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Easter Sunday Service

KJV Mark 16:1 And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him.

The women went to the tomb to honor the body of Jesus, assuming He was dead even though He predicted many times that He would be killed and rise from the dead. They doubtless felt dead themselves on their way to the tomb, heavy with grief and sorrow. Still, they wanted to finish what would have been done normally.

All this could have been changed, if God had willed it to be simpler and more obvious to everyone. But God permits us to feel the sorrow before we experience the peace that comes with His Gospel.

The followers, except for Jesus, still had faith, but they were shaken by events and scared of the overwhelming power of the Roman Empire, not to mention Jewish hostility. Before they entered the area, Doubting Thomas predicted they might all die there together (Gospel of John).

Lacking faith, the women would have run away. Lacking faith, the disciples would have scattered instead of staying together. But their faith was limited because they had yet to see the prophecies fulfilled. At this point they were so blinded by grief that they no longer knew the Passion predictions and acted as if Rome had won. At this point Rome would have seemed all-powerful and God...not so much.

Needless to say, we often trudge along as if the tomb were still sealed, Jesus lifeless inside. What is our excuse? We listen to the unbelieving world and commune with its spirit. One writer said, wisely, "We are all influenced, whether we admit it or not."

 

So the women and the disciples are not only the key figures in this great drama but also our examples, both bad and good, examples to teach us how we are with a faltering faith and also how we are with Resurrection certainty.

2 And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun.

Here we have an exact moment. The sun was just starting to rise on Sunday, the first day of the week. My Adventist relatives thought we had to worship on Saturday, but the Christian Church changed the day of worship to Sunday, to honor Jesus' resurrection. In fact, they treated each Sunday as Easter and sang hymns as the sun rose.

The Church of Wishful Thinking always wants to make Christian observances pagan because our culture borrows from various languages and traditions. They yammer about Easter being the name of a pagan god, which is true, but we do not worship Oster.  We use Easter as short-hand for The Resurrection of Our Lord.

Easter eggs borrow from the Oster myth, and there is a substitute Christian legend about eggs turning rainbow colored. All that is harmless. What hurts the true Christian Church is having pastors and district presidents who lure kids to church with "live rabbits you can pet," as if Easter itself lacks no power to draw people.

The more we make the Christian faith appealing to the masses, the less appeal it has, because the malls and pizza parlors can do this better than we can. By participating in their style of promotion we demean and water down the Gospel until it is only a happy-chappy philosophy.

Today we act as if Sunday is just another day, and Easter is just another Sunday.

3 And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?

This lid to the tomb was a very big problem. It was not a boulder, as some artists paint it, since no one would have been able to move a boulder large enough to seal a tomb. The custom was to use a flat round rock that fit in a groove, to be rolled aside when needed. However, that still required a lot more upper body strength than all the women had.

Nevertheless, they had set out with the right materials for their duties without stopping to question that weighty problem. They were so anxious to honor Jesus in death that they did not consider that their task was going to be impossible at that hour. No one was going to be at the tomb of a criminal executed for crimes against the Roman government (the cross) accused of blasphemy (the religious point of view). Jesus was doubly accursed in the eyes of the public, and no one wanted to be associated with Him.

4 And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great.

This rationalistic assumption is made by non-Lutherans - He was allowed to leave when the angels rolled the stone away. Some paintings show angels moving the stone and Jesus leaving at that time.

The human nature of Jesus did not limit His divine nature. We do not think of God as being locked up inside a church building when the doors are closed. Nor was Jesus ever confined by the limitations of His body. When crowds surrounded Him twice, He passed through them. When the tomb was sealed, He left. When the doors were locked shut "for fear of the Jews" He twice entered the chamber where the disciples were hiding.

This is the mystery revealed to us by the Holy Spirit in the Word. He who fashioned the universe was lying in a manger. The Son of God, who created the mountain ranges, could not be sealed in by the very stone which He made as the Creating Word.

Thus we have Holy Communion, even with the doors locked and the windows shut. Yet Jesus is present in His human and divine natures, promising and giving us forgiveness of sin in the Sacrament.

So the stone was rolled away - not for Jesus - but for the women and later the disciples and everyone else. Roman soldiers guarded the tomb, to make sure no one disturbed the grave or caused some kind of fraud. When the angels rolled the stone away, they saw emptiness and ran in terror.

The Roman Empire could not eliminate the Son of God. They could not defeat the Holy One with death. Instead, using death, Jesus defeated sin, death, and Satan. The only responses are stark terror and faith.

5 And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted.

We should give the women some credit here. They came to the tomb in one frame of mind. They could have been frightened away, but they stayed to look inside. For that reason they were blessed with the message of the angel. They were scared but did not take to their heels.

It takes so little to frighten us that we should think of these women as quite stout-hearted to look inside the tomb.

We can be afraid and still have faith. Faith in God informs our fears and helps us with self-control.

6 And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him. 7 But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you.

The angelic message is even more astonishing than the empty tomb. Perhaps the faithful would like the angel to say, "You are looking for the Son of God, the Savior." But instead, the ordinary name of Jesus - Jesus of Nazareth - is used. That gives the account precision. They are not looking for a title, but a person. There was great love and faith among the followers, but complete knowledge about that was slowly building. We look at these backwards in time. They developed their understanding.

But our understanding also develops as we continue in faith. We have moments of fear and sorrow, dashing our hopes. But God builds us up again. Through study of the Word and experience we realize what the Gospel really means as we pass through life.

These first phrases to describe their teacher are remarkable:

1. He was crucified.

2. He is not here.

3. He is risen from the dead.

Jesus was killed by the authorities - He was crucified. But He is no longer here, in a tomb. He is absent from the world of the dead.

He is risen from the dead. Once again - great precision is in this message, preventing people from having false assumptions. One is that Jesus never really died. Yes He died. He was crucified.

He is not here - counters the notion that unscrupulous followers stole His body. If that had happened, we would have something like - His body is no longer here. "He" means a living person.

He is, he was - those are verbal clues to police detectives. When they look for a missing person and someone says "He was..." that is a clue that the individual knows that person is no longer alive.

The clarifying statement says it all - He is risen from the dead. I added "from the dead" but that is the only possible meaning.

If Jesus of Nazareth is risen from the dead, the same one who called Lazarus from death, then He is the Lord over all.

8 And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid.

The women were having an information and experience overload, passing from sorrow and poor understanding to joy and revelation. Who can take so much at once. They did not stop along the way to talk to anyone but ran back to where the disciples were, to tell them about this great news.

This calls for the rest of the story, so we have the ending of Mark, plus Luke and Matthew and John for post-resurrection stories. We celebrate Easter for a season and the rest of the year because it is central to the Christian message.