Download or listen to the Resurrection of Our Lord: “The Festival” (Mark 16:1-8)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Hallelujah! Christ is risen! Hallelujah! Christ is Risen! (He is risen, indeed! Hallelujah!) This is the Festival of festivals. This is the Feast of feasts. This day, along with the previous days, from Maundy Thursday, through Good Friday, to the Vigil of Easter—this Triduum, or Three Days, is at the center of the entire Christian year; it is the beating and living heart of everything we believe and everything we confess and everything we preach. That is why St. Paul says, I delivered to you what I received, as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, and that He rose from the dead on the third day, according to the Scriptures; that He appeared to Peter, to the disciples, to 500, to James, and later to Paul himself (1 Corinthians 15:3-8). This is of first importance; if you don’t have this, you have nothing. So Paul says in another place that if Christ is not raised from the dead, then our preaching is emptiness, and you are still in your sins, and everything we believe is worthless (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17). If we do not have this, then Christianity is nothing but another ethical system, as so many would like to make it. But ethical systems are a dime a dozen; they can be found anywhere and everywhere. Christianity is not, first of all, about teaching you how to live a better life, or how to be more successful, or how to be more comfortable. Christianity is about Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected, for sinners. If you are not a sinner, Christianity is not for you. Jesus came to save sinners; He came for the sick, and not the healthy. And this is the Festival of Christ crucified and resurrected.
But if all that’s true, why does Mark’s Gospel end the way it does? Did it strike you as at all strange the way Mark ends? Did you hear it? The women came to the tomb to anoint a dead body, and they go out and flee from the tomb. They are full of fear and trembling, outside themselves. They say nothing to no one, because they are afraid. They say nothing to no one because they are afraid. This is how the first Easter begins? There are no trumpets, no choirs, no new dresses, no loud singing. Mark doesn’t even give us an angel; he gives us a “young man.” And Jesus makes no appearance in this account. Mary Magdalene does not see Him here. The women do not fall down on His feet to worship Him. He is present only by His absence in the gaping, open tomb. The women come to anoint a dead body; they come looking for dead things, decaying things. They expect to find a closed and sealed tomb, wondering who will roll the very large stone away. But they find the last thing they expect: an open and empty tomb, no sign of a dead body. And the young man wrapped in a white robe, sitting on the right side, says to them: “Don’t be terrified. I know why you’re here. You’ve come looking for Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified one. But you thought the crucified one was dead! No; the crucified one is not here; He is risen. See the place where they put Him. Now go tell His disciples and Peter that He is going ahead of you into Galilee, and there you will see Him, just as He said to you.” And that’s it. They have nothing but the word and promise of Jesus remembered. Remember, He said to you that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things, be killed, and on the third day, be raised. Remember!
But the women do exactly the opposite of what the angel says: they are afraid, and they tell no one. Or so it seems. But here you are. What if they had never told anyone? Would you be here? It seems, and the other Gospels confirm it, that they eventually told the apostles. And those apostles went to Galilee, and they saw Jesus. He appeared to Peter, and James, and the Twelve. And those Apostles went out into the world. They went to Jerusalem, and God gave them the Holy Spirit, and they proclaimed boldly Jesus crucified and resurrected. Then, on to Judea, and Samaria, and the ends of the earth. And now, here you are. Someone told you, just as the angel proclaimed it, and the women told the disciples, and they told, and on and on it went. But at first, there was nothing but silence and fear. Because this is not the story of the angel, or of the women, or of the disciples, or of you and me. This is the story of Jesus, of God’s action in the midst of human stubbornness, and ignorance, and blindness. No one in Mark’s Gospel gets it. No one knows who Jesus is. They are all blind, or deaf, or misunderstanding. The only ones who know who Jesus is are the demons, and they do not believe Him. That is just the way this world is, full of unbelief and willful blindness and misunderstanding. Who believes or even wants to hear this word about a crucified and risen Lord? Who thinks it matters? Who lives as if Jesus’ resurrection makes any difference whatsoever? But this is a story about God’s action, about Jesus’ resurrection interrupting everything we think we know about ourselves and the world. The resurrection puts an end to all excuses, all explaining away of sin; it puts an end to sin and death, to our old selves. This is about death and resurrection. This is God’s act, God’s word, God’s life. From the seemingly dead tree of the cross comes this flower and fruit of faith and resurrection. And He gives it freely. Even to women who believed He was still dead. Even to disciples who abandoned and denied Him. Even to you and me, with all our lusts and bitter words and half-hearted alleluias. Even to us, the Word is proclaimed. So why are you still hanging on to your sins as if they belonged to you? Jesus is risen! He is not in the tomb. So why are you still trying to deal with dead things, with rotting things, with decaying things? All of this is passing away. What possible sense can any of that old stuff make in the shadow of the empty tomb, in the light of the resurrection? None! They make no sense, because this is a new day. This is the beginning of the new creation. There is a new logic, and it defies death.
Hallelujah, He is risen! He is not in the tomb. He is exactly where He said He would be: in His Word and in His Supper. For you.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 4/7/12