Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
Our text is today’s Gospel (Mark 16:1–8):1 When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” 4 And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. 5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. 6 And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. (ESV)
Alleluia! Alleluia! Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed. Alleluia!)
Behold Jesus Christ, the King of glory, risen from the dead. Here in your Lord’s resurrection, your heart can find its supreme joy and its greatest possession. Here, there is not even the slightest trace of evil, for Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over Him (Romans 6:9). Here, you see the great and fervent love God has for you, for, as Isaiah says, Christ is not only born unto you but He is also given unto you (9:6). Unto you, Jesus Christ, the King of glory, is given. Therefore, His resurrection and everything that He accomplished through His resurrection are yours. Jesus and the gifts of His resurrection go together, for as St. Paul writes: He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32). (adapted from Daily Readings from Luther’s Writings, p. 117)
On that first Easter morning, the angel said to the fear-struck women: Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; He is not here. And though the women left the tomb trembling with fear and astonishment, later that day when Jesus came to them, their fear gave way to gladness. And now the risen Lord Jesus stands among us and says: Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades (Revelation 1:17,18).
On Good Friday, it appeared as if Satan and his demonic hordes had won. When Jesus succumbed to death, it appeared that He had been swallowed up into Satan’s dominion of death. The prince of darkness seemed to have defeated the Lord of life. Yet in what appears to be a total defeat, God brings about a complete victory. While in the very grasp of death, God’s Messiah overcomes death. The victim suddenly is shown to be the victor! In the face of seeming defeat, God pulls off a victory—indeed the victory of the ages! Here is how one of our Easter hymns describes our Lord’s defeat-turned-into-victory:
The foe was triumphant when on Calvary
The Lord of creation was nailed to the tree.
In Satan’s domain did the hosts shout and jeer,
For Jesus was slain, whom the evil ones fear.
But short was their triumph; the Saviour arose,
And death, hell, and Satan He vanquished, His foes.
The conquering Lord lifts His banner on high;
He lives, yes, He lives, and will nevermore die. (LSB #480, stanzas 2 and 3)
In 1 Corinthians, St. Paul writes: Death is swallowed up in victory (v. 54). But whose death is swallowed up in victory? Only our Lord’s? No, not just our Lord’s death but also your death and mine. On Good Friday, Death thought he had swallowed yet another victim, but that victim—in dying—swallowed up Death in victory forever! Christ Jesus lay in death’s strong bands, but vain the stone, the watch, the seal; Christ has burst the gates of hell; Death in vain forbids His rise; Christ has opened paradise (LSB #458, 469). Death no longer has dominion over Jesus and so our death, too, is swallowed up in victory. Here, then, is the Good News of Easter—that our Lord’s victory over Satan’s dominion of death is also our victory, through faith in Christ. Christ’s conquest over Satan brings victory to all of God’s people. Jesus Himself promises us this victory. He says: Because I live, you also will live; and again He says: everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die (John14:19; 11:26).
Christ’s death and resurrection are not only history, or his story, but also our story. In Holy Baptism, Christ has united you and me and every believer into His death and resurrection. Christ has opened paradise and so death no longer has ultimate power over us, for we have been raised with Christ through faith. Christ has paid the penalty for our sin—the penalty of eternal death—and so we are no longer slaves to sin and Satan. Christ is head of the church and He is the Saviour of the body (Ephesians 5:23). Therefore, we, as members of Christ’s body, His Church, we are united with Christ in His conquest over sin, Satan, and death. Jesus conquered the forces of darkness and left them disarmed and paralyzed, and now we—being baptized into Christ—we share in that victory. Jesus has snatched the keys of death and hell from the devil and has burst forth from the dark abyss, and we now share in that Easter triumph!
In a war zone, when soldiers return from a successful mission, they say “mission accomplished!”. Today we celebrate the great “mission accomplished” of our Lord’s resurrection victory over Satan’s dominion of death. Easter is the day of days on which we sing out alleluias of praise to Jesus our Lord, whose death has conquered death and whose life brings to us the promise of eternal life.
Christ our Lord carried the world’s sins on His beaten, bloodied, and bruised shoulders while hanging on the cross. He was laid in a tomb, dead, and buried. He died—for us. True God of God and Light of Light, He lay for three days in the grave—in death’s strong bands—precisely because of our sin.
One day we, too, will enter the grave, but we do so knowing that Christ has accomplished His mission of saving the entire world from the sting of death, from the eternal punishment our sin deserves. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? Holy Scripture plainly [says] that death is swallowed up by death, its sting is lost forever (1 Corinthians 15:55; LSB #458.4). Christ has robbed death of its victory. Christ has removed death’s sting. He did this all for us. He has taken from us our sins, which would damn us to hell, and He has given us His righteousness as a gift, imputed to us by God’s grace. Thus, Christ has opened paradise to us. In Holy Baptism, we were buried with Christ into His death, and so we will rise again as He did to new and eternal life on the Last Day.
As Christ arose on Easter morning, God was declaring all sinners forgiven. Out of suffering and death, God brought life and immortality to light through Jesus Christ. Because He lives, we too shall live. Oh, life still will have its times of sadness, pain, difficulty, and heartache. It would be wrong for Christians to think that they are somehow immune to life’s hardships. As long as we are here—in this body, in this life—we will have times of trouble. But by God’s grace we persevere, faithful unto death, knowing our Lord has accomplished His mission, for Christ has swallowed up death in victory and has opened paradise to us.
Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over Him. Our Lord truly accomplished His Easter mission; He defeated sin, death, and the devil. And now the resurrection of Jesus means that we, too, will rise from the dead. For the Scripture says that we who believe are His Body. Where the head goes, the body must follow. St. Paul calls Christ the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep (1 Corinthians 15:20).The firstfruits are like that first tomato to ripen on the vine. It’s the sign of more to come. The resurrection of Jesus means there is more rising from the dead to come—our own literal, bodily resurrection to life on the Last Day. In that resurrection, our bodies will no longer be perishable; rather, we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed (1 Corinthians 15:51–53). Yes, our gracious Lord Jesus Christ will raise all His baptized people in imperishable bodies like His own! Death has been dealt the decisive death blow. Christ has taken the sting out of death by being stung for us and then rising again. Death [indeed] is swallowed up by [our Lord’s] death, its sting is lost forever. Alleluia! (LSB #458.4).
Our Lord’s resurrection has already occurred; ours is soon to come. And so death is not the end of the story for your body, for Jesus says: I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live (John 11:25). You will rise again to life that is immortal, perfect, and imperishable, all because of Easter.
What a comfort this is! This is our hope in Christ, that though our bodies are dying a tiny bit each day, yet they will live because Christ lives. Every prayer for healing is answered “yes” for the believer in Christ—if not now, then in the resurrection at the close of the age.
The women fled from the tomb that morning, trembling, bewildered, silent, fearful—until later when Jesus came to them. Then their fear gave way to gladness. And so it is also with us. On our own, we are trembling and fearful in the face of death. We cannot grasp the reality of the Resurrection. But then Jesus Himself comes to us in His Holy Word and His Holy Supper to calm our trembling and to quiet our fears, to open our minds to understand and our hearts to believe and our mouths to tell others. We meet the risen, death-conquering Christ where He has told us He would be—in His preaching and teaching, in His Supper, in His Church. Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them (Matthew 18:20).
Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!). Jesus has risen from the dead and in Holy Baptism He gives us to share in His immortal life. Because we live and die in Christ, death will never have dominion over us. Oh, in our graves, our bodies will lie down and rest and sleep a bit, but only until that glorious day foretold by Job when the Redeemer stands at the Last upon the earth and wakens the dead, and then we shall see with our own eyes Him whom we have yearned and longed to see, and in whom we have believed. And so with glad hearts we confess, Behold, this is our God; in Him we put our hope that He should save us, this is the LORD, we put our hope in Him; let us rejoice and be glad that He has saved us (Isaiah 25:9, ESV, NJB, NAB). Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.