Readings: Isaiah 25:6–9 | 1 Corinthians 15:12–25 | John 20:1–18
Text: John 20:1-18
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.
The last we heard from St. John, he and St. Mary Magdalene were standing at the foot of the cross. He testified truly that His Lord had died and the spear had truly pierced His side and released a flood of blood and water [John 19:31-35]. So how now are to go on, now that their Lord has died? It wasn’t that He had died of something that can be rationalized, or even sympathized much with. It was an ignoble death, a shameful one. He was unjustly condemned after being betrayed by one of His own. He was made sport of by the Gentiles and spit upon by the Jewish leaders. It was more than physical agony, but the utmost shame. And they had been witness to all of it, and even stood at the foot of His cross. Then, they, together with Joseph of Arimathea, had laid His body in the earth.
Those who loved Jesus, who were loved by Him, besides suffering the loneliness of His passing, also suffered from the injustice and tragedy, which they now had to bear without their Lord and Teacher. What were they to do?
It would have been easy to give up on the whole thing and bury the memory of Jesus. But no matter how much anyone has tried to erase the past when it ends in tragic loss, none of us can go back in time. We can’t undo what we’ve done or said, and none of us can bring the dead back to life. We must endure it.
So how could they endure? By what the death of Jesus had done: The curtain of the Temple had been torn in two from top to bottom. The mercy seat was now accessible because the once-for-all sacrifice was complete, perfect…”It is finished.” For us, He had borne the iniquity of us all, and from the Lord’s had we received double—double the mercy instead of all our sins [Isaiah 40:2]. In the depths of His sorrow, forsaken by God on our behalf, He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?” But that is only the very beginning of the Psalm; it ends with, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you…Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation” (Psalm 22:22, 30). Jesus had endured Good Friday with the Resurrection clearly in view. This is an example to us, of how a Christian dies: in faith and confidence that the Lord will raise Him, though no thing and no one else could come to help.
This is how we in Christ face death. But, that does not mean the pain is removed. The forgiveness, the reconciliation of sinners to the Father in Jesus death does not take away the hurt. But it does set a limit to it. The pain is mitigated because, as intense as it is, it is temporary. What we feel is not the sum total of our life, and as intense as it may seem, it is “not able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 8:38-39) The death of Jesus was the very thing we needed to remove the eternal torment, the fear of being forsaken and rejected by God, the fear of death or annihilation being our end.
If Jesus had not died and risen, there would be no reason to go on—to love or to mourn. Why mourn if all there is to look forward to is eternal destruction? This is the hope of atheists who can only rejoice for this fleeting life and make the most of every passing moment. We mourn death because we hope for paradise, and our heart aches in hope of entering it. “How long, O Lord?” (Psalm 6:3) We go on loving because this is how He first loved us. Without His love, there would be nothing truly good in this world, nothing lost which mattered, and nothing to hope in after this veil of tears. But as for our pain, our bitter tears, they will be wiped away as we go the way of Jesus: through death into life.
Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
Your God wants you at all times to have a firm confidence in Him alone. This is especially true in painful circumstances, but also when your life is full of joy. No one in this life can fill this role—not your pastor, not your parents, not your spouse. All of these are mortal. In the midst of this mortal life, suffering together, our only hope or meaning we can find is in the mercy of the God who died and rose again for us, the God who receives sinners.
Our aching hearts are constantly tempted to turn away from God. In death, the nagging thought is that God is wrathful toward us or a fickle friend. Job said to God’s face, “You have turned cruel to me” (Job 30:21) But Job was wrong, because he imagined a god who is more like those of human imagination who toys with mankind. This is not the God who was there with St. Mary Magdalene. He is not cruel, but His mercy endureth forever [Ps. 136:1]. He is the God of all comfort, who does not withhold any good thing from His children—even the life of His Son.
And the faith to believe in the God who raised Jesus from the dead is an unfathomable gift. The Holy Spirit works this faith to believe that even when God sends evil to us, He is ever gracious and merciful, and most certainly works all things together for good [Rom. 8:28]. It is the Holy Spirit in you who confesses this to be true even while our hearts are broken, conflicted, and uncertain. When everything else breaks, Jesus lives and God is good.
This is the hope of the resurrection which nothing on earth can destroy. Our eyes do not always see God’s goodness and mercy, but it is always there. We ought not think that when the sun is hidden by clouds that it has left the world. The sun keeps shining even when we are prevented by the clouds from seeing it.
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.
The Lord has called us each by name. Though Mary could not cling to that moment with Jesus outside Jerusalem, we are invited to cling to Him now in the places where He has promised to be. He is in the midst of His holy Church, where we hear His Word, we sing His Word, and praise His work and are comforted by the hymns. Here is where we are born anew of water and the Holy Spirit, where we are assured of our forgiveness and peace with God, where He feeds us with His Body and Blood.
In every time of joy and in every time of our sorrow, our hope is in the Lord. He comforts us with a salvation available nowhere else and in no one else. We rejoice this Easter season—if even through tears—because Jesus is not dead, but living, and we live because of Him.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.