“See what a morning, gloriously bright, with the dawning of hope in Jerusalem…” A very beautiful and appropriate beginning for an Easter Sunday service – a lively start, children’s voices, driving song. A hymn like “See What a Morning” starts out like it does so that, in your mind’s eye, you see it – the dawn breaking over Jerusalem, the sun’s well tips and golden ink spills across the hills, the land, dribbles down valleys, glops warm over the lip of the tiny bowl outside Joseph’s tomb and reveals… !!! … The tomb stands empty! What’s more!?!? Heavenly messengers, gloriously bright, flank the tomb and Jesus himself appears. He is alive and not dead! Christ is risen! And his disciples touched him, heard him, saw him – and believed.
It’s a fit for how I feel sometimes on Easter. Because they say “seeing is believing…”, right? And I think, what a comfort it must have been to see that bright morning! Because I see a great many other things and their stain seeps into and obscures my faith now and again. What an affirmation full of hope to see that Easter! Because I see things that do not affirm but repudiate me for what I believe and they make me afraid. And when it’s inky black, antagonistic, and scary, I’m quiet often. And so I’m tempted to say – on this day with a little jealous cynicism: “Oh what a morning, so long ago and far away… How much easier to believe when you can see, like that! You know?”
I think you do. Even though you dressed up and you came; can smell the bacon and see the Easter sunrise and blossoming color… I would bet you have an awareness that life isn’t all Isaiah 25 – a great feast of rich food, the best, the finest. No, there’s actually plenty of famine that goes around, with disgrace, and tears, and death! Maybe you lost a loved one this year. Surely you’ve been sad. Have things happened that scarred you? So that you know, life is rather more shrouded than bright? And perhaps feel the need for something more… that a dawning, gloriously bright morning would be nice…if only you got to see it?
Of course, you have more than an awareness, you have intent. You are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. You are not indifferent to these Easter things. And you’ve caught perhaps a bit of St. Paul’s urgency in 1 Corinthians 15, that our hope really isn’t in this life. Over the last year, as all the things that were normal shifted around, you perhaps thought more about how to talk about real hope and real value outside of all this. Of course, as you realized that, the world did too and it’s started to look for hope and to talk very vocally about all sorts of things – some of which are benign and some of which are exactly antagonistic to Jesus’ things. And it turns out, the world’s much less willing – at least in what it outwardly says – to hear about your Christian hope than it was a year ago.
And so you also know reality. The one with disgrace because people have mocked you, famine as things have fallen apart, tears for sickness and trial and depression, death of those you loved, and hatred from people you don’t even know – they all meet up with your intent to be about Jesus’ things… The reality among sinful people like us is that these things throw us off sometimes. They knock us about. Death destroys our lock on hope. Sickness eats away at our trust. Antagonism and hatred make it hard to speak. When it’s dark like that, it’s easy to be afraid – gripped by trembling and fear – and to flee and not say anything at all about this Easter hope we have. And from our vantage, to look back at that glorious Easter morning and feel that it all would be easier – there might be a little more hope here if – we could just see what those ladies got to see…
You’d not be alone, if that’s how you sometimes felt. It seems like that was the audience of St. Mark’s gospel. Mark wrote probably from Rome, with Peter – something like 50-60AD. With people who were just beginning to experience persecution for being Christians; persecution that would turn, finally, into terrible torments and death; dark history. Those people, even so few years after Jesus walked the earth, and with the eye-witness testament of Peter & Paul and Mark and more, surely would have said, “If only Jesus were right here…this all would be easier to bear. It’d be easier to stand up and speak, to push back with God’s love and say, ‘This is reality! Here’s the story!’ But sometimes we’re just afraid. If only we could have seen…”
So Mark shares the story of the women in ch.16. They were Christ-followers. And they loved their Lord and they were faithful. They were going to anoint his body, soon as they could. They thought he was dead. But, as you heard, they got to the grave and it was opened and empty and an angel was there and he spoke to them – very directly – but v.8 reads like this: “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” It’s like Mark’s saying, “Given the circumstances, the women fled from the tomb and were afraid, you know… Just as you would have been.” Or, in other words, seeing is not believing…
In fact, very often, even seeing is actually believing in what someone said. For instance, some weeks ago I shared with my daughters the pictures from the Mars rovers, Curiosity / Perseverance. They’re like 4K and super awesome, very detailed pictures of the panorama, the landscape of Mars. Or that’s what they tell us it is… Do you ever consider: how do I really know that’s Mars? I don’t mean to imply that it’s not – product of some crazy space-program-sham… But, empirically, how would you know that it really, truly, is Mars and not a Hollywood basement set? How could you tell it’s not a deep-fake from some government quantum computer? Well, you couldn’t really… and you don’t… you take it on good authority. “They’re scientists at NASA and why would they lie?” etc. etc. etc. But the truth is, you don’t know by seeing – you can’t even get to Mars – what you see is something they tell you is Mars, and you believe it.
There’s something like that in God’s Word this Easter. Did you notice in Mark 16:1-8 that Jesus, the risen Lord, never appears? No! It’s only the angel’s word that, for all the women might have wished in that moment, was this: “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ ” Even for the women at the tomb, the first people to encounter God’s messenger, for this moment, however long it lasted before Jesus was sight in their eyes, the message was: it is just as Jesus said. Believe…and go.
Do you see what God says to you this Easter? He says that for all you see in this world, you have everything you need; rely on what Jesus has said. I don’t mean to say that the appearances of Jesus weren’t important or that the accounts of the resurrection aren’t good historical evidence. No, they are – beyond weird atheistic arguments, the accounts of the women and the disciples are consistent and simple and true. Read Strobel’s The Case for Christ or check out reasonablefaith.org — there’s plenty of NASA-esque, authoritative argument in 4K. But that’s not what you believe…
The Holy Spirit has called you by the gospel – the good news of what Jesus Christ did and said. Consider this Easter that it is just as Jesus said for you – and he said he would die. The angel told the women that they were looking for Jesus the Nazarene, literally: “the crucified one”. The way Mark writes it means something not past tense and done, but something that happened and lasts: “Jesus who is (and remains) crucified”. It’s like Jesus said in Mk 8 and 9 and 10 – “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him” (9:31) And as terrible as that crucifixion was, it was meant to be a lasting thing. Jesus’ hands and feet when his disciples see him – they’re marked with nails holes, and his side bears that wound. That you might see every morning that about you Jesus says, “Your sins I have paid for with my death; my body will bear forever the marks of punishment and payment so that you know about you I have said, ‘It is finished… this one is not guilty.’” And more…
As the angel told the women, “He has risen!… [In Galilee] you will see him, just as he told you.” It is just as Jesus said – he would rise. Back in Mark 9, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” And he did. And in rising he says to you, with finality, that your hope is not in this here. No, this world has one word to say to you – old or young, rich or poor, man or woman – it’s death. Jesus makes no hope of this “here”. Instead he surpasses this world and promises to take you from here – he is the firstfruits – the first harvest – the first life from death – and you are the rest of that harvest. Should sickness steal your health and terrorize you and take your life, should they rage and spite and kill you, should you die – you will live – not by seeing him, but by believing what he has said. As Mark will later say, “Whoever believes…will be saved.” And as Jesus said to Martha, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in me will live even though he dies.”
And it is ever thus. You have exactly what they had–the Word–the Word, the promise, of Jesus–‘just as he told you’. And just as it was for them, for you this promise is all you need.'”
“Go to Galilee and tell,” the angel said to the women, “tell how it is, just as Jesus said.” That’s how it is for us too. Jesus says, “I’m going ahead of you into heaven and I’m preparing a place for you…there you will see me, just as I’ve promised. Now go into all the world and tell…” Tell – not what you’ve seen of failure and famine and fleeing – tell what Jesus said: that we, forgiven of our sins and freed from fears of death and empowered by this risen life, are raised with him and looking forward to a feast, because comparatively this is all famine. Jesus is making it, where any profile of disgrace won’t be able to follow and death that now prevails will be swallowed up in his victory, when Jesus reigns. That day we will say, with prophets of old and saints who have gone before, “Surely this is our God; we trusted in him [what he said], and he saved us…let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.” And until then, we’ll know that our hope is not in some thing we need yet to see; hope has been planted in our hearts – this faith in him, for a harvest of righteousness from the world as we share what Jesus has said with all mankind. And, holding firmly by faith to that Word, we will be bold and unafraid to tell it; all of it; every little bit; and with everyone…
Because, without any jealousy or cynicism, it’s Easter, you know? Death is dead! Love has won! For he lives: Christ is risen from the dead! It is just as Jesus said and one morning soon, glorious and bright, having believed, we’ll see it too. Amen.