Saturday, April 07, 2007

Festival of the Resurrection, April 8, 2007, Luke 24:1-12


But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened. (Luke 24:1-12, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!

There’s something that I noticed about this reading this year, that I never saw before. That happens to pastors once in a while. I’m sure it happens to you too, something new jumps out of God’s Word at you that you’ve never seen before… a new insight… and new way of seeing something that you never thought of before. Well, for me on this text it was this question: Where are the men? I mean the disciples… the ones who followed Jesus and listened to his preaching for those three years. I counted; St. Luke in his gospel tells us that Jesus told them he would rise from the dead three times.

“The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Luke 9:22, ESV)

“Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.” (Luke 9:44, ESV)

And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” (Luke 18:31-33, ESV)

What Luke is showing by these examples is that Jesus told them many times that he would rise from the dead. After all, the cross and resurrection are the very purpose that he came. Jesus makes that very clear. But somehow they missed the point. After all, if they had understood completely what Jesus said the picture would have been quite different, wouldn’t it? If the disciples really understood what Jesus was all about, they would have been standing there outside the tomb with Jesus cloths waiting for him to walk out of the grave. Imagine the story:

On the first day of the week, at early dawn, all of Jesus disciples went to the tomb, taking Jesus clothing with them. When they arrived they rolled the stone away from the grave and waited for Jesus to come out.

Well, that’s quite a different story isn’t it? And in fact, St. Luke tells us that each time Jesus shared the cross and the resurrection with them, they didn’t understand what he was talking about. Even though he said, Let these words sink into your ears… they didn’t. And if you think I’m saying the women were any better, don’t get really get it either. They didn’t come to see a living Jesus. They came to anoint a dead body. The men, the women, didn’t remember the words that Jesus spoke to them. They didn’t know, they didn’t have that information in their heads, they believed that God would raise the dead at the end of time they just don't expect a resurrection now.

Well, who could blame them? It’s not that Jesus was speaking in code or something. What he said was clear enough, it is just impossible for people to believe it. You and I have been to funerals. We don’t expect dead people to get up out of their caskets. Death is unforgiving in that way. When it gets a hold of you, you stay dead. That’s why it hurts so much. When our loved ones die, we can’t talk to them anymore. I’d give all I have to speak to Dad again. When our loved ones die we can’t hug them anymore. What would you give for the embrace of someone you love who is gone? We can’t laugh and cry with them. And it’s not just that they are distant. There’s a hole where they were, a big empty space that nothing can fill. You can’t speed dial your cell and have them answer. That’s death. That’s the pain it causes. That the finality of it. That’s what the disciples were feeling on Easter morning. They didn’t expect Jesus to do what he said he’d do. After all, he was dead. How could they believe that he would raise?

That is exactly the point. What God does in Jesus is so amazing, so much against they way that we think that it just doesn't seem possible. Even when we hear it spoken very clearly we just say, “Now that can’t be true.” It’s right here; we see the women and the disciples doing that very thing. The women go out there before dawn and find and empty grave. They are perplexed. They don’t believe it can possibly be true. “Why would the body be gone? This is where we saw them put him. He should be here.” But thank God he does things in ways that we don't understand.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isa 55:8-9)

Right there in the middle of their doubt the angel speaks to them. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, he says:

“Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” (Luke 24:5-7, ESV)

And then it happens. God's Word works in the women's hearts. They remembered what Jesus said. Don’t underestimate that word “remember.” It’s the difference between being in the dark and being in the light. It’s the difference between understanding and not understanding. It is in fact Jesus words of promise that is spoken to them. It’s God’s Word that creates faith and strengthens faith. They run back and tell the rest of the disciples.

Christ has Risen! He has Risen Indeed! Alleluia!

Only the disciples didn’t say “He has risen indeed!” They said, “That’s crazy!” It takes Jesus to speak to them himself. He appears to them all.

As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them. Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:36-49, ESV)

So what does this mean for you and me? Well, what about your doubts? Of course you have them. Sometimes while you are standing next to the casket, you wonder if Jesus can really raise your loved ones from death. And sometimes you really are afraid of your own death? I know you had feelings like those, because had them myself. At the same time you know that Jesus did rise from the dead. You know his promises are true. Just like all of God’s people you with your doubts just like the disciples did.

Remember what God has told you. Remember what God has promised you. In Holy Baptism you were connected to Jesus in his life and death and resurrection. It’s the very first thing we remembered today, isn’t it. In that washing with water and God’s Word, God gave you faith to believe. He does for you what is impossible for you to do for yourself. What you are remembering is that Jesus death on the cross is for you for the forgiveness of your sin of doubt. You are remembering that just as he is raised from the dead, you too will be raised from the dead. That’s why when you stand at the edge of death in doubt; you also stand there in faith. That’s why we sing hymns like “Jesus lives! The victory’s won!” “Christ the Lord is risen today! Alleluia!” and “I know that my Redeemer lives.” Those hymns are the words of faith, spoken in the face of doubt. Those hymns are hymns of remembering that what God says is true. In the face of doubt, in the face of death, don’t look inside you for some kind of inner strength, remember instead God’s Word of promise to you in Baptism. Need more? I do! In the face of doubt seek the Lord where he may be found. Here on this altar, the Risen Christ will come again. He says to you, take the bread that is his body and eat it. He says to you, take the wine that is his blood and drink it. “Do it and remember me!” Jesus says. What you are remembering is that Jesus blood shed and his body broken on the cross for you, for the forgiveness of your sins. You are remembering that Jesus is risen from the dead and he is with you right now and always with his promise of your resurrection. See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. Jesus puts himself right inside you so you can have no doubts about his promise to you and right here (in your hands) he gives you faith to believe.

All this is what we mean when we say:

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!

So our story is a bit different now. Here we are standing at the mouth of the open grave of Jesus Christ. We are not seeking the living among the dead. We have been given faith to believe that…

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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