Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 27:20 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! But that’s not what the women were thinking very early on that first day of the week when they went to the tomb. They were not going to that grave to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. They were going to anoint a dead body with spices. They were going to prepare a corpse for final burial. They went to that tomb expecting to find Jesus just as dead as He had been on Friday evening. The word for “tomb” is related to the word for “remember.” In other words, a tomb was originally a “memorial,” much as we put a stone or a plaque or some other kind of marker. We go to graves or burial places to remember the one who died, to think about who they were and what they meant to us.
But memorials like that are the closure of a life. They seal off a life and nothing comes after them. The life we remember ended there and those memorials close off the past. Nothing more is added to the memories we have of a person once that person is dead and buried. That is the sort of memorial the women expected to find in that grave.
But they are confronted by figures in clothing that flashes like lightning. And they say, Why are you seeking the living with the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember what He said to you in Galilee, that it is necessary for the Son of Man to be delivered into the hands of sinners and be crucified and on the third day rise. Jesus is not in a memorial, closing off everything He said and did and sealing it in the past, like they sealed His grave. He is not one more dead person among other dead. He is alive, and the angels say, Remember His words.
The word “remember” comes from the same root as grave or tomb, as in memorial. But this is entirely different. The memorial the women expected to find closes off the past. But remembering Jesus’ words opens up the future. Jesus broke the seal on memory, the past, and death, which seems to be the end of all things, and He opens up the future more and more by His Words. This is not just the same as other words that we read, in the way that we can read a book more than once and see new things each time we read it. That can certainly happen with the Scriptures, but Jesus’ words are not dead words on the page and whatever we expect or want to get out of them, it is up to us to get it or find it. No, Jesus’ words are living and active, like a two-edged sword. We do not exert our energy on them; they work on us. They act on us. They discern and judge and identify and shape and form us into the Image of Him who is the Word made flesh. They kill us and make us alive. They drop the hammer of the Law of God and the sweet balm of the mercy of the Gospel of Jesus.
Remember what He said to you, because His Words open up the entire, eternal future of God’s life. And you can only see it from the inside. I suspect that some outside the Church, some who do not believe Christ, or who do not believe He rose from the dead, think the Church is like a cemetery. It is, they think, a giant mausoleum, full of memorials to someone who is dead and gone. It seems small and dark and closed off, like a tomb. But that is because they are on the outside, where they cannot hear or see the truth. It is like the stained glass in a window. From the outside, it only looks dark and gray. You can’t see the pictures. You can’t see the colors. There doesn’t appear to be anything beautiful about it at all.
To see it, you have to be inside the Church. Then you see the light shining through and all the color and beauty can be seen. When the Holy Spirit grants faith by the word of Jesus, the word of His life, death, and resurrection, and His giving that eternal life to you, then you are inside the Church. Then you begin to see just how broad and deep and high is the love of God in Christ. Go into the Lord’s House, and go in a mile (David Eugene Edwards). It always opens up more and more and more. Further up and further in. Eternity is not like the same thing over and over forever. It is the never-ending expansion of the life of God in His creation, including in us when we are raised from the dead. Always more, always greater; you can never get to the end of it, or exhaust it.
This is the difference between dead, closed, memorials and the remembrance of Jesus is everything. Everything with tombs is in the past. But everything with Jesus is in the future. And not only does the future open up more and more, but He covers the past as well. He doesn’t cover it to hide it, or to excuse it, or to pretend it didn’t exist. Instead, He covers it with His merciful blood so that it is all forgiven entirely. He closes you off to sin and death and opens you to life. He does it because even though He, the Living One, is not with the dead, He does in fact appear among the dead. He is not a dead one among the dead. If that were so, then all those to whom we have grave memorials would simply have perished. And we would still be in our sins, and all this, both the preaching and the faith, would be empty words of nonsense. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead. So He is not in a tomb like ours, but He is the Living One among the dead, who raises all the dead up with Him.
Remember what He said to you: I baptize you into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. You died with Him even before you die yourself. And His breaking of His grave’s seal means the breaking of yours. Remember what He says to you: I forgive you all your sins, in that same baptismal Name. Remember what He says to you: This is My body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. This is how we remember, not as something that is closed off and sealed in the past, but something—Someone—who is present with us now. As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.
Remember what He said, because His remembrance opens up the future for you; your future is Christ’s future. He broke through the sealed, dead memorials to the past and opened up a future that is beyond anything we could imagine. No ear has heard and no eye has seen what God has prepared in Christ for those who love Him. Remember, hear, believe, rejoice in what He said and says to you, until the day when you see Him in His resurrection body, exalted and glorified. That divine life that the Man Jesus has, He gives to you who eat His flesh and drink His blood. And the day is coming when that divine life will break through the memorials that seal your bodies in the past. He will call you from your graves and your lowly, dead, decaying body will be transformed to be like His glorious, resurrection body.
Remember what He said to you. And they remembered His Words and they left the empty tomb—they left that dead memorial and went to the living Jesus. Today and on the final day we leave empty graves because we are joined to the living Jesus. 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, 4/15/22