Tuesday, April 2, 2024

I have seen the Lord!

Sermon for the First Divine Service for the Resurrection of Our Lord, Easter Sunday, preached on Sunday, March 31, 2024.

When you stand at the grave with tears running down your cheeks, you weep not for the dead but for yourself.  There is nothing wrong with that.  In the moment of our loss, we mourn for ourselves and who we have lost.  We cry out for the yesterdays that we are left with, for the todays without those whom we love, and for the tomorrows we will never have.  Death is real.  It is the thief who steals away what we have and leaves us with barely memories of what was.

When Mary Magdalene stood weeping outside the tomb, she was just like us.  Her tears were for her own loss and as she glanced into the tomb the reality of that loss was overwhelming.  You cannot read the Gospels without realizing how deeply Mary Magdalene was touched by Jesus.  She could not comprehend putting her life back together again without her Lord.  All she wanted was for things to return to just the way they were before death stole Jesus from her.

You and I are no different.  Even when our loved ones are aged or infirm or suffering greatly, all we want is to roll back the clock.  If only we could have a few more minutes or a few more hours or a few more days or a few more months or a few more years.  We just was some more time.  We just want God to change the hands on our clocks to give us a little more time.  Nothing else matters and nothing else will console us.

Mary stared into the grave expecting to wince at the crumpled body of her Lord.  But there was an even worse image than the dead and limp body of Jesus.  She saw two men in radiant white, where Jesus’ head had been lain and His feet had been placed.  Now her tears flowed with an even greater loss than death.  She had come to console herself with the finished ritual of preparing the body – a task interrupted by the Passover Sabbath.  Now she would not even have that.

Her sorrow almost became anger.  “If you have taken Him away, tell me where He has been laid!”  Honest grief always includes anger.  Why did they have to die?  Why didn’t they fight harder to hold onto life?  Why do other people not have to suffer loss like I did?  In her pain came a new grief and an angrier one – somebody stole the body of my Lord.  Did she not look at Jesus who was standing with her?  Did she not see Him?  Or was the only thing she saw death and what that death had stolen from her?  Maybe it was because the image of death clouds all other images so that in death that is the only thing you see.
Jesus has to say one word to her – her own name – and then it is all over.  At that moment she knows it is Jesus.  He is not a ghost or a spirit but her Rabbi and Lord.  Suddenly she turns to Him ready to hold Him in her arms because the unthinkable has happened.  The clock has been rolled back.  Except for one thing.  It had not been rolled back.  Jesus had not avoided death but overcome it.  He had not escaped from death but declared His victory over death and the grave.  The past had not been restored but a new and radical future bestowed.

Mary was ready to bind Jesus to the past that had for a few days slipped from her grasp but had now been restored.  Jesus would have none of that.  “Do not cling to Me.”  Don’t try to hold on to the yesterday which is past.  She would have been happy enough to have the past extended but Jesus was determined to give her and to give to you and me so much more.  There could be no holding on to the past anymore for the radical gift of Jesus’ resurrection is not an old life continued but a new life begun.  This life was not captive to sin or death.  This life was beyond Mary’s imagination but not beyond God’s ability to give.  The impossible had been done.

At some point Mary got it.  She did not nurse her bruised feelings that yesterday was not born again but was able to leave the garden of the tomb and the risen Lord with joy and good news.  “I have seen the Lord!”  Well, that is not quite true.  She had seen more than the Lord.  She had beheld the future.  She had seen not only the future of Jesus but her future in Christ.  As hard as that is to imagine in the midst of grief and loss, this is better than rolling back the clock.

This is what you have heard and seen today.  Jesus has stood among us as the crucified and risen Lord He promised He was.  He has vindicated His every word and promise.  He  has not given us the fragile gift of a second chance or a little longer life.  He has given us something beyond our imagination – life without end.  He has given us a glimpse of what that looks like in His own glorious body that we too shall wear in the resurrection.  He has left behind the rags of death that can no more bind Him and will not bind us anymore.  He has clothed us with the new clothing of righteousness so that sin is not ignored but erased and the sinner is seen as the righteous son or daughter of God we could not be without Him.  He has not merely ended a bad yesterday nor extended longer a pleasant today.  Our Lord has bestowed upon us a new tomorrow without end.  As we prayed in the collect this morning, He has opened to us the gate of everlasting life.  What we have to tell the world is what Mary told the disciples.  We have seen the Risen Lord and in Him we have beheld our own future.  We did not meet our Lord in a garden of graves but in the place where He promises to be – His House, His Word, His Water, and His Meal.  Death has not merely been postponed but ended and life has not merely been extended but made new.

Now the lives we live we live to Him who died that we might live.  The lives we live are not our own but belong to Him who paid the full price of our redemption.  The lives we live are not a second chance to get it right but the life of Christ in which no wrong can condemn us any longer.  The lives we live are not a license to do as we please but the privilege and power to please God in holy believing, holy speaking, and holy living.  We do this not in fear of being punished for screwing it up nor do we do we live this new life in the hopes that we will become better and better people.  No, we live this gift of new life as debtors not for sin but to Christ for righteousness.  We have seen the light and Christ is the light.  Now we want to walk in the light as Christ is in the light.

Most of the time we are ready to settle for less than God gives.  A little more time.  A little more happiness.  A little more stuff.  A little less pain.  You name it.  But Christ is ready to give us all things new – even us.  Our bodies and lives are now His because He has redeemed us not with silver or gold but with the holy body of His Son broken in suffering and the holy blood of His Son outpoured for us.  Easter is not about another chance or yesterday restored.  It is about the future given to us as gift, apart from anything we could do to earn or merit it.  And that future looks like Jesus – glory, glorying, and glorious.  Christ is risen!

1 comment:

gamarquart said...

The post began with, “When you stand at the grave with tears running down your cheeks, you weep not for the dead but for yourself. There is nothing wrong with that.”
I am sorry, it is really not that I want to find fault, but this is something I have been struggling with much of my life.
First, just because we cannot help doing something, or always do it, does not mean “there is nothing wrong with that.” This is wrong, because it is selfish. As our Lord said, John 14:28, “If you loved Me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father …” Yet we do not rejoice, we weep, because our first love is for ourselves.
Our Lord also wept at a funeral. His weeping has been misinterpreted for centuries. He did not weep, because Lazarus had died. According to His own words, that would have made our Lord rejoice. He wept, because He had to bring His friend back to this vale of tears. Even if you just look at the Greek, and follow the course of events, this conclusion is inevitable. It has been misinterpreted for so long, because many of the interpreters just could not believe the true reason for why our Lord wept.
When we mix the Gospel with human feelings, we invariably demean the Gospel. The Gospel turns human reasoning upside down.
Christ is risen!
George A. Marquart