Matthew 28:1-10 (The Resurrection of Our Lord—Series A)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
April 24, 2011
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Easter Gospel recorded in Matthew 28:
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. 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. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 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.” So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
Christ is risen! Alleluia! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
That’s why we are here on this first day of the week—to celebrate our Lord Jesus, who once was dead, and who is now our living Savior. But that’s not why Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb on that first day of the week so many centuries ago. They were taking spices and ointments for Jesus’ final burial which was not able to be completed before the beginning of the Sabbath on Friday evening. The women went to the tomb to complete the burial ritual for a dead Jesus.
On Good Friday, the body of Jesus would have first been washed. It was then wrapped in a linen cloth and taken to Joseph of Arimathea’s new rock-hewn tomb. Joseph and Nicodemus then wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. (Jn. 19:40) They probably tore the linen they had first used to wrap the body into these “strips” or “cloths” and with these they individually wrapped each limb of his body, and in this way “bound” it, “no doubt, between layers of myrrh and aloes, the head being wrapped in a napkin. And so they laid Jesus to rest in the niche of the rock-hewn new tomb.” Because it was only a short time before the beginning of the Sabbath day which would begin at sun-down that evening, no doubt the disciples were in a hurry to make sure everything had been taken care of before the day of the Sabbath began.
Now think through this scenario. After the Sabbath, the women go to the tomb with their burial spices and ointments to finish doing for Jesus what was so hastily accomplished on Friday. First, they would have to get clearance from the guards who would have to unseal the tomb for the women to have access, and who knows whether the guards would have complied. But let’s assume that they did. The guards have compassion on the grieving women and allow them access to the tomb, all the while keeping a close eye on them to make sure there is no funny business or an attempt to remove the body. The women finish their loving task for the burial of Jesus and leave the tomb. The guards inspect to insure that the body remains. They roll back the stone and re-set the seal.
If this situation were true, you and I would not be here this morning. There would be nothing to celebrate. Oh sure, the Easter bunny might have come hopping down the bunny trail and have left his basket of goodies. But so what? Would we be getting together to wish each other “Happy Spring,” like so many so-called Easter cards do? I don’t know what would really be happy about it. Life would cycle on and then at some point we would die and go to hell. Spring would just be one more season closer to death and condemnation. There would be no hope, no peace, no Good News. If Jesus is dead, then His death on the cross means nothing. He died a martyr for a cause and for nothing else. If Jesus is dead, He did not win our forgiveness or our rescue from death and the devil. Our fate, just like Jesus’ tomb, would be sealed—eternal death and damnation. And I’m not celebrating that!
But this scenario is complete fiction. It’s not true—thanks be to God! When the women went to the tomb, before they even got there, it was empty! Before the women got to the tomb, Jesus had already risen from the dead! When the angel arrived on scene, he didn’t roll back the stone to provide a way of escape for Jesus but to show the world that the Lord had already risen. He rolled back the stone to help Jesus’ followers believe. The stone was rolled back for the sake of faith. “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as He said. Come, see the place where He lay.” It is as if the angel of the Lord had said, “I have rolled back the stone to show you that there is no dead body of Jesus here. He is risen from the dead. He is alive. Look, I’m showing you the very place where His body was and is no longer.”
What reassurance to faith is the empty tomb! If Jesus were dead, His body would be there. But there is no body of Jesus. The linen cloths were lying there and the face cloth, which had been around Jesus’ head, was folded up in a place by itself. If His body had been stolen, His corpse would have still needed the grave clothes. But Jesus no longer had a need for the clothing of death! He is alive. Jesus lives! The victory’s won!
And that is why you and I are here on this first day of the week—to celebrate our Lord Jesus, who once was dead but now is alive forevermore. We celebrate because Jesus’ resurrection means that God the Father fully accepted Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for our sins. Jesus’ resurrection proves to us that, by His suffering and death, Christ really did win forgiveness for all our sins. Jesus’ shed blood is all-sufficient for our atonement, for our forgiveness, for our salvation. We are indeed reconciled to God as His children by grace through faith in the Crucified and Risen Lord Jesus.
Since we do have a Lord and Savior who did not simply died a martyr’s death but One died and rose again to give us forgiveness and eternal life, our Risen Savior should have an effect on our lives here and now. We are not followers and disciples of a dead Christ. Nor should we live like He is dead.
The story is told that one day Katie Luther, Martin’s wife, decided to dress all in black, complete with a black veil over her head and face. When her husband got home from wherever he was, he barely got two steps in the door before he took one look and said “What’s the matter with you? Why are you all dressed in black?” “I am in mourning,” Katie declared. “In mourning?” Luther said. “What for? Who died?” “God died,” Katie said. “What do you mean God died?” Luther said. “That’s crazy! God is not dead.” “Well,” Katie said, “the way you’ve been acting this past week I figured God must be dead.” It’s said that Luther laughed at that.
Does the way that we have been acting suggest to others that our God and Savior must be dead? Does our living and speaking suggest that Jesus must not be our living Lord? What evidence of the living Christ do we demonstrate in actions and words to our fellow human beings? I’m not talking about going around as if we are mourning a dead Jesus. I’m talking about how we demonstrate faith in our living Jesus. When we are talking with people about their problems, do you talk about how faith in Jesus as your Lord and Savior helps you get through the tough times? Do you share with them how Jesus suffered for us, died for us, and then rose again so that we would be God’s much loved children who are forgiven and sustained by His everlasting love? Or do you not quite get around to talking about Jesus, as if He were not alive and part of your life?
Also ,what do our actions suggest to others about Jesus Christ’s place in our life? Sometimes we can live as if Jesus is dead and gone, doing anything and everything contrary to His Word and His will. In the power of the Holy Spirit, we must die ourselves to sin and rise to newness of life in Christ through the power of our baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection. If Christ is alive in us through His Holy Spirit, we out not go on sinning as if Christ didn’t matter, as if the Lord were still dead in the grave. As St. Paul says plainly in our Epistle lesson today, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Col. 3:1-2)
We have a living Lord and Savior who died to win our forgiveness and rose to give us new and everlasting life with Him eternally. We celebrate our living Lord Jesus on this Easter Day. By the power of the Holy Spirit working through God’s Word, each day should be for us a celebration of our living Jesus, who is Lord of our lives, our Savior and Friend. Each day should be a day for us to demonstrate with our words and actions what Jesus did for us in His death on the cross and resurrection from the tomb. Every day is a day to declare to the world that Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia! Amen.