He Is Not Here. Holy Easter Day 2017–Mark 16:1-8; 1 Cor. 5:6-8
Holy Easter Day
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Mark 16:1-8 (1 Cor. 5:6-8)
April 16, 2017
He is Not Here
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Jesus is risen from the dead!
During the weeks of Lent we have seen Jesus our Lord without form or comeliness, with nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him. He has been humiliated, cursed by man and God. Crowned with thorns, beaten and bruised, spit upon, rejected, pierced by nail and spear, forsaken by God, embalmed and entombed.
But now, here on Easter morning in the church, we see splendor. Our women have adorned and beautified the sanctuary and the altar just as Mary Magdalene and the two others went to honor and care for His body. Beautiful easter lilies cover the altar. The processional cross which was veiled last week, just as Jesus’ face was hidden under bruises, spit, and blood—now it is uncovered. We see Jesus on it, ascending in majesty.
But in the Gospel reading we see no Jesus.
We see through the eyes of the three women who have come at the break of day on the first day of the week to anoint the corpse of Jesus. They are worrying as they walk. “Who will roll away the stone from the tomb?”
But as they walk past the place where Jesus was crucified on Friday, where they saw Him die, into the garden nearby that held the tomb where they laid Him, they look up and see: the stone is already rolled away. Someone has opened Jesus’ tomb. Was it in the night? Did grave robbers come? But how would they have gotten past the guards that were placed there?
Then entering the tomb, the dark cave cut out of the rock, they see that Jesus’ body is gone. No Jesus! Instead there is a young man sitting there on the right side, dressed in a white robe.
You can imagine why they were startled!
The young man begins to speak to them. “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus, the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen. He is not here. Look and see the place where they laid Him.”
It is empty. The women see, and we see. Jesus is not lying there like He should be.
“Go,” the young man tells them. “Say to His disciples, and to Peter, that He is going ahead of you all to Galilee. You will see Him there, just like He told you.”
So we are left this morning smelling the lilies, seeing the gold on the altar, but not seeing Jesus. We are not shown the glory that replaces the shame of His crucifixion. We don’t see the power that replaces His former weakness, the life that replaces the death that claimed Him. We do not see. We only hear, “He is not here. He has risen.”
Even if we read a passage from one of the Gospels where Jesus appeared to His disciples after His resurrection, we would be hearing, not seeing. We would not see Him alive with our own eyes. We would not see His majesty, power, His glory that He now has in place of the weakness and shame in which we saw Him die.
So let us talk about what we don’t see.
The women came by the place Jesus was crucified, Golgotha, on their way to Jesus’ tomb. They had to walk by “the place of a skull.” You might easily see why they would want to avoid that place, not only because of its grim name, but because of the suffering inflicted on them there as they watched their hope die. But they could not avoid it, just like we cannot avoid death. The tomb in which Jesus was buried was there in a garden nearby.
But at this very place named after the symbol of death, the place of a skull, death has been struck a mortal blow. We do not see Jesus. The women fully expected to see Him and weep when they saw Him. They expected to see His body lying still and cold beneath linen cloths. They do not find Him. Instead they find a messenger waiting for them to proclaim that He has come forth from death.
It’s true; but instead of telling them Himself, Jesus sends a messenger, an angel to announce it. That is how Jesus does it now too. A messenger tells you. A messenger in a white robe is there, not a heavenly being, but a pastor—at the grave of your loved ones, at the birth of your children into this world of death, in the middle of the joy of this life where, nonetheless, like the ancient hymn says:
In the midst of life we are in death:
From whom can we seek help?
From you alone, O Lord,
Who by our sins are justly angered.
Holy God, Holy and Mighty,
Holy and Merciful Savior,
Leave us not in the bitterness of eternal death.
Jesus is not there in the tomb. He is not here either, not visibly, like He was before. The reason there is a messenger telling you, and not Jesus Himself, is because Jesus is no longer in sin and death, in humiliation and weakness. And so He sends a messenger.
He is risen, and so He does not do what He did before. Before this He lived in this world that is filled with graves and tombs. One day, your grave will add to the number. This is the world that Jesus came to live in with us. He was one of us in every way, except without sin. And He came in our appearance, not in the glory which was His, which a man cannot see and live. He looked like us—not glorious, but earthly, not above pain, weakness, and humiliation, but subject to it. He lived here and carried out the task of a preacher. He looked like a preacher, like all the ones who have stood before you in white robes; some you liked, some you didn’t, some were talented, some less so. But all of them were of the dust, of the earth. Jesus looked just like that. He went to town after town and preached that the Kingdom of God had come upon them. Some believed Him; most were only interested in His miracles. Many not only rejected His message but hated Him. And finally they succeeded in putting Him to death.
Jesus doesn’t do this anymore. Before He came in the form of a servant. Though He was God in the flesh, He laid aside the glory of God, which was His from eternity. He came in our image and likeness, shared our hunger, thirst, weariness, weakness, our pain. He shared our obligation to obey God’s Law. He was subject to death even though, unlike us, He had not earned death. He preached and people were able to reject Him, turn away and laugh, or turn toward Him with clenched teeth and stones in their hands.
This can’t happen anymore. Jesus can’t die anymore, or suffer anymore. He cannot be rejected in His own person. He no longer shares our weakness. He isn’t subject to death. He still allows people to reject Him, but only as they reject His preaching through the ones He sends. But He will not share our mortal life, our humiliations, our guilt and our death anymore. When He wants to speak with us, He sends messengers in our image and likeness. He does not come Himself now with the glory that a man may not see and live.
Why does Jesus no longer share this life and speak to us visibly? He has done it already, and it is finished.
He shared our image and likeness, and the suffering, death and weakness that covers us because He came to be the true Passover lamb, who was slain so that God’s judgment would pass over us, so that we would go free from His judgment, from death and hell. Now He has been exalted, raised up to the highest place, to sit on the throne of God in His flesh and blood. He reigns over death, over hell, over all things for us, binding them through the message of His resurrection. He won’t and can’t dwell among us in lowliness, in the form of a servant who bears the sin of the world, because it can’t be done again. It is already done. He has already borne that image to its end—to the cross and the grave.
When Jesus was humiliated, cursed, and crucified, when He died and was buried, God was striking and plaguing Him for our sins, for your sins. He suffocated and burned in the torment that belongs to us for eternity, which we have earned from the time we were conceived in sin. He hung naked before this anger of God against us on the cross. He had no defense against it; no excuses in His mouth. He was silent like a lamb before its shearers and did not open His mouth. He had no power to push this burning anger away, because He had laid His divine power aside to become like us. He had laid aside His innocence by which He could have been scared God’s wrath and plunged Himself into the flood of our transgressions. The guilty conscience of the whole world was upon Him. He sank in the depths of sin where there is no foothold, no ground on which to stand and cry out to God for help, only the full awareness that we have deserved God to cast us away. On the cross, Jesus was thrown into the depths of this sea, like Pharaoh was thrown into the depths of the Red Sea, like the whole world outside of the ark sank in the deeps of God’s flood. He did not say, “Father, I did nothing wrong. Take me down from the cross!” He had taken our wrongs as His own.
And the Father punished those wrongs with agony of soul and body until He gave up His Spirit, died and was buried.
So look now. Jesus is not here in this grave any longer. We cannot see Him, because He has entered His glory. We see only a young man in a robe sitting in the empty tomb, waiting for us with a message. When we enter the young man looks up and says, “He has risen.”
And because you are not out of your mind with fright like the women that morning, you can reflect on the message that is spoken to you, what it means to you.
Jesus is free. Every week you say: I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ…who was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried. And the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures.
What does that mean for you, that Christ rose again, and is not seen in the tomb, not seen walking among us in our lowly appearance? What does the message of the messenger mean for you, “He has risen?”
It means that He has been released from the punishment He received from His Father for your sins. He has been released from the sentence of death, and therefore from the grave, the sentence He received because He offered Himself to bear our sin.
The Father did not release Jesus until He had tasted death. Jesus had prayed, “Take this cup from Me.” The Father did not; He had to be crucified and forsaken by God. He had to die and be buried. It was clear. The Father would not let Jesus go until He had paid the full measure of our debt.
But now Jesus is free. In releasing Jesus from the chains of death, the Father is making a declaration. The debt Jesus went to Golgotha to pay is now paid in full. Jesus is released from death. The debt is paid.
Your debt is paid. The Father releases you with Jesus from the guilt of sin, from His wrath against you, from the grave, from the fire of hell.
Our sins are no longer there to hold Jesus chained in death. If they were still there, Jesus would still be in the tomb. Or Jesus would still be among us as He was with His disciples, in the form of a slave. He would still be serving us as our slave, with His glory put aside, and our guilt and lowliness and death still upon Him.
But He is not there in the tomb. He is free. And so are you. Unless you despise this. Unless you refuse to believe it.
Victory has been won over the powers that ruled us and kept us chained; the old serpent has been crushed under the heel of the virgin’s Son. The empty tomb of Jesus is the battlefield from which the enemy has been put to flight.
It is the courtroom, now empty after it has been adjourned, where the Father tried you together with all people, and announced His verdict: Not guilty. Or: “I find the world to be righteous and just. Set them free.”
It is the prison cell in which all people were held as condemned criminals, awaiting the order that would carry out their sentence. But now, no one is there. There is only a man in a white robe saying, “You are all free.” He doesn’t say those words, of course. He says, “He has risen.”
Paul says the same thing to the Church at Corinth. “You really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” The Corinthian Church was doing some very impure things. A man married his father’s wife; and the Corinthians, instead of calling this man to repentance, bragged about how he had done this. Yet Paul says, You really are unleavened, not permeated with the yeast of wickedness, but pure. The reason is because the Passover Lamb that bears our sins has died and blotted them out.
At Passover, Jews were required by God to take all the yeast out of their houses before the Passover lamb was slain.
Even today, observant Jews do this. They search the house for any place there might be yeast, where crumbs of bread might have fallen. They scrape out the dark places under the cupboards and the oven to get rid of every last bit of yeast that might leaven the unleavened bread they eat during Passover.
Christians also do this by daily repentance; we “cleanse out the old leaven” of the sinful nature in which we were conceived. But trying to purge out your sins is not enough to cleanse us, as anyone who has tried it knows very well.
God must put away our sins.
And He has done it through the blood of Jesus. Jesus has cleansed the old evil leaven of our sinful natures out of us. He has buried it. God has forgiven it, which means, God has released us from it. Our sin no longer stands before Him. He does not count it, or impute it. This is what we mean when we say that God “justifies us.” It means He counts us righteous for the sake of Christ. He counts Jesus holy obedience and righteousness to us, just as truly as He imputed our guilt to His Son. This teaching is the central teaching of the Christian faith. It is, according to our Lutheran Confessions, the article of the faith “on which the Church stands or falls.” This is what the Reformation that began 500 years ago was about. Whoever has this teaching and believes it is righteous before God and saved from hell, even though he remains a sinner. Where this teaching is lost, human beings are lost. Because there is no other way that human beings can be righteous before God than for Christ’s sake.
This cleansing that happened by Jesus’ death and resurrection also becomes effective in you. We sang about it in Luther’s hymn:
Then let us feast this Easter day
On Christ, the bread of heaven.
The Word of Grace has purged away
The old and evil leaven.
Christ purged human beings of sin before God; but the purging away of sin within us happens through the Word of the messenger of Jesus. Through that word, God works faith that Jesus has purified us. And God counts that faith as righteousness before Him; and at the same time, He gives the gift of His Spirit, who each day purges away the sin that remains in us, so that it no longer works through the whole lump of our bodies, families, congregations, but goes into remission.
The angel said, “Christ is risen.” Go tell His disciples and Peter.
But to you the Word comes differently. It says, “I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” It says, “As a called and ordained servant of the Word, I forgive you all your sins.”
When the pastor says these words, he is just proclaiming the same word as the angel; he is announcing what God has done for you and to you in raising Jesus from the dead. He is saying, “God has released you, together with the whole world, from your guilt. God has justified you.”
God has not done this only for believers, and this message is not to be proclaimed only to those who already believe and are righteous. It is to be proclaimed to the unrighteous who grieve because of their sins. It is to be proclaimed also to Christians who have fallen from Jesus. “Go tell His disciples and Peter,” says the angel. Peter had denied he knew Jesus; his own voice had condemned him. He had said, “I am not a disciple of Jesus.” You may be here this morning and have done the same thing, by your words or actions. You may have said, “I am not Jesus’ disciple” by willfully doing what you know to be sinful. And you may be thinking, “Now that I have denied Jesus and bathed in the mud, and made myself unclean with Jesus’ name on me, how can I become pure and clean again? How can I undo my falling away?” You may not be thinking this, and yet you may be one who should think this!
You cannot undo the shame of turning away from Jesus, and allowing yourself to be filled again with the leaven of malice and evil. But the angel specifically says, “Tell Jesus’ disciples, and Peter.”
Perhaps Jesus would have the whole congregation of St. Peter hear these words as His Word to this St. Peter.
Tell Peter: “He is risen. God has justified Him. God has let these sins go; they are paid for, the bonds of those sins are broken. The guilt is removed. The shame wiped away.”
Let us believe the word of whatever angel comes to you from Jesus with this message, for it is Jesus who sends the message to all who are bound by the chains of sin and hell.
Let us rejoice that we no longer see Jesus bearing our weakness. That means our sins have been removed forever, once and for all.
And if we grieve over the weakness we still bear, let us receive Jesus’ pledge that we share, even now, in His glory, as our glorious, risen Savior gives us the foretaste of our resurrection. Let us eat His body and drink His blood which have purged away the old, evil leaven from us. See, His blood now marks our door, faith points to it. Death passes oer. And Satan cannot harm us. Alleluia!
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Soli Deo Gloria