Easter 2020

Stained glass depicting Jesus Christ after His resurrection next to the tomb on Sunday, June 10, 2018, at Trinity Lutheran Church, Algona, Iowa. LCMS Communications/Erik M. Lunsford

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

Our text is from St. Matthew’s account of the resurrection (Matthew 28:1-10):  1   Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” 8 So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” (ESV)

Way back on that first Easter morning, God already knew that in the twenty-first century, there would be skeptics of our Lord’s resurrection.  I think that is why He had the first witnesses of the resurrection be women.  You see, in that day, in that culture, the witness of women was considered unreliable.  And yet Jesus goes against the culture by revealing Himself to the women first and telling them to bear His message to the other disciples.  This little detail destroys the arguments of modern-day skeptics who say that the disciples just made up the story of our Lord’s resurrection.  If the disciples had fabricated the whole story out of thin air, then they would have never chosen women as witnesses.  No, if the disciples had wanted to start an “urban legend” that people would believe, they would have made their witnesses men.  Jewish law pronounced women ineligible as witnesses.  And so the only way you can explain the Gospel writers’ use of women as witnesses to the resurrection is that this is what actually happened.  The women saw the empty tomb and heard the angel saying their Lord had risen from the dead, and then they actually met the risen Christ, all before any of the men.  No first-century writer of fiction would ever have concocted such a story.  And so, my dear friends, it is true: Christ is risen!  (He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!)

The Gospel accounts of our Lord’s resurrection ring true in the details.  The first witnesses being women is just one bit of realism that affirms the historicity of Jesus rising from the dead.  In Mark’s Gospel, we have another bit of realism that I just love.  Listen to how Mark ends his Easter report: And [the women] went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.  Many a Christian has been embarrassed by the ending of Mark’s gospel, by his leaving the women trembling and afraid.  But even this is a bit of realism that helps to show that our Lord’s resurrection actually happened. 

You see, divine revelation lies beyond normal human experience, and so when God reveals His glory to mortals, the first human response is overwhelming fear.  Mark tells us that in the presence of the transfigured Christ, on the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John were terrified (9:5).  And now, it is the women’s turn to be afraid.  And of course, it is quite understandable, for in the Gospels, fear is the constant reaction to the disclosure of Jesus’ divinity.  Thus, in being afraid, the women are affirming that the risen Christ is Lord of heaven and earth.  Once, Jesus had shown a glimpse of His divinity by calming a storm on the Sea of Galilee.  With just that little glimpse of glory, the disciples were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”  (Mark 4:41).  Is it any wonder, then, that with the full revelation of our Lord’s resurrection, the women are afraid?  And so even their fear shows that it is most certainly true:  Christ is risen!  (He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!)

To the trembling, fearful women, the risen Christ speaks a word of great comfort: Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.  Take note of whom Jesus is calling His brothers.  He is referring to Peter, who denied Him three times, and the other disciples, who all ran away from Him the night He was betrayed. Jesus should have called them deserters, betrayers, reprobates, anything but brothers(Luther).  But the risen Christ calls them His brothers.  And then Mark’s Gospel reports an extra detail.  Listen to the angel’s proclamation to the women:  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.  Did you catch it?  The angel singles out Peter, mentioning him by name.  And we all know why.  Peter is the disciple who most needed a personal proclamation of his Lord’s resurrection, for he was agonizing over his shameful denial of Jesus.  It is if the angel were saying: “Peter, Peter!  Jesus rose for you too!  You are His brother, too, Peter!”

With the resurrection of Christ, all who are baptized into Christ are His brothers and sisters.  Now, through our sins, we all have betrayed and denied and deserted Jesus.  But rather than calling us sinful reprobates, Jesus calls us His brothers and sisters.  Of course, we have done nothing to deserve this high honour.  Rather, our being Jesus‘ brothers and sisters is a gift, a pure gift, which Jesus won for us through His death and resurrection and gives us in Holy Baptism. 

Yes, in Baptism, you were made God’s own dear child, which makes Jesus your Brother.  And in spite of your sins, He does not abandon you, and He does not just put up with you.  Instead, He loves you.  He loves you through and through.  Jesus loved you so much that He suffered and died in your place the horrifying fate you justly deserved because of your sins.  Having shed His blood for you, Jesus is now your Blood Brother.  His blood, shed for you, is greater than your sins.  His blood washes us clean of sin and makes us holy, so that now, as it says in Hebrews, He is not ashamed to call [us] brothers (2:11).  

Let that sink in for just a moment.  Jesus is not ashamed to call you His brothers and sisters, and so He does not give you what you deserve because of your sins.  Rather, He bore all your sins on the cross and He left them there when He rose from the dead.  And now He is ever cleansing you through His Holy Word and His Holy Baptism and Absolution and Supper.  In spite of the weakness of your sinful flesh and through all of life’s adversities, the risen Christ remains at your side as your faithful Brother.  Never will He leave you; never will He forsake you.  And you have His promise that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate [you] from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).  Yes, His love is greater than all your sins and trials, and His shed blood washes you clean and makes you holy in God’s sight.  And so Jesus is not ashamed to call you His brother, His sister.

And there is more Good News. Not only are we related to Jesus, but we also share in His victory. Jesus, our Brother, rose from the dead. The grave is empty, the body is risen.  And this means that you and I and all of Jesus’ brothers and sisters will live forever, for [Jesus is] the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in [Jesus], though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in [Jesus] shall never die  (John 11:25).  The devil’s power over death—the devil’s power to accuse us of our sins so that we lived in fear of hell—that power is broken.  Of course, in this life we remain poor, miserable sinners, but in Holy Baptism, Jesus calls and makes us His own dear brothers and sisters and He gives us His victory over death and the gift of eternal life in Him.  Now, we live in the promise that our Brother Jesus made to us, the promise that though we die physically, yet shall we live; the promise that our bodies will be raised up on the last day, glorified, and we will live with our Brother Jesus forever. 

This is the Christian hope.  Not that Jesus will fix all our problems or exempt us from the suffering of this life or put a bandaid on every hurt that comes along.  The empty, open tomb gives us a much greater hope.  Jesus is risen, and He will raise up all His brothers and sisters to eternal life!  Our last and greatest enemy, Death, lies conquered, vanquished under the cross-bruised heel of Jesus. The reign of Death and Grave is ended; the reign of Jesus Christ, the Lord of Life, has begun.  

When the women stepped into that open, empty tomb, they were eyewitnesses of the new creation breaking into the old.  The old has gone, the new has already come.  The darkness of Death is ended, the sun has risen and the morning sky is bright with resurrection.  Yes, when the women set foot into that open, empty tomb of Jesus, they set foot in a new creation and caught a glimpse of what was to come: the resurrection to life.  We all will surely die and be buried, unless of course, Jesus comes in glory first.  But the word from the tomb of Jesus is that death has lost its sting.  Our Brother has conquered.  He is risen.  And because He is risen, we—His brothers and sisters— shall also rise to life everlasting.

Do you fear death?  Then fear it no longer.  Christ has triumphed over our greatest enemy.  Do you dread the grave?  Then dread no longer; Christ has made your grave a place of rest, as your body awaits its resurrection on the Last Day.  Do you grieve the death of someone you love?  Then grieve in the blessed hope of the resurrection and trust in Christ your Brother.  Christ is risen!  (He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!).  And you and I have received His victory over death and His gift of eternal life.  The resurrection of Christ confirms and settles it, once and for all.  Jesus speaks the truth; His words are truth; He is the truth.  He is the Way to eternal life with God.  He is the Life and the Giver of Life.  Death cannot hold Him; the grave cannot contain Him.  His claim to be the Son of God and the risen Christ stand firm.  His word of forgiveness is sure.  His promise of eternal life is certain, “even as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.”

Why seek the living among the dead?  Jesus has risen, just as He said!  Death has been swallowed up in victory.  Sin is forgiven and washed away.  The devil is crushed under the cross.  A new creation has dawned; the old is gone, the new has come.  Yes, Jesus has risen!  His Word is sure. And in Him, though you die, yet will you live.  Yes,  Christ is risen!  (He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!).  Amen.

Now may the peace of God, which passes all understanding,

keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting.  Amen.

Rev. Larry Ritter, Pastor—Trinity Lutheran Church, Niagara-on-the-Lake