Easter Sunday
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Mark 16:1-8 Sermon
April 5, 2015

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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
199  "Jesus Christ Is Risen Today"
198  "He's Risen!  He's Risen!"
205  "The Day Of Resurrection"
200  "I know That My Redeemer Lives"  


TEXT (vs. 4-6):  “And looking up, [the women] saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large.  And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed.  And he said to them, 'Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. '”

            It seems like I spend a good deal of time in my car.  It can be church business, or property business, or personal business.  But it seems like no grass grows under my wheels.

            Quite frequently you'll find me driving downSouth 14th StreetbetweenOld Cheney RoadandPine Lake Road, which takes me right pastLincolnMemorial Park.  And right by the fence are eight separate graves that I can see clearly from the street, especially if there are flowers on them.  It happens to be our family plot.        

            The first burial there was my grandmother in 1983, then my uncle, then my grandfather, then my aunt, then my father, and finally my mother.  That's six, and there are eight of them.  The two that remain are for my brother and my self.

            One thing that I can be fairly sure about, is that every time I drive by, those graves will be there.  In fact, I would even bet money that those graves are there, right now, just like I remember, even though I'm about 30 miles away and I haven't been by there in the past week. 

            How can I be so sure?  Because everybody buried there has died within a 30 year span.  I have witnessed each of those burials.  I have stood beside all of those caskets, and half of them I have stood there with my  big black Lutheran Agenda book in one hand, a shaker of sand in my other hand, and I've spoken the words, "I commit this body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust."

            Then after the benediction and after the people disperse, the casket is encased in a burial vault in the grave, and a backhoe comes in and fills in the dirt.  And apart from Volzke's coming in later and setting the grave stone, and notwithstanding whatever grounds keeping needs to be done, the graves have remained undisturbed since they were first closed.  And since everybody died of natural causes, there has never been any reason that the graves should be reopened and the bodies exhumed.

            I don't know how I would react if I happened to be driving by one day and saw that there were mounds of dirt, opened vaults and caskets lying around, and all the bodies were gone.  To say I would be completely shocked would be an understatement.  I wouldn't waste any time going in there and examining everything up close.  And then I would be demanding some concrete answers.  What's going on here?  Where did the corpses go?  Why would anybody want to exhume the bodies of six people, all senior citizens who died of natural causes?  How could this have happened?

            That's the scene that plays through my mind when I try to understand how the women and Jesus' disciples felt.  And when one of those women was Jesus' own mother, she would have feelings that none of us could even come close to comprehending.  Where did the body go?  Why would anybody want to take the body of a condemned and crucified man?  How could this have happened?

            This morning, I want to take a look at a few of the people in this story.  Let's look at three people:  Mary Magdalene, Simon Peter, and John.  These were all very devout followers of Jesus, and each had their own unique reactions.

            Let’s start with Mary Magdalene.  Amidst all of the rumors spread about her in today’s circles, we know from what the Bible says that she was a committed follower of Jesus and supported his ministry.  Jesus had cast seven demons out of her; therefore Jesus had entered in and completely changed her life. 

            She was on her way to the tomb to complete the burial process, which had been hastily done before the Sabbath.  She was grieving for the loss of her Lord.  And her main concern was trying to figure out how to move the stone so the work of embalming could be completed.

      But when she got there, she found the stone removed and the tomb empty.  This certainly added to her grief.  So she tells Peter and John: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him.” Flooded with grief and sorrow, all Mary could do was sit outside the tomb and flood the earth with her tears.

            Then we have Simon Peter.  He probably took Jesus’ death harder than anybody.  Not only did he have to deal with the grief and sorrow of losing a mentor and close friend, he had the millstone of guilt and shame hung around his neck. He had left his Savior’s side after promising allegiance to the point of death. He buckled under the pressure of a servant girl’s interrogation and denied knowing the one who knew him so well.  

            Imagine the knife in Peter’s heart when he heard the rooster crow and was on the receiving end of Jesus’ disappointed glance. Peter didn’t walk with the Lord who had let him walk on water. Peter abandoned Jesus in the darkness ofCalvary’s mountain.  Peter wasn’t there to comfort Jesus’ mother, even though Jesus had once healed his mother-in-law. Peter went to the tomb with guilt and shame.

            And then there was John, the disciple whom Jesus loved.  They were very close friends.  How did he come to the tomb?  He would have felt grief and sorrow because he lost his friend.  And I would suspect that he bore guilt and shame as well.  He too had fallen asleep while Jesus prayed in agony. He too had deserted Jesus in the garden. But humanly speaking, he could soothe his conscience by the fact that he had been with Jesus before the high priest and had consoled Jesus’ mother at the foot of the cross. What sticks out about John is his guarded skepticism. Elsewhere we’re told that the disciples did not believe the women’s report. It was “nonsense” to them that Jesus was gone.

            I think that we, along with the entire human race have looked at this account with a certain amount of skepticism.  Can all this really be true?  After all, none of us have ever seen anybody rise from the dead.  Hypothetical scenarios like I used in my opening illustration about our family plot just don't happen.  It didn't happen back then any more than it happens today.  It was just as perplexing.  How do we know what God tells us in the Bible is sure and certain?

            John, well he was skeptical.  He had his doubts.  But like John, it’s not important how we come to the tomb but how we leave the tomb, the empty tomb. That empty tomb has life-changing power. Let’s look at what it did for John and the others too.

            After John went inside the tomb and saw the burial cloths arranged as they were, John himself reported in his gospel, “He saw and believed” (20:8). The empty tomb convinced him; he was skeptical, and now he was certain. And the empty tomb does the same for us.

            As we look at Jesus, the people knew who he was, and they believed.  He was doing things only God could do.  Should it have surprised anybody, especially those closest to Jesus that he should be able to raise himself from the dead, just as he had promised?

            Think of what it did for Simon Peter.  Here was a man who was really feeling distraught because of the guilt of sin that he was bearing.  He had not acted as a disciple should act.  He denied and deserted his Lord.  After realizing his sin, the Bible says in Matthew 26 verse 75, “He went outside and wept bitterly.”

            God used the empty tomb to assure him of his forgiveness.  In Peter, here’s a guy who turned his back on Jesus more than once, yet Jesus went out of his way to say, “I forgive you. Your guilt is gone.” That’s why Peter could later write in I Peter chapter 1 verse 3, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

            The empty tomb gives us hope. The Bible says in Romans chapter 4 verse 25, “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”  The empty tomb declares us to be innocent. The empty tomb guarantees that our sins are both forgiven and forgotten.

            This brings us to our theme for today:  Reconciled at the empty tomb.  Yeah, maybe it took a while to get to it, but here is where it becomes the key to all of the various events.

            The words of Romans chapter 6 verse 23 are few, but hard-hitting:  "The wages of sin is death."   The physical death we all will experience is part of that.  In 1 Corinthians chapter 15 verse 22, part of Paul's great resurrection chapter, he writes:  "For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive."   Because we are human, because we are sinful, we will experience death on this earth.  Even those whom Jesus raised from the dead, like Lazarus and Jairus' daughter, they eventually died too.  They aren't still walking around.

            Human death and the grave is probably the strongest preaching of the law we have.  Nobody will escape it.  But the empty tomb of Jesus is our witness to the Gospel.  The promise is ours that because the grave could not hold Jesus, it won't hold us either.  We were reconciled at the empty tomb. 

            Christ was victorious over sin, death, hell, and Satan.  He endured what he did for us.  He lived the perfect life.  He kept God's law perfectly.  He fulfilled all of the prophecies in the Old Testament.  Then he bore the punishment and death he didn't deserve in our place.  This was punishment that we, by our sins deserve.  And now we are set free. 

            Our sins are forgiven, and now we have the promise of an empty grave.  The grave will be empty for us because of our faith in Jesus our Saviour.  The grave will be empty for us because we have been reconciled at the empty tomb of Jesus.

            There's one more person at the tomb I have yet to talk about.  That's Mary Magdalene.  Her life had been a complete mess, not unlike so many people of today.  She had been in the fast lane to self-destruction.  Some would have regarded her as nothing more than human trash.  But when Jesus came into her life, she was completely turned around.  The power of God himself turned her life of sin into a life of grace and service to her Lord.

            Of course she wept at the empty tomb like the others.  But Jesus appeared to her, thereby proving that he had risen from the dead.  Her tears of grief turned into tears of joy.  Her Saviour was alive!  Her tears of sorrow were only short-lived; but her celebration of his resurrection would last an eternity.

            At the beginning, I talked a bit about what I do at a graveside committal service.  I have in one hand my big black Lutheran Agenda book, and in the other hand I have a brass cylinder filled with sand, or sometimes I will just use a handful of dirt.  As I sprinkle the sand or dirt on the top of the casket, I say the words, "I commit this body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust..."

            The beautiful part of this whole thing is that the sentence doesn't end there.  It ends with a promise, the promise of reconciliation with God.  Allow me to read more of the sentence: "I commit this body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall change the body of our low estate, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body..."

            Life doesn't end at the grave, but it is rather the entrance into eternity.  That's what Jesus proved by his physical resurrection.  And because of our reconciliation with God through faith in Jesus, we can be assured that the same will be true for us.  This is what God has promised, and he never breaks his promises.

            I painted a rather bizarre picture for you with my opening illustration.  I talked about how I would feel if when driving past LincolnMemorial Park, I would see my family's graves dug up and disheveled, and the corpses nowhere to be found.  It would be unnerving to say the least.

            But isn't that what Jesus has shown us by his empty tomb?  Isn't that what happened with his grave?  Isn't this what he has promised for us too?  Because the grave could not hold him, we can be sure that it won't hold us either.

            When we see the empty tomb on Easter, we don’t see death; rather we see the life on the other side.  God guarantees us eternal life beyond the grave through faith in Jesus Christ our resurrected Saviour.  Through faith in Jesus, we have complete forgiveness for all of our sins, assurance for all of our doubts and fears, and a joy which calms all earthly sorrow.  Through faith in Jesus, that empty tomb is proof that we are indeed reconciled with God. 

            Each and every week we come here to celebrate our Saviour’s resurrection and our redemption.  Therefore we can confidently exclaim:  “He is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Hallelujah!”