When the two Marys went to Jesus’ tomb on Easter morning, they thought of nothing but doing their last service for their deceased Lord. They had wrapped His body and buried Him in the tomb on Friday evening. But everything had to be done quickly because of the Sabbath day.
So this morning the women returned to the gravesite to finish their task. They probably bought spices Saturday evening when the shops opened after the Sabbath, and they made their way to the tomb as dawn was breaking. As they walked to the tomb they were worried about the stone in front of the grave, and rightly so. The tomb was sealed shut with a disk- shaped stone that would roll on a track carved into the stony ground. Therefore, to go into the tomb they would have to push the heavy stone aside, and with some sort of wedge secure it on the track. When they would come out they would pull out the wedge and let the stone roll into place in front of the tomb. It would normally take several men to move a rock like this.
But when they approached the tomb, to their surprise, they saw that the large stone had already been rolled aside. Bewildered, they entered the tomb and saw an angel in white sitting on the right side. They were alarmed. But that angel told them not to be afraid. “I know who you’re looking for,” he said, “Jesus of Nazareth, but He is risen. He is not here! Just see for yourself where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee, and there you will see Him, just as He told you.”
“He has risen” and “He is not here.” Those words from the angel that morning are words that have forever changed the world. The words that Christ has risen are the solid foundation on which our faith is built.
But here’s the thing. An empty tomb isn’t all we have here, folks. In fact, if all we had was an angel and an empty tomb, we’d have to acknowledge that that would be pretty interesting, but hardly worth carefully laying out your best Easter dress and singing loud alleluias!
On Easter we rightly give special attention to the angel’s words, “He is risen” and “He’s not here.” But if all we had was an empty tomb and no Jesus, that would do us no good. Thankfully, that’s not all the angel says. After He is risen and He’s not here, he says, “But go, tell His disciples that He is going before you to Galilee, and there you will see Him, just as He told you.”
Catch that? Go ahead and meet Him. There you will see Him, just as He told you.
So the real issue for you and me is just the same as for the women who went to the tomb that first Easter morning: we need to find Jesus.
Or more accurately, where can He find us? Later that day Jesus appeared in His risen flesh to His disciples that first Easter evening. “Touch Me and see,” He said. “A ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” This is the Jesus we need; the flesh and blood of Jesus. And don’t tell me that church on a Facebook feed is a substitute here. Let’s not fool ourselves.
What we need is the Jesus who we can really get our hands on. And that’s exactly the Jesus we have among us, still today. The same Jesus who showed His hands and side to His disciples grants us His joy in His risen flesh – for under the bread and wine in Holy Communion, He gives us His very body to eat and His blood to drink. The same Jesus who says, “The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life” still sends forth His servants to preach His spirit-filled words – words of forgiveness that open the gates of heaven.
He lives even now at God’s right hand, with all authority both in heaven and earth. Ruling for the good of His Christians, and for the wellbeing of His church.
What’s this day all about? Jesus rose from the dead because His death actually took away the sins of the whole world. It was absolutely impossible for death to hold Him in the grave. As He is innocent and righteous, death had no claim on Him. And so the earth opened up. Jesus rose and death died. George Herbert, a 17th-century poet, put it this way: “Death used to be an executioner, but the Gospel has made him just a gardener.”
That is to say, what harm can death do us? The very worst it could do would be to our very best. Because we would just be planted briefly into the earth for a short sleep and wake up to behold the splendor of God in paradise with the whole family of God.
Saint Paul mocked death. “O death, where is your victory?” he wrote, “O death where is your sting? … Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
And let’s not pass over Job from our first reading this morning. Two thousand years before the death and resurrection of Jesus, the prophet Job confessed his faith in the resurrection and the power of the Gospel. Job cried out, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at the last upon the earth; and after my skin is thus destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God.”
I hope those words of Job can put some flesh on the words of the angel to the two Marys this morning at the empty tomb: He’s not here … but He’s going before you…. There you will see Him, just as He told you.”
Job confessed that his redeemer lived. He confessed that even though he would die and his body lie in the earth, yet he would rise someday bodily from the grave and see His God and His redeemer face to face. Dear friends, faith in Jesus’ resurrection and our resurrection is central to our Christian faith.
Jesus said: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who believes in me shall never die.”
The Apostle Paul put it this way: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Jesus came for this purpose. He was born of the Virgin Mary. Suffered and died for our salvation. And because His death took away the problem of sin which caused our death, we too must rise from the dead just as our Redeemer did. That’s right, we’ll too walk out of our graves with restored and resurrection bodies – to worship God and sing His praises!
Someday our Lord will come again. He’ll descend from the clouds with the blast of a trumpet and flanked by angel armies. He’ll rouse you from sleep, summon you from your grave, and He’ll call you to Himself.
Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”
When the women came to the tomb that first Easter morning it was far more than an empty tomb. And angel pointed them to the Risen Christ, fresh and risen from the grave. Where is Jesus? Well, just listen to the preaching of the angels and God’s messengers. Go out to meet Him and you with find Him just as He told you. In Baptism. In preaching. In His flesh and blood. And all His gifts remain forever sure: the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
Alleluia. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
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