Sermon for Easter Sunday, April 05, 2015

Sermon for Easter Sunday, April 5, 2015

St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas

Sermon Text:  Mark 16:1-8

Sermon Theme:  “Gone?!”

 (Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 16, Part 2, Series B; Emphasis Online Illustrations and Commentaries; original ideas and examples; Anderson’s Cycle B Preaching Notebook; Brokhof’s Preaching Workbook, Series B)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

           In our Gospel text for today, as the three women, — the two Mary’s and Salome, — enter the empty tomb at dawn, and an angel says to them, “He is risen!,” they didn’t respond, as we did this morning, with “He is risen indeed!,” did they?

No, — instead, the women are scared out of their wits by the presence of the angel sitting where the body had lain.  They leave the tomb trembling and bewildered.  The women were afraid.  They fled from the tomb.  They said nothing to anyone.  The predominant emotion is fear!  The main idea is that Jesus is GONE, and that could be good or bad.  Where is the Easter joy we came to hear about, read about and sing about this morning?

The Easter angel, — or angels (Luke says “angels” in his Gospel), — announced the Good News in Matthew, Mark and Luke, but in a different order.  Matthew and Luke say first that Jesus is not here anymore, that He has left the tomb, — in other words, GONE!  Then, they say He has arisen.  The angel in Mark’s Gospel says He is risen first, and then that He is not there.  This may be nit-picking, but it seems that Mark is prioritizing the proclamation.  He is saying that Jesus is alive, and He is out there with you!

In John’s Gospel account, Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene outside the tomb.

In all the accounts, the most common emotion reported is fear.  Matthew says, “The guards shook and became like dead men.”  Luke says, “The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground.  And, of course, our account from Mark emphasizes the fear and the absence of Jesus.

To be sure, in Mark’s version, the resurrection is a mixture of light and shadow.  The whispers from the cemetery come to us amid the shadows.  The call to the mission of spreading the Gospel is greeted with fear and silence.  The tomb is safe; how safe is the call to Galilee the angel gives us?

Because the Gospel of Mark ends so abruptly, it seems incomplete.  As I said, it ends on a note of fear instead of joy.  It ends in silence rather than proclamation.  Some Bible scholars even think that the ending of Mark’s manuscript was lost, and so it’s incomplete.

Most of us think we should let it stand as it is.  Mark’s writing is simple, terse, factual, and straight-forward.  He captures the very essence of that astonishing event.

Because we know the story so well, it’s difficult for us to grasp the enormous surprise, and overwhelming shock and astonishment the women coming to the tomb would have felt.  When my oral exam was over at the University of Michigan, my professors stood up, and, one by one, congratulated me for finishing all the requirements for the Doctor of Arts degree, I was stunned and almost passed out.

Then, when my wife took me to a restaurant to celebrate, I was still too stunned to eat one bite of food.  I had to lie down on the back seat of our car while Peggy ate alone on one of the greatest days of my life.  I can imagine the women at the tomb experiencing some of the same intense emotions.

During our Lenten-Easter worship, we tried to capture some of that astonishment.  At the end of our Maundy Thursday service, we stripped the altar bare and left in silence.  On Good Friday, we entered and left a solemn church in shadows, with the crucifixes draped in black.  Then, this morning, we entered the brightly lit church adorned with white paraments and a chancel bedecked with beautiful Easter flowers and the Cross of Glory ablaze with flowers and lights!

That’s about as close as human beings can come in trying to recapture the astonishment of that first Easter morning!  So maybe the fear and astonishment and silence of the women were not so odd after all.

The point of the Resurrection is that it is the proclamation of the fulfillment of God’s promises to us, and we must accept it by faith.  Our reason or common sense rebels against the Holy Spirit as He comes to us through the Word.  He must even create in us the very faith that grasps the Word of the Gospel, for we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ our Lord or come to Him.

Just as Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome had only the word of the angel, one of God’s messengers (Jesus was gone; somebody could have stolen His body), so we, too, have God’s messengers to provide us with the promises of the Gospel.  It is only faith that believes God’s Word.  Only faith can confess that Jesus’ conception was that of the Holy Spirit.  Only faith can grasp that God made Mary’s womb His throne for nine months.  Only through faith are we able to look at the body of Jesus on the cross and proclaim that the glory of God is in this death, for God is the one who died for our sins.

The Resurrection is a matter of trusting God’s Word, whether it is the word of the angel in the tomb or St. Mark’s writing about it.  Yet, we might think, ‘But they were there, they saw the empty tomb, they talked to the angel, Mary Magdalene talked to Jesus, and later Thomas was able to touch Jesus’ body and feel the nail holes.  Yes, that is true, the disciples were able to experience our Lord’s physical presence after the Resurrection.

But our loving Lord and Savior knows that we need His physical presence also, and so He has provided for that, — as in, with and under the bread and wine of the Holy Supper, which we will receive after while, we experience His actual presence.

What this means is that every time the Lord’s Supper is celebrated, it is Easter.  In the Holy Supper, God Himself is present, not because He is the Creator and all-powerful God, but rather because in the humility of bread and wine and the spoken Word, He proclaims Himself to have risen from the dead.  The very work of the crucifixion, the payment for sins, comes to us through the Holy Meal.  Yes, indeed, this is the Feast of Victory for our God, alleluia!

Gone?  No, not gone!  Risen!  Risen indeed!

As you approach the altar today to receive His body and blood, let the words of the angel ring in your ears:  “He is risen. . . . There you will see Him, just as He told you.”  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.