respond to hatred with hate, but with pity and love. The Lord is laying before us opportunities to pray, people to love and evangelize. Jesus prayed for us from the cross and He taught us there to pray for our enemies, for those who persecute us.

All the apocalyptic literature in the Bible foretells a worsening of persecution and hardship right before the end. Maybe we’re nearing that. I don’t know. But we certainly haven’t reached the point that our brothers and sisters suffered in Stalinist Russia or Marxist China or Nazi Germany. Nor would it seem to yet be as difficult and violent as the many persecutions in the early church or anywhere close to what Christians are suffering now in much of the Middle East and parts of Africa – where Christians are not simply being insulted and losing parts of their income and freedom, but are being killed.

In light of such hardship and suffering, our hand-wringing is shameful. Repent. We’re not martyrs. We’re Nicodemus. We’re Mary coming to the grave thinking Jesus is dead.  We’re a bit afraid of what our religion might cost us, but we know we have to come.

The angel of the Lord spoke gently to Mary at the tomb. He did not seek to comfort the guards at all. He left them in terror. But to the women, he said: “Do not be afraid. I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. I know they did terrible things to Him and your hearts are breaking anew to find Him missing, but the violence and humiliation are done. He is not here because He is risen – just as He said. What He foretold came true. His Word and promises are trustworthy. He has not and He will not fail you. Come and see where they lay Him and then go tell the others that He is risen from the dead and comfort them with these words that comfort you. For you will see Him again. He has not left you.”

Alleluia. He is risen.

He is risen indeed, Alleluia.

That is the Gospel for cowards, for those who are ashamed of their Lord’s morality, who fear for their comfort, who harbor doubts that God is not good or has forgotten them. It is the Gospel for us, for our age: “Do not be afraid. Jesus is risen just as He told you.” Jesus, who has died for our transgressions, lives. The victory doesn’t abide in our faithfulness or zeal or the strength of our trust. It doesn’t abide in our intentions or sincere effort. It isn’t kept by democratic ideals or just laws and good government. It is given and it abides in His promise. He is risen just as He told you.

Don’t be afraid. God is faithful. He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. That is not a cliché. It is a Bible passage. It is a promise. It is not just for the martyrs. It is more Nicodemus and Mary, for all the Baptized. If God puts you into those situations He will give you the strength that you need. He goes on: With the temptation He will provide the way of escape so that you will be able to bear it. It may seem as though you can’t, but you can and you will. He is with you. He keeps His promises. He won’t fail. He won’t forget. He knows what He is doing.

See the place where they laid Him? He was dead. Thank God: He was dead! For that death destroyed death. That death atoned for our transgressions. That death stood in the gap and took the accusations and justice arrayed against us and by His stripes and His holy death we are healed, forgiven, saved. Thank God that Jesus was dead. But He who died is not dead anymore. He is alive and that resurrection has brought life and immortality to light. That resurrection has restored to us everlasting life. That resurrection broken the power of death and reconciled us to the Father.

He is not angry. He holds no grudge. The devil has lost and has no recourse, no strength left. His skull is crushed and he does not rise. The grave is also defeated and gives up its dead.

Jesus has won your place at His Father’s side as His holy Bride – and He has not made a mistake. You don’t have to be strong. He is strong for you. You don’t have to be brave. He has already won the fight. You don’t have to be good. He has declared you righteous. They meant it for evil. He meant it for good. He comes out of the grave bearing peace – just as He said that He would – and He comes seeking you.

This world is passing away and our place in it is as well. Things might get harder. Greater sorrow may come. Only God knows. But Jesus lives. He will not abandon us. This life is not all there is and death itself is transitory. Soon, soon to faithful warriors cometh rest. Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.

Alleluia. He is risen.

He is risen indeed, Alleluia.

 

In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.

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