Sermon, Easter Day, 2015, Gospel, Mark 16:1-8
They say that nobody likes an “I told you so.” But that’s not completely true. We don’t like it when someone has warned us that if we don’t change our behavior we will pay a price and we ignore them and pay the price. Then when someone says,”I told you so.” if feels like they are kicking you when you are down, insult to injury. But when someone promises you something good will happen and you don’t believe him or her, and it does happen, then you don’t hate that person. You look at them in a new way. You trust in them, and listen to them, because you know they care for you and your well-being. You are stunned and grateful. It’s like when you were a child and your Mom or Dad encouraged you to jump into the swimming pool for the first time. They say to you, “Don’t worry. I’ll catch you.” You might have been afraid that that they wouldn’t catch you for some reason or another, but after you jumped and were safely in their arms, they said, “I told you I would catch you.”They weren’t not scolding you, but trying to build trust in you, to get you to try something new. You were happy they did. You trusted them even more. The angel in our Gospel reading is that kind of “I told you so” person. Only he isn’t technically an, “I told you so” but a “He told you so.” or “Just As He Told You So.” For the young man in dazzling white, the angel, who spoke to the women looking into the empty tomb reminded them that Jesus had told the disciples that He would be raised.
The last time Jesus told them that He would rise from the dead had been that previous Thursday night, after supper, when He told them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee. (John 14:28). Peter of course piped up. He insisted that maybe the others might abandon Jesus, but he wouldn’t. He would even go to his death with Jesus. Jesus then told Peter that He would not only fall away, but he would deny he knew Jesus three times before the night was over.
And the sheep did fall away when their Shepherd was struck. When Jesus was arrested that night, they fled. As He was was being questioned by the Sanhedrin, Peter denied Him three times, each time more strongly, the last time spitting it out with a curse. Later, at Calvary, when Jesus was hanging on the cross, only the women and the apostle John were there.
And the followers of Jesus didn’t act as though they expected Him to rise from the dead. To prepare for His body’s final rest in a rock tomb, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, bought seventy-five pounds of spices to embalm His body and strips of cloth in which to wrap His body. That’s not what you do if you expect Jesus to rise up in a few days. Then, early on the morning of the Sabbath, the the two Marys and Salome, who had been at the crucifixion, took even more anointing spices to finish what they had not enough time to do before sunset on Friday. They came not to await the resurrection Jesus had told them would happen, but to pay their final respects to the dead body of their beloved Master. They were trying to preserve Jesus’ body as long as possible, but the men didn’t even care about that. The apostles didn’t even bother going to the tomb. What was the point? Jesus was crucified, dead, and buried.
What had happened to the faith of these men and women who had followed Jesus? Had they simply forgotten all of Jesus’ teaching, the predictions of His death and resurrection that He had made on several occasion? Possibly. Had the concrete, ugly,physical reality of seeing Him arrested, crucified, killed and buried outweighed the beautiful sounding but intangible promises He had made to them? Were they too scattered, unable to comfort and encourage each other in their fear and despair? Maybe. We know from the other Gospel accounts that Mary Magdalene found only Peter and John together that morning when she came to report the news. Where were the others? Had seeing the falling away of Jesus’ supporters since Palm Sunday, and even before, depressed them so much that they just gave up hope? Or was it simply sinful distrust of the Word of God? Maybe it was one of these reasons, maybe a combination, or maybe all. I don’t think, however, that the evangelist Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John told us about the failings of these men and women who had followed Jesus so that we could feel superior to them.
I believe that these descriptions of the women and the apostles and other disciples are to help us see our weakness in their weakness, and to see how the resurrection changed them and how it changes us. It would be easy to judge them harshly if we did not share with them their failings. We see the disciples forgetting Jesus words. And we think of ourselves.How many of us remember the stories of Scripture, the teachings of the faith, that we were taught as a child? Do we keep the Word of God’s truth before us so we don’t forget in times of trouble? Like the women and Joseph of Arimathea, who saw the lifeless body of Jesus on the cross, and later applied burial spices and put His body in a stone tomb, do we act as though bodily resurrection were not possible, as science and our own reason tell us? Are we not like the scattered disciples when we neglect to encourage and comfort each other by gathering together to receive the comforting and strengthening Word of God in worship, when we think we are self-sufficient islands of faith, able to stand without our brothers and sisters in the family of faith at our side? As the disciples saw the thousands who once followed Jesus melt away to a few, are we not also depressed to see our once full churches half full, the old passing away, the young moving away? Do we not see the mounting attacks on the church from its enemies in the culture, who ridicule and mock it and wonder, what’s next? Do we not feel the ever increasing pressure from within and without the church to conform to the passing fashions of society, rather than hold to the eternal Word of God, and throw up our arms in surrender. Do we see the murder of Christians around the world and wonder if the Church is on its last legs? Do we no longer believe that Jesus will preserve His church against the gates of hell? Do we sinfully mistrust of the Word of God and the promises within it? I think if we are honest with ourselves we can say yes to one or many of these doubts from time to time.
But as the resurrection changed everything for the disciples, the women and men who hung on to their little faith in the dark nights of Friday and Saturday, it changes us. The women who came to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus found the stone rolled away and no body. They heard the voice of the angel telling them that Jesus had risen. They understood better than many modern theologians the nature of the resurrection. It was not some spiritual, emotional bringing Jesus back to life in the mind. It was a physical reality. The tomb was empty. If the opponents of Jesus could have produced HIs body they would have, but they couldn’t.
The angel told the women to tell the apostles that Jesus was risen and would go ahead to meet them in Galilee, as He had told them. And Jesus did meet with them there later, a great crowd of believers that Paul refers in his first letter to the Corinthians, more than five-hundred. In the meantime He would appear to Mary Magdalene, to the men on the road to Emmaus, to all the apostles.
Now the women are overcome with trembling and joy. The word is ecstasy in Greek. They literally were beside themselves with excitement. They didn’t stop to tell anyone about what they had seen and heard until they reached the apostles. You know how it feels to have good news that you have to tell a special person or persons. You don’t stop to talk to anyone until you tell that one person. That was what is was like for them. Their lives were forever changed, like all those who witnessed the resurrection.
And we who believe in the resurrection are forever changed, too. We have not seen our living Savior face to face, yet, but we will, for He has told us we will, and we trust His Word, and the witness of those who saw the resurrected Lord and gave their testimony in Holy Scripture and in their lives. Yes, our sinful natures doubt, but through the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word and the Sacraments, that doubt becomes weaker day by day, and our faith stronger and stronger. We see ourselves in the doubting, mourning women. And we see ourselves in the jubilant, trembling, ecstatic women. We see ourselves in doubting Thomas and we see ourselves in the Thomas who proclaimed to Jesus, “My Lord, and my God!” Jesus says we are blessed who believe and have not seen Him risen, but nonetheless trust that He is risen.
Jesus has told us many things. He has told us He is the way, and the truth, and the life. He has told us that all who believe in Him will not perish but have eternal life. He has told us that on the last day He will return in glory and raise all the dead, to those who believe in Him to eternal life and joy in the restored heavens and earth. Like Job we know that our Redeemer lives, and that at the last day He will stand upon the earth, and after our skin has been thus destroyed, yet in our flesh we will see God, whom we will see for ourselves, and our eyes shall behold, and not another. Our hearts faint within us! The Risen Christ is here among us this morning and every time we meet in worship. He will soon give us His body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar. He is with us always. He has told us so. He has promised to catch us when we fall. He will keep us from sinking in the waters of despair and fear. He has promised to preserve the sheep of His flock. Heaven and earth will disappear. Our personal opinions, narratives, and relative truths will disappear, but the Word of God will remain forever. He has told. We will hold–to His Word and His promise. For He never breaks a promise. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!