He is Risen! (He is Risen Indeed!) Alleluia! Alleluia!
Christ Is Arisen, from the graves dark prison. Now let our joy rise full and free; Christ our comfort true will be.
The women go to the tomb to anoint Jesus body. Why the wait? Why wasn’t it done on Friday, or Saturday? The law said that anyone who touched a dead body would be unclean until evening. Touch a dead body after the sun sets, and you are unclean until the next evening. With Jesus dying late Friday afternoon, there was a rush to bury him. If they had touched his body after the sun set, they would have been unclean for the Sabbath, and it was the festival of the Passover. To be unclean was to be outside of the community. Unclean meant no Passover. That’s why the priests didn’t want the bodies left on the crosses. That’s why the disciples – well, really Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus hurriedly bury Jesus. No time to properly prepare the body. Just wrap in sheets and spices, close up the tomb, and wait until the Sabbath is over to finish the job.
So, early on Sunday, the ladies come to finish what had been started. They expect to find everything as it had been left – they apparently don’t even know about the guard at the tomb, because they wonder who would roll the stone away: Something the guard could easily do – if they felt like it.
So, when they get to the tomb, and see that the stone is already rolled away, they are worried. When they see someone standing there, they are anxious. After the angel speaks to them, they are shaking. They don’t say anything. The promise is good. But they don’t know what to make of it. And no wonder. They were just going to do a simple and customary anointing. They weren’t planning on being the first witnesses to the end of death itself. That’s what happened.. Of course, they don’t actually get to see death undone in the Gospel reading. They only get to hear about it. Jesus is already raised, so there’s no angelic hosts breaking open the seal in front of them. No music coming down from the clouds. And most importantly, no Jesus – alive or dead. They don’t know what to think of it. And even if it does seem amazing, let’s be honest – we’d all just assume that there must be some other meaning to it all, if it happened to us when we went to see a loved one in the cemetery. We would call the police. “Find out who did this”. For the women, that’s not an option. The less they bring the attention of the authorities on themselves, the better off they are. So, with no real options, they just run away, certainly shaking, probably in tears. As Isaiah says, “Who has believed our report. And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed.” This is just too much. It’s one thing when Jesus speaks the word and Lazarus, or Jairus’ daughter, or one of the other people are raised from the dead. We have a living Jesus to do it. We can see the connection. But Jesus is dead now. He can’t call out. As David says at the death of his son “I shall go to him, but he shall never come to me.” That’s how death works. If there is a prophet around, there’s a slim chance you might have your loved one back. Small odds, but better than zero. Which is what happens if the prophet dies. He can’t live again. Abraham, Elisha, Moses, Noah, David, Isaiah. They all died. None of them came back. Jesus died. That’s it for him, too. How do you know? Because that’s just the way it is.
The disciples certainly assumed it was over. But the angel at the tomb had other ideas for the women. No, nothing to see here. No body here. And so they run away afraid. In John’s Gospel, Peter and John run to the tomb to check it out, find the linens, but no body. And we are told, “But they still did not believe the scriptures, that Jesus would rise from the dead.” Thomas refuses to believe – unless he actually sees and touches Jesus. For a week, he thought that every one of his friends had lost there minds. We hear about that next week.
So why, on Easter day, are we spending so much time talking about the women? Because that’s where the Gospel reading ends. With Jesus still missing. The report of the angel, but no Jesus. It’s one of very few Gospel readings throughout the year with no Jesus in it. Announcement, but no Jesus. The women end even more distraught than they began.
What sort of an Easter celebration is that? It’s the sort of Easter celebration that we live in. Because we have the promise of the resurrection, but no one here has ever seen a funeral cancelled because of a resurrection. No one has ever gone to visit the cemetery, only to find an angel announcing that they aren’t there anymore. The promise is good. But oftentimes it’s hard to believe the promise.
Job says, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” Remember that Job was the one whom Satan tested so terribly. He lost his flocks, his wealth, even his children on the same day. Later he would lose his health as well. His response, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” We’ve all had Job sorts of days – those days when it seems that the bad news just pours in. But it’s hard to respond like Job. We say, “All right, it looks like you and I need to have words. Enough of this!” Like the women, we’re shaking, afraid, not sure how we’ll make it through. And more than that, we start to question whether God really does have our best interests at heart. Like Mary, Mary and Salome, we are shaking and fearful, and don’t know where to turn. “How much of this must I endure?” We say. Like Peter and John, we see what happened, but the resurrection is hard to keep in view.
The promise is good, even when it seems like it can not be. Especially then.
There is a strange little word in the Gospel reading. When the announcement of the resurrection is given to the ladies, the angel says, “Tell the disciples, AND PETER.” Peter was one of the disciples. We find out in John’s Gospel that when the women finally do tell someone, Peter is the first person they go to. So why “disciples AND PETER”? Why not just “disciples”. Sort of like saying, “Tell the Football Team, and the Quarterback”. Right. He’s on the team. Peter is a disciple. No question. Is there?
Well, Remember, when Jesus is arrested, the disciples scatter. But A couple of disciples follow. John (who is the only disciple standing near Jesus at the cross) and Peter. They follow to the High Priests house. And there Peter is questioned. Aren’t you one of that man’s disciples? “I don’t know him. I’ve never seen him in my life. That guy? Never heard of him.” Peter denies Jesus, to his face. Certainly, he can no longer be considered a disciple. Even if Jesus were alive, Jesus wouldn’t want to see peter. You can picture the conversation. “Peter, an angel said that Jesus was alive. The disciples should go to Galilee!” “Well, count me out. I’m not a disciple any more. I denied him.”
Tell the disciples – and Peter. “Peter – he wants to see the disciples.” “Count me out.” “No! He mentioned you specifically.” The promise is good. Even for Peter.
In a few minutes and hours, the disciples will start to see Jesus. They have the now of the promise, but they have not yet seen Jesus in the flesh. In a little while our Lord will return and take us to be with him. In a little while the grave will be opened. The dead will arise. The resurrection of all flesh will be here. We have the “Now” of the resurrection of Jesus. But we have not yet seen it yet in all its fullness. The cemeteries are still full. Like the disciples, we are waiting.
We have the promise of baptism, that we are declared righteous and holy in the sight of God, that our sins are taken away, that we are pure. But for now, we still struggle with the Old Adam in us every day. We still fall each day because we are weak. We still sin. We are not there yet.
We have the promise of a new heaven and a new earth, where there will be no night, where death is no more, where there is no more mourning or crying or pain. And yet we have the failing health, the loss of loved ones, the struggles and the troubles of this world. We have the Now of salvation. But we still live in the not yet of things. It doesn’t mean that the promise is not good. The promise is good. But often it is for us as it was for the women: Trembling and fearful.
It turns out for those women, as unbelievable as it sounds, Jesus really did rise from the grave. He really did defeat death. The fear and trembling would soon enough turn to joy and celebration. “He’s alive!” For a few more minutes, it was a world of uncertainty. But then everything is changed forever.
So for us. For now, uncertainty. Days when we have trouble believing the promise. It doesn’t matter. The promise not good. Our sin doesn’t cancel the forgiveness of God. Our faithlessness doesn’t destroy His faithfulness.
Those little words, “and Peter” are a great comfort for us. Jesus forgiveness is greater than your sin. His faithfulness is greater than your faithlessness. His salvation is greater than your death. His promise is greater than your doubt. The promise is good. It was good for Peter and John, even when they did not yet believe. It is good for us, especially on those days when it is hard to believe. Lord I believe, help my unbelief.
He is Risen! (He is Risen Indeed!)
Death is abolished, The grave is opened and can not be closed. The gates of Hell have been smashed. Satan has lost his power. Jesus has triumphed. No longer should we look for the living among the dead. For all those who hear and believe are among the living. Whoever believes Jesus, even if he dies, he will live, and everyone who lives and Believes in Jesus will never die.
The promise is for your and your children. The Promise is good.
And no one can take that promise from you.