Video of the Divine Service here.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It was about this time of year in Northern Minnesota, the time of year when it’s just about warm enough to start opening up the ground to bury people who died over the winter. While I was doing one of these committals at a little cemetery outside the town, I was listening to the funeral director talk to one of the people who was attending. The person had asked something about the vault lid that they lower down over the casket. And the funeral director had responded that the lid was self-sealing and that the only thing that could open that vault was a sledge hammer. At the time I thought: that’s not the only thing that can open graves.
When the women come to the grave of Jesus very early in the morning, they are asking each other, “Who will roll away the stone for us?” Because, Mark tells us, the stone was very large. Who will roll away the stone so that they can get inside the tomb and prepare Jesus’ body for its permanent burial?
And perhaps you’ve come here this morning with some large stones that you’d like rolled away. You’re asking, who will roll away the stone for me? Who will roll away this stone of separation between me and my family members? Who will roll away this stone of sickness, this stone that weighs down my body or my mind? Who will roll away the stone that’s weighing on me, that I lost my job and am having trouble supporting my family? Who will roll away this stone of some sin I can’t even speak out loud, let alone confess? Who will roll away the stone from the mouth of my loved one’s grave? Not the vault lid or the grave stone, but the heavier stone of death itself? Who will roll away the stone for us?
When the women get to the tomb, they see that the stone has already been rolled away. And they look inside where the expect the dead body of Jesus to be, and they see a young man, dressed in all white. And they still aren’t able to process what’s happened. They’re shocked, they’re shaking, their beside themselves. And the young man in white says to them, “Don’t be astounded. Don’t be shocked. You’re looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is not here; He is raised from the dead. Look: see the place where they laid Him. Go tell His disciples that He is going ahead of them into Galilee.”
So what do the women do? Do they run in joy to tell the other disciples? No. Not here. Here they are trembling and in shock. They flee the tomb and run away. They say nothing to anyone, because they are afraid. They flee. They are afraid. That’s where Mark ends his Gospel. “For they feared.” No appearances of the risen Jesus. No joyful encounters. No seeing Him in the Garden—not here.
And this isn’t quite what we expect, but it is very much like the position we are in as we come here this morning. You’re not going to see the risen Jesus this morning, unless He chooses this moment to end the history of this creation. Unfortunately, our tech budget didn’t allow us to create any spectacular Easter light shows, or project holograms of the risen Jesus, like He’s Prince at the Super Bowl. (That wouldn’t do you any good anyway.) We are left, for now, like the women at the tomb: with a word, with a promise. All you’re going to get is a sort-of-young man, dressed in white, who has been sent here to give you the same words that have been repeated thousands of times since that first Easter. Whether you’re looking for Jesus of Nazareth or not, He is risen from the dead. He is risen from the dead. He’s not in the tomb, not wrapped in the grave clothes, not lying where they put Him. He is risen from the dead.
Since we cannot see Him yet, all we have is that same promise. But don’t be afraid: He has gone ahead of you. He did meet the disciples in Galilee. They did see Him. Paul says, I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Jesus who was dead, crucified, and buried, is alive. He appeared to Peter and the other disciples; He appeared to the women; He appeared to James and His brothers; He appeared to 500 people at once; and He appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus. He is risen, and He is ascended to the right hand of God’s power. And He is not absent. I will not say to you, as that young man did, He is not here. Because He is, though you cannot see Him. Because He’s ascended, He will not be separated from His Word, and He will not be separated from His forgiveness, and He will not be separated from His Body and Blood.
Don’t be afraid. He is not there in that grave, but He is here because He is alive and glorified. This is His promise and His word, not mine. I am with you all the days, He says after His resurrection, until the very completion of this age. He has already gone ahead of you through death and into life, and there you will see Him. This is the Jesus who rolls away all the stones and burdens, and says, come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you My rest. I will restore all things. I will make all things right.
There is not a single stone, a single vault, a single grave that will remain in place on that day. He will tear every lid from every vault and every casket, and He will raise up all the dead and give eternal life to us and to all believers in Him. He will call you by name and death will give way to life, also for you. He is the resurrection and the life, and He rolls away not just grave stones but sin and death themselves.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
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, 3/30/18