+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Mark 16:8
Theme: Stunned Silence
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
Christ is risen!
Temporary paralysis! That was the condition that overtook the women who went to Jesus’ tomb early on Easter morning. They came with practical concerns, bearing the spices, gaining access to the tomb, anointing Jesus’ body. What they encountered shook them to the core. Their Lord, their Master, their Redeemer, their King who had been crowned with thorns was not there. Instead the angelic messenger greets them with the resurrection gospel. “He has risen! He is not here.”1
The account of the resurrection from St Mark ends initially with the sentiment of fear. Commanded to go and tell the disciples the women initially said nothing to anyone. Clinically, they were in a state of shock. They had no precedent upon which to draw on. People commonly relate to things on the basis of experience. We all know how quickly people relate to the subject matter of a conversation based on some similar experience they have had even if sometimes it’s stretching the comparison more than a little.
Whether it involves significant things like getting married, becoming parents, being involved in an accident, or facing a terminal illness; or more mundane and trivial things such as what we did on the weekend, the new car we bought, or how we like our coffee, associating with another’s experience is how we evaluate and process common experience. I did that once. I had that too. I experienced that also. For me it was more like this. My experience was more like that. This mode of operating is, of course, natural and can help us to build relationships when properly exercised. It can also be evidence of self-centredness. It’s a convenient way to turn the focus back on oneself.
The miracle of Christ’s triumph over death leaves us without opportunity for comparison. We have no point of reference for the resurrection. There is nothing in our past that we can link it too. No one can say, “This is what it was like for me.” We have no framework with which to evaluate it based on experience; no connections with which to measure it. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is completely and utterly beyond us. Many saw Jesus raise people- Lazarus, Jairus’s daughter, the son of the widow of Nain- from the dead. These were arresting displays of His power and a boon to the faith of many. Even so, those people were resuscitated to mortality and still faced death and decay.
Facing that reality for what it is, is what makes the resurrection of Christ earth-shattering and life-transforming. Otherwise it remains but a remarkable and curious footnote in history. But Christ didn’t just come to make history; He came to give meaning to the present and secure the future. The whole creation is in bondage to decay2 and no part of creation is more acutely aware of this than the human race.
The once spritely parents who found themselves stooping over dozens of times a day to pick up their children now pause and bend at the knee. The once robust athlete at the peak of prowess and endurance has now lost a step and gained niggling pains and strains. The once ambitious professional with a clear mind and sharp memory now finds himself or herself taking longer to manage the schedule and needing to write things down. We find we need four eyes to do the job of two; three and then four legs, then wheels, to do the job of two legs; extra ears, and stents, stitches, plates, pins, and pace-makers to keep the internal parts intact and working. These are not theoretical examples. These are applicable me and you.
The world simply understands all these things to be natural (though their affects are strenuously resisted). Christians understand a deeper reality at work. The natural world is living off the capital invested in the original creation. But permanent vitality exists only in Christ. Have you ever done a double-take when one of those ageing Hollywood stars you haven’t seen in a while appears on screen so done over by cosmetic surgery they look alien and artificial? Ponce de Leon has many followers. The fabled fountain of youth is the holy grail for a world bent on extracting (regardless of how artificially and vainly) every last ounce of youthfulness from a decaying existence. But the hegemony of sin’s maturing consequences is not so easily halted.
It involves much more than the ageing of our physical bodies and mental faculties. We know the symptoms. Addiction of every sort; addiction to drugs, alcohol, pornography, gambling, or work. Obsession of every kind; obsession with our appearance, our bank account, our social image, our status, is at the core an addiction and obsession to and with ourselves. The sinful nature serves itself above anything and anyone else. Repentance is not a matter of pious posturing before God; it is dead serious wrangling with the power of sin. We must stop assuming that thinking, speaking, and acting in a holy and righteous was is within our own power. The crucified and risen Christ breaks the power of sin. He frees us for the privilege of serving others.
All attempts to relate to the resurrection by experience must be named for what they are: Fabrications! They are projections of mortal sentiment onto the reality of divine existence. Faith cannot be pushed out of the equation. Through it the Spirit teaches us the mind of God. That too is beyond us; until….Christ! The gospel is a foreign language. It is not our mother tongue. It’s too counterintuitive to our sense of justice. It’s too unfamiliar to our natural way of thinking. It’s too drenched with mercy, laden with grace, and dripping with compassion to resonate with human ideals.
But the resurrection, the experience of which is beyond us, is our very possession in faith. It is the consummation of our hope. Beyond us now it will be our mode of existence in the future. When the mortal has been clothed with “immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’”3 The mystery of baptism ties these truths together. St. Peter says that baptism saves us, “By the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand.”4 It is the body and blood of the resurrected and enthroned Lord that we receive at this altar. He is present in His deity and His humanity to forgive, comfort, and empower. It’s not that believers will be saved through Christ’s resurrection; they are saved and live in that power now.
The concerns of the Marys are the concerns of the church. Who will roll the stone away from the secured unbelieving heart? How will access be gained to the soul galvanized against contact with God? God is beyond our experience. Faith to believe that He embraces us in Christ is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Who has that power? The Lord, God Almighty, the prophetic and apostolic word-wielding Spirit alone has such power. The Spirit says, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow My decrees and be careful to keep My laws.”5
Luther saw clearly how tangible and personal the promise of the resurrection is. “Now if I know this and believe it, my heart or conscience and soul have already passed through death and grave and are in heaven with Christ, dwell there and rejoice over it. And in that way we have the two best parts, much more than half, of the resurrection behind us. And because Christ animates and renews the heart by faith, He will surely drag the decomposed rascal after Him and clothe him again, so that we can behold Him and live with Him. For that is His word and work on which we are baptized and live and die.”6
Perfect newness! That truth should stun us as much as the women at the tomb. We possess it now by faith; we look forward to enjoying its full benefits in the future. Our Redeemer is victorious over the grave. Hallelujah! Amen.
Christ is risen!
+ In nomine Jesu +
The Resurrection of Our Lord
5 April, 2015
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt