They had never left his side. These women, three named in our gospel lesson this morning – Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James – never left Jesus. His own disciples had run scared. Only John had stayed, standing there at the foot of the cross…to watch those Roman soldiers do what they do best…to see them put Jesus to death, but then he too left. But not these women. They stayed to the end, and heard that final breath, then watched as Jesus’ body, cold and dead, was taken from that cross. From a distance they saw him placed in a tomb, handled by Joseph of Arimathea, perhaps not in the way they felt it should have been done, and so they marked the tomb and planned to return.
That’s where we find these women in our gospel lesson headed to the tomb of their dead, dear, Lord. They wanted to anoint his body, to give it a proper burial. But when they reached that tomb where Jesus’ body lay, things were not what they would have expected. The stone blocking the tomb had been removed. As they stepped inside the open grave and looked around, they found no body, and “while they were wondering about this,” we read that “suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them.”
These women reacted to all this as one might expect. They were frightened. This was a curveball. This wasn’t on their radar, as much as maybe it should have been, since Jesus had been quite clear that he wasn’t going to stay dead. Yet, there they “were bowed down with their faces to ground,” afraid. But that fear was quickly removed as one of those lightning shining men spoke to them saying, “He, Jesus, is not here; he has risen!”
“He is risen!” Those are beautiful words. We spoke them together today as have thousands upon thousands of other Christians throughout this world. “He is risen!” And the devil is cast down. He is risen, and sin is buried. He is risen, and death has died, he is risen, and life springs forth from the grave to you and to me. He is risen. Three beautiful words that were showered down upon these women causing their heads to rise and their faces to change from grief, to wonder, to joy as they were then called to remember Jesus’ words of promise that he would rise again. “Remember how he told you…” And they did, “they remembered his words” as they saw them now fulfilled.
Remember, remember, remember. How many times did Jesus say that to his followers during his earthly ministry? Probably not enough! Probably not enough for followers who are described in Scripture as being slow to believe, afraid, people with doubts arising in their minds. Remember . . . The apostle Paul echoes that call to remember as he wrote the verse before us from 2 Timothy chapter two. Paul was getting older and these words were some of his last. He knew that his work on earth for the Lord Jesus was nearing completion, soon he too would find death at the hand of the Romans. And what does a person who faces death think about? What would you think about? Childhood joys? Memories of teenage freedom? Regrets? accomplishments? Friends? Family?
Here is what Paul thought about. Here is what was on his mind. “Remember,” he says to Timothy. “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David.” Paul didn’t look back on his own life in this moment, he looked instead at someone else’s, Jesus’. He pointed Timothy, he points us to that same life, and calls on us all to remember. And that is the heart of our Christian faith: remembering – remembering what God has done for us. So, with those women at the tomb, with Timothy, with Paul, with each other, today, we remember. Not what we have done, not what we will do, but rather what Jesus did.
We really can’t do anything else, can we? What else can we do this morning but go to the empty tomb, gaze inside, and then ponder with amazement what this means for us? And what does it mean for you? It means that everything for you has changed. You now live in an era where the devil cannot control, sin cannot condemn you, and death will not contain you.
But you know, as I do, that it always doesn’t feel that way. Why does it more often seem like the opposite is true? Does your life feel like sin is defeated? Does your conscience feel like guilt is gone? Does the death of someone you love have no sting? What about this world? Does it seem like it’s getting better…or just worse? So, what good, what point is there in remembering Jesus Christ? Why did Paul waste some of his last ink, his last thoughts on a person who didn’t appear to change anything?
Why? Because that tomb was empty. Go back to Jesus before his crucifixion – before his death. Consider the uniqueness and the audacity of his claim. When the people wondered and asked why they should believe in him, aside from his miracles, he, Jesus, lined himself up with the ancient prophecies of Scripture and predicted, again, and again, that he would rise from the grave. He was willing to make this all-or-nothing claim.
We are here today because we are convinced that Jesus died, he died! But he didn’t stay dead. He physically rose from the dead, and still lives with us and for us today. That is your certain hope. That is what defines you. That changes who I am, and what I do. That changes my priorities, my dreams, and even my sorrows. Why does an empty grave mean all of that? Because I am a sinner who deserves nothing from God but hell. Our sins separate us from God. Our guilt condemns us before him.
We come here today dressed in our Easter best, but within each of us lies sin that is warped and wicked. No amount of trying on our part can take away the sin that we carry in our heart. No amount of trying to do good things or think good thoughts or getting your karma in line can balance it out. None of it can fix the problem. God said that sin pays a wage, and the wage it pays is death. But God loved you too much to make you pay it. He loved you so much that he said, “My Son will pay. My son will die. His Son’s name was Jesus, Jesus Christ, and we remember him.
We remember how he came, in the quietness of Christmas. We remember his work as he undid what sin and Satan had done; as he healed, as he preached, as he saved. We remember the writing agony of the cross, as he and Satan went head-to-head for the eternal possession of our souls. It was a struggle to the death. “It was,” as Luther wrote in a hymn, “a strange and dreadful strife when life and death contended.” And by the end of the day, Jesus the Son of God lay dead in a tomb. But remember…
Those women at the tomb had forgotten, at times, maybe we do too. Maybe we forget as our focus is consumed by the life in front of us, so busied and cluttered by schedules, deadlines, and never-ending projects – things that need our attention, our time. Maybe we forget as we see our own bodies aging, a little sorer, a little grayer, a little slower. We might forget even when we hear of a death, when we stand there at a funeral of someone we know, someone we love; whose passing has left a gaping hole in our lives that we don’t know how to fill. Where do we turn? What can we do?
I’ve often wondered about the cynics and nonbelievers. What do they do? Where do they find strength in this life? Where do they turn as they see their bodies aging and their loved ones dying? Where is the comfort for them at the cold graveside, where everything seems so final, so meaningless? It is precisely at that point, here at the end, at death’s door, that our Christian faith seems so meaningful. For that faith holds on to the promise of Jesus: “I am the resurrection and the life.” We recall him saying. “The one who believes in me will live, even though they die” And in this way we remember, “we remember Christ Jesus raised from the dead.”
It’s this resurrection that is the very foundation of our faith. This is what we are celebrating today. Not death, but life. Life for you, life for me, eternal life found at a tomb rent asunder, empty! Christ is risen; he is risen indeed! His resurrection gives us certainty about our forgiveness and all the other promises God has made.
So, today, we heed Paul’s advice. We remember. We stand there with those women at the tomb, and we lift our heads up with wonder as we hear again of our Savior and his resurrection – Christ is Risen! In his resurrection we glimpse our own and the glory that awaits us. When we won’t look as we do now—the slowly aging body that gradually reveals its own weakness and decline. We won’t feel as we do now—the hurts, the pains, the handicaps, the illnesses, the diseases, the death. We won’t ache as we do now—from shattered dreams and disappointments, from failures and shortcomings, from sadness and grief. No, we will all be changed.
We are already changed. We are children of God and one day he will call us home to be like him, and so we believe what Job once confessed, “After my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!”
“This is my gospel,” Paul wrote, the good news he was willing to die for. But it’s not just Paul’s gospel, or my gospel, or your gospel. This is the gospel, the eternal good news of Christ Jesus. It is God’s message of peace and hope to the world, to you. Today, we hear that message. We see the empty tomb. We smile. We rejoice, and we remember. We remember Christ Jesus raised, from the dead, descended from David. In him, we place our trust. In him, we believe and in him we know, that we too will rise and be with him forever. Amen.