Trembling in Easter Fear and Joy!

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

Job 19:23–27

23  “Oh that my words were written!  Oh that they were inscribed in a book!  24  Oh that with an iron pen and lead they were engraved in the rock forever!  25 For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.  26  And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, 27  whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.  My heart faints within me! (ESV) 

1 Corinthians 5:6–8

6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?  7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.  8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (ESV) 

Mark 16:1–8 (ESV)

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.

  

The grief-stricken women go to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus.

But they discover that it is impossible to show such respect to the corpse.

For there is an angel proclaiming: “Jesus is not here; He has risen”.

Now, the angel had said to them, “Do not be alarmed”,

but they pay no heed to his words.

Instead, they run away quite alarmed.

They act as though they were fleeing from a strong enemy.

Of course, it is not an enemy causing them to run away in fear,

but rather the angel’s good news.

This news—if it be true—will change the world forever.

There are occasions when people hear news so wonderful

that it leaves them trembling with astonishment and fear.

A surgeon tells a family that their loved one 

has made it through a difficult surgery and is going to be just fine.

But it takes a while for the surgeon’s words to sink in.

The news leaves the family trembling with relief

but also anxious about how the road to recovery will look like.

That first Easter, it takes time for the angel’s words to sink in.

Meanwhile, the women run away trembling with astonishment and fear.

They are overwhelmed with relief that Jesus is risen from the dead.

But they are also alarmed over how this news will change their world. 

  

Christ is risen!  (He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!).

But to truly understand this good news, 

you need to join the women fleeing from the tomb.

Like them, you must tremble with astonishment and fear.

It is NOT that God is your enemy,

but rather that God is seeking you with a love so strong

that your world as you know it cannot remain intact.

It is common these days to speak of “man’s search for God”.

But when we search for God according to our own reason,

we end up finding an impersonal, abstract god 

that exists only inside our own heads

or a formless life-force surging through us,

a vast power which we think we can tap.

How completely different is the true God of heaven and earth.

The true God is not a force but a personal God with a personal Name—

“Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”.

The true God comes to us not abstractly, but in Jesus as God-in-the-flesh.

And the resurrection of Jesus shows us that the true God is not our enemy 

but rather the Giver of all good things.

  

Everything that is eternally good flows out of Easter.

God making us His holy children in Holy Baptism,

God daily and richly forgiving all our sins,

God raising us up on the Last Day and giving us eternal life—

these things and all that is eternally good flow out of Jesus’ resurrection. 

In the resurrection of Jesus, 

God has done far more than we could possibly ask or even think. 

In the resurrection of Jesus,

God shows that His love for us sinners is so great that

that it surpasses human knowledge.

No human eye or ear or heart could have ever imagined

what God, from all eternity, had been preparing to do 

to save the fallen human race and to restore Paradise.

  

To the women at the tomb, the angel said: 

You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen.

That good news is so unexpected and startling and incomprehensible

that it is no wonder the women fled from the tomb,

trembling in astonishment and fear.

Actually, this fear is a wonder, a wonder that God works

in the hearts of the women and also in our hearts.

Of course, we are not talking about the fears and phobias of this world.

The fear that God worked in the women that first Easter

and which God seeks to work in our hearts is the fear of the Lord.

The Bible speaks of the fear of the Lord as a great and good thing:

The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever (Psalm 19:9).

The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life,

that one may turn away from the snares of death (Proverbs 14:27).

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;

all those who practice it have a good understanding (Psalm 111:10).

The fear of the LORD is Zion’s treasure (Isaiah 33:6).

It may seem strange to us 

that the women reacted to the angel’s resurrection message in fear.

But this is the kind of fear you really need and should want—

the fear of the Lord, which is the Church’s treasure.

God grant that we all respond to the resurrection of Jesus 

in the fear of the Lord.

  

When you respond to Jesus’ resurrection in the fear of the Lord, 

two things happen. 

First, God causes you to realize 

that this good news is meant to change your life permanently 

and that there can be no going back to how things were.

Jesus having risen from the dead and having made you God’s baptized child

means that now you must take your sins seriously.

Those of you who have made bread know firsthand

that only a little yeast is needed to make the whole loaf rise.

But in Christ, we are to be unleavened bread, like that used in Passover 

and which we now use in the Lord’s Supper. 

In today’s Epistle, yeast is the image of sin.

In Christ, you are to daily cleanse from your heart 

the yeast of lust, anger, hatred, greed, unbelief, and all malice and evil,

so that you may daily celebrate the festival of Jesus’ resurrection

as an unleavened loaf of sincerity and truth.

Oh, may the resurrection of Jesus awaken in you such a holy fear 

that you understand that your life is now forever changed by God’s grace

and that there can be no going back to a life of living complacently

with your pet sins and with your unbelief.

  

Responding to Jesus’ resurrection in the fear of the Lord is God’s gift to you.

Wrapped up in this fear of the Lord is the gift of a broken, contrite heart,

by which you confess your sins and trust God to forgive you 

and to renew your faith and your life in Jesus.

But God is doing even more good to you

when He gifts you with the fear of the Lord.

God is giving you the strength to comprehend with all the saints 

what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 

and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:18-19).

The resurrection of Jesus changes forever how we see God.

In the risen Jesus, we see that God is not our enemy,

that He is not set on punishing us or making our lives miserable.

In the risen Jesus, we see that God’s grand, eternal design for us is love.

  

And yet, God’s love is so very grand that it can be rather unnerving.

You see, the human race is so used to making up impersonal, abstract gods 

of our own construction

that to encounter the true and living God of love is alarming.

Here’s how the Christian writer C.S. Lewis describes it:

There comes a moment when the children who have been playing at burglars hush suddenly: was that a real footstep in the hall? 

(A Year with C.S. Lewis: Daily Readings from His Classic Works-January 1).

Ever since the fall, people have been playing at religion, 

dabbling in “Man’s search for God”.

But now, there is a real footstep in the hall.

There is God, not as a human construct, 

but the true God, who created the universe

and who, ever since Adam and Eve’s fall, 

has been stepping into the hall of this fallen world,

sustaining the world

and also preparing the world for the Incarnate Son of God. 

God the Son’s taking on human flesh is God’s real and solid step 

in a world of sinners busy constructing their own idols.

And then, on Good Friday, Jesus took a concrete step onto the cross

to be crucified for us, bearing our sins.

Finally, there is the resurrection of Jesus,

which sweeps away all our futile searches for God

to show that all along the God of love has been seeking us!

Yes, the resurrection of Jesus is God the Son’s very real and fleshly footstep

of complete victory over sin, death, and the devil.

  

Christ is risen!  (He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!).

And in the risen Christ, God has sought you out with a love so strong

that your world as you know it cannot remain intact.

For in Christ, God has made you a new creation,

and has filled you with His fullness.

And God’s love for you in Christ is greater 

than your guilt, shame, and sins and greater than all this world’s evil.

Yes, in the risen Jesus God gives you His love,

and nothing in all creation will be able to separate [you]

from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39). 

And this risen Jesus says to you: I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 

and everyone who lives and believes in me 

shall never die (John 11:25-26). 

Behold how great is God’s love for you,

that from all eternity God has been seeking you,

to save you in the enfleshed, crucified, and risen Jesus Christ.

And now, this God of love makes to you an unbreakable promise

that far surpasses anything your heart could ever imagine.

This promise—which really should leave you trembling with joy—

you can read for yourself in Colossians, chapter 3, verse 4.

The God who loves you promises you   

that when Christ who is your life appears [on the Last Day], 

then you also will appear with Him in glory

This is God’s resurrection promise to you: 

that when Christ who is your life appears [on the Last Day], 

then you also will appear with Him in glory.

Happy Easter! Amen.