22 March 2008

Easter Divine Service

That a tomb is empty is not necessarily good news, or even big news. Easter is not about an empty tomb. Especially since Jesus’ tomb was not empty at all. There was someone in it. Only it was not Jesus. A young man who had clothed himself in white, we are told. We may surmise the young man to be an angel by the way the women react: terror! That’s the usual response of human beings when we encounter one of God’s holy messengers.

Listen to the messenger, though, and he tells you news that is both good and big. “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is not here. He is risen. See the place where they put him. But go, tell his disciples, and Peter, that He goes before you to Galilee, there you will see Him as He told you.”

That a man rose from the dead is big news indeed, but it is not yet the good news. After all, people had risen from the dead before: Lazarus of Bethany, Jairus’s daughter, the widow of Nain’s son, and even a few in the Old Testament. Big news each time, to be sure – but only temporarily good news to them and their families. For the simple fact is that they were one and all raised only to die again.

So what is the good news of Easter, if it is not that the tomb is empty or that a man rose from the dead?

It is this: that Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified, is risen! The One who had lifted onto his back the burden of this world’s sin and carried it to Calvary and there owned it as His very own, so that all that is ours might become His that all that is His might become ours! The One who stood under the divine wrath in your place and mine, that One is now risen. The One who bore what we could not bear without it destroying us, has proven stronger and come out alive! Death could not hold Him because He had no sin of His own and His sufferings have completely answered for the sin of the rest of us. His resurrection is then the Father’s absolution, wiping out the sin of all. That’s how Paul says it: He was put to death for our sins, and raised for our justification! And that, my friends, is good news indeed.

For it means that before God, there is no remembrance of our sins! And that means that death itself has lost its ultimate claim on us. Oh, we may indeed die – certainly we will, unless our Lord returns first. But death itself has been utterly transformed by Christ’s resurrection. Our corruptible bodies (bodies that fall apart) need to be changed into incorruptible ones (bodies that never fall apart). Not that God gives us different bodies, he simply repairs these bodies to be all that He meant them to be from the beginning. God usually works this change through death. Picture physical death, then, as being put under anesthesia before undergoing that transforming surgery by our Great Physician. Only we wake up from this anesthesia with no ill-side effects and with our bodies repaired and restored, never to be sick or frail or subject to death ever again. All this is promised to you who are baptized into Christ by the Resurrection of Jesus: sins forgiven and so death defeated.

Now, that is indeed incredibly great good news. But there is even more. The Lord’s messenger reminds the women of the Lord’s own words of promise about where He would be to meet the disciples, and Peter is singled out. “Go, tell His disciples and Peter.”

Peter, who had boasted that even if all the others fell away, he would stand faithful to the Lord. Peter, who had tried to protect our Lord with a sword. Peter, who had denied that he knew his Lord three times – out of fear of suffering and death. Peter, to whom the Lord Jesus had looked after the crowing of the cock. Peter, who then burst into tears and ran away ashamed. Peter, who is so much a picture of you and me and all our good intentions ending in continual failures, all our boasting coming to nothing, all our human will power evaporating just when we need it. Peter, who is a picture of us.

It’s as though the Lord were saying through the angel: “O you who have failed me and even denied me by words and deeds, you I call too, to come and meet me where I will be. There I will receive you, pardon you, restore you.” That’s incredibly great news!

We know where He promised to meet the disciples and Peter: “In Galilee.” We also know that He met them before they could even get there. Seems they were having a bit of hard time believing the good news the women brought them, so Jesus himself had to show up and put their fears and doubts to flight – but we’re getting ahead of the story. That is next week’s Gospel. If Galilee is where His own words directed them to meet the Risen One, what about you and me? His words direct us to our own Galilee, to the Holy Supper, to this Table. There the Risen One presides, offering to you the sacrifice He once carried on your behalf into the Most Holy Place. He gives it to you that your fears might be put to flight. That you might come to believe and know that your sins – however great, however often repeated – have all been answered for by this Body and Blood, and therefore your death will be no more than going under the anesthesia and waking up alive like you’ve never been alive before. After all, into you has gone the Body and Blood of the Son of God who, though He was once dead, is alive forevermore. His body and blood in you is the pledge of His forgiveness and the guarantee of your resurrection.

“Go, tell!” the angel told the women. But they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. We know from the rest of the Gospels that in the end their joy overcame their fear, and they began to spread the Good News. Now you too have been given Good News to spread: Christ is risen and the sin of this entire world has been forgiven! Christ is risen, and death has been defeated, transformed from the fearful monster that eats us all into God’s divine surgery! Christ is risen and He stands ready to meet you in His Holy Supper!

Alleluia, alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Robert Jenson likes to quote Peter Brunner's argument regarding the empty tomb: the empty tomb does nothing for you because it does not reveal the risen Lord, as the post-resurrection appearances do. Hence, our Easter faith is not in the empty tomb, but the risen Lord who greets the women on their way to the disciples, who appears to the disciples behind locked doors, who shows his scars to Thomas.

At least, that's what I am telling the people tomorrow morning.

Rick Serina
Trinity Lutheran-Albany (TX)