Download or listen to The Resurrection of Our Lord, “The Lord’s Day” (Matthew 28:1-10)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We are not Mary from Magdala. Nor are we the other Mary. Nor are we the disciples. We have not come here to a tomb, to mourn a dead Jesus. We have not come to anoint a body for permanent burial. We have not come to recreate or reenact what those women might have felt or experienced on that first day of the week, when the Passover was over. We are not shocked by what happens. But they were shocked. They expected to find that stone in place, and the dead body of Jesus lying where Joseph and Nicodemus had put it. But they are shocked to find the stone rolled away, the body gone, and an angel sitting on the stone. He’s sitting on the stone, mocking death and the tomb. Pilate had told the leaders of the Jews to make the grave as secure as they knew how. So they put the stone there, sealed it, and set a guard. Now the angel mocks all of it: the stone, the seal, the guard. And he tells the women, “Don’t be afraid.” But we haven’t come here to find out what happens; we know the story. It is not going to turn out differently this time. We haven’t come to hear the angel tell us, as he told them, “He is not here; He is risen.” In fact, He is risen, so He is here. That’s the point. That’s why we have come. Our Lord is risen; really, actually, physically, eternally. But even though it’s His body, it’s not like it was before the resurrection. He is not a resuscitated corpse. His body is not like the body of that 12-year old girl, to whom the Lord said, “Little girl, I say to you, get up.” His body is not like the body of the son of the widow at Nain, to whose funeral procession Jesus put an end, and gave him back to his mother. His body is not like the body of Lazarus, to whom He said, when he had been in the tomb for four days, “Lazarus, come out!” and he did. All of those were resuscitated corpses, and all of them died again. Jesus has not been resuscitated, but resurrected, and it is entirely different. Just as His conception and birth were totally unique, and absolutely new; they had never happened in the history of this creation; so Jesus’ resurrection body is absolutely new in this creation. In fact, it’s not of this creation at all, but of the new creation. He is actually risen, in a real body, but glorified. And Paul says that He will transform our lowly bodies to be like His glorious Body. John says that when He is revealed, then we will be like Him, because we will see Him as He is. You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. But when Christ, your life, appears, then you will also appear with Him in His glory. This is the hope in which we were saved: that He has a real, glorified body; that death, body and soul, is over and done with in His resurrection. When He appears to His disciples after His resurrection, He shows them His hands and feet and side, and tells Thomas to put his fingers into His hands and his hand into Jesus’ side. He doesn’t float in; He says, “Spirits don’t have flesh and bone, as you see I have” (Luke 24:39). He eats fish with them. He appears to 500 people at one time. He is not an illusion; He is not a hallucination. It is Him, in a new resurrection body. And if He has not risen from the dead, if we are here just for some sort of Easter tradition, or some vague experience of resurrection power, or because this is just what you do, then I’m done. It’s not worth it. If Jesus is not actually risen, then Christianity is just another ethical or moral system, another philosophy, another way to teach sinners to play nice with each other. And the world is swimming in those. There are no shortage of self-help books attempting to teach you how to live your best life now. But if that’s all it is, if Jesus is not actually risen, bodily; if we trust in Him for this life only, then Paul is right: we are to be pitied above all people. And if that’s the case, to hell with all of this.
But Jesus is risen. He cannot die any more. And that’s why we’re here. Because He is alive; because of what He said to us; and because He has gone ahead of us, and there we will see Him. He said to His disciples that it was necessary for the Son of Man to suffer many things and die and on the third day rise again. He told them, and He did it. Look, the angel says, He said it to you. He has also spoken to us, and given us promises. After His resurrection, before He ascended into heaven, He said to His Apostles: Make disciples. And here’s how you make disciples: by baptizing them into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe, keep, hold on to, everything I commanded you. And wherever those baptized, instructed people are gathered, Jesus promises: Look, I am with you all the days until the completion of this age. And since this age is not yet complete, He must be here, or else be a liar. Look, He said it to you. And when He had risen from the dead, He appeared to His disciples and showed them His hands and feet and said, “Peace to you. Peace to you.” And then He breathed on them, and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whatever sins you forgive are forgiven; and when you withhold forgiveness, it is withheld.” So Jesus promises to be wherever the forgiveness of sins is happening. He has to be, because there is no other forgiveness than His. Look, He said it to you. And three days before His resurrection, on the night when He was betrayed, He took bread and said, Take and eat it, it is My body. And He took wine, and said, Take and eat it, it is My blood. Do this in remembrance of Me. And Paul says that as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. And if it’s true what Paul says, that when we eat this bread and drink this cup, we have union with Christ’s Body and Blood, then He must be here. Because you can’t have union with something that is not there. Look, He said it to you.
The living Jesus is present here, today, now. And He has also gone ahead of us to where we will finally see Him whom we have now only by faith. Because the problem seems to remain: the wolf called death still swallows up all people, as if they were nothing but gnats. He swallows up people left and right, and he never seems to be satisfied.
You probably know the story of Little Red Riding Hood; or, as the Grimm Brothers called her, Little Red-Cap, because of the red hat she wore. The wolf goes to the grandmother’s house and swallows her up, puts on her clothes, and lies in her bed waiting for Little Red-Cap. Now I don’t know about you, but every time I heard that story, every version I heard, had Little Red Riding Hood escaping from the wolf at the last second. Either she tricks the wolf, or outwits him, or the woodsman appears at the last moment to save her. But that’s not how the Grimms wrote it. In their story, she goes to the house, they have that little dialogue: What big ears you have! What big eyes you have! What a large mouth you have! The better to eat you with! And the wolf swallows up Little Red-Cap. That’s death. No one escapes. Your ancestors, your great-grandfather, your grandmother all died or will die. You will, too, unless the Lord returns first. The wolf called death swallows up everyone. In the story, the woodsman comes in and thinks that they may still be alive, so he cuts open the sleeping wolf’s stomach and out come the grandmother and Little Red-Cap, still alive. Then they sew up large stones into the stomach of the wolf, and when he tries to run away, he collapses and dies. Jesus is better than the woodsman. He doesn’t just save us from the outside. What He does not enter is not overcome. If He doesn’t die in our place, then we just have an example to follow, a life to imitate. But Jesus actually went further. He went all the way into death, being swallowed up like all the other gnats. But when the wolf death swallowed life, that gnat became a camel in death’s belly, and split him open forever. Death’s jaws are broken, and he can’t keep anyone in any more. Not since Jesus. Where Jesus goes, you will go. Jesus is risen, you will rise. He pulls you after. Death has no victory; death has no sting, thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Today the dawn breaks again. Not because we are reenacting that first Easter, but because this is the Lord’s Day. The Day of the Lord is the day the Lord will come to gather His own to Himself. See, whether or not He comes today in all His glory, He most certainly comes among His people. See, He speaks to you. See, He feeds you. See, He lives. He is here among us, from this Lord’s Day all the way to that Last Day. Do not be afraid. He has said it, and He will do it.
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, 4/19/14