We have probably all said it; at least, we have probably all thought about saying it. When something goes wrong in my life, when something makes me sad in my life, when something makes me cry in my life, when something does not seem fair in my life, when something is just too confusing to understand in my life, it can be so easy to say or to think, “Where is Jesus in my life? He is not here!”
Thanks be to God that our Easter life as God’s children – the entire reason for our Easter worship today and every single day of our lives as God’s children – is based on those same very words, though spoken for a totally different reason by an angel of God who had the unquestionable honor of telling two women named Mary and the entire world the life-changing words, “He Is Not Here!” So, brothers and sisters, on this Festival of all festivals let’s think about where Jesus is – and where Jesus was – and where Jesus ever shall be. Alleluia.
To be able to sing, as we sang, “Jesus Christ is risen today – our triumphant holy day — Alleluia,” showing that we believe the angel’s words, “He is not here,” we need to first think about where he had been, something we also sang about in that same hymn stanza, “Who did once upon the cross suffer to redeem our loss, Alleluia.” The angel said it this way to those women, “Don’t be afraid, for I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.” In other words, the resurrection of Jesus Christ can only mean something if where Jesus was before he rose from the dead — culminating in the crucifixion on Calvary’s cross — accomplished something. And it most certainly did.
The past forty days during our Lenten worship we reviewed week by week what is at the heart of our worship all year long. The holy Son of God came down from heaven as the humble Son of Man to do for us what we could not do for ourselves – and that was to find a way to get the God who made us to let us live with him in heaven after we die – and to have a purpose for while we are alive. Where Jesus was before he was in the grave was doing things that showed he did not deserve to suffer or die or be buried. For all the things which you and I have done which show that is exactly what we deserve to have happen to us, Jesus came as God the Father’s own choice to experience the same temptations as us – and so much more – and to never fall, so much unlike us – and then, even though sinless and righteous, to still die with the payment price of holy, precious blood to accomplish what is called the redemption — the purchase – of all the people of this world – all the people he had created, but who have all, like us, fallen so miserably short of his glory. We can only pray to God that more people would actually believe that – even as we continue to pray to God that we ourselves will continue to treasure that as the only thing that really makes any difference in our lives and in this world.
That is where Jesus had been before he entered the grave on that first Good Friday. He had been in heaven from all eternity and then on earth for thirty-some years as he lived perfectly and died innocently to show us how much he loves us and how much he wants us to live with him in heaven someday – and to live for him now — and all of this by his mercy and grace, which we confess we have done nothing to deserve, but which we believe, according to his promise, will never, ever be taken away from us. If the devil ever says to you when you think of how you have failed God, “Why should God be here with you? How can you possibly think Jesus could be here with you? Ah, he is not here with you,” you can tell the devil you know where Jesus had been – and you know what Jesus had been doing – during all those days before that wonderful day when the angel of the Lord said to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary outside that empty grave, “He is not here.” Because he is my Savior, he is also my Lord. He rose from the dead to assure me that where he had been really counted, and so I am counted among God’s dearly loved children. Again, Alleluia.
That’s where he had been before the angel said, “He is not here.” Now think about where he was going after the angel said, “He is not here.” After the angel told the two Marys to come and see the place where he lay, he gave them these instructions, “Go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee.’ There you will see him,” something which Jesus himself said when he so suddenly appeared to them as they ran out of the tomb in their fear and joy to tell the disciples. “Greetings,” Jesus said – a greeting which had to be the most wonderful greeting these women could ever hope to receive from someone they had thought was their Lord and Savior, but whom they now thought was dead, leading them to fall at his feet and worship him with all their hearts, with the object of their worship – the Lord and Savior Jesus –first comforting them, “Do not be afraid,” and then telling them the same thing the angel had said about there being some joyful work to do: “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee. There they will see me.”
In our Second Lesson the apostle Paul told the Corinthian church members about some of the appearances Jesus made after he left the tomb on Easter Sunday morning, with all of those appearances to all those witnesses being the proof that Jesus truly was alive and that this was no made-up story. One of those appearances, which may or may not have been referred to by St. Paul in those verses, was on a mountain in Galilee, where the angel and Jesus had told the women to tell the disciples to go. So, while all his appearances were important, there must have been something extra special about his meeting on a mountain in Galilee, which was way up north in Israel, near the cities of Nazareth where he had grown up, and Capernaum where Jesus had preached and the Sea of Galilee, where he had once taught from a boat and walked on water and calmed a storm and on whose shore he had fed thousands of hungry people with such a little amount of food. It was on a mountain in that same area where, sometime before he returned to heaven, Jesus showed why this meeting was going to be such a special meeting. “All authority in heaven and on earth,” Jesus told them that day, “has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Do you see what Jesus was saying about where he was going after the angel said, “He is not here.” Where Jesus was going was wherever you and I are. To the very end of our lives, to the very end of the world itself, Jesus is with us, as we remember – whenever things are going bad in my life, whenever there is something sad in my life, something that makes me cry in my life, something that does not seem fair in my life, something that is too confusing to understand in my life – things that make me wonder, “Jesus can’t be here. He is not here,” – no, Jesus says – no, the one who is always with us, says – “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” If I was able to rise from death itself after giving my life to death, I am able to do whatever is necessary and whatever is best to keep you hanging on to my promise and hanging on to my love – something so important that someone in your life loved you enough to go into your part of the all nations to make you a disciple of Jesus Christ by baptizing you in the name of the true and living Triune God – and by teaching you to obey – to believe – everything he has commanded you – something that we also have the unquestionably high honor of telling others close by and far away, so they do not have to be afraid in their sadness and tears and confusion… We can say: “He is here… here with you… because of that grave it could be said, ‘He was not there.’” For Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Again and again, Alleluia. Amen.