The Best Easter Ever!
I've never heard anyone say, "I had the best Easter ever!" I don't know why people don't use that expression with Easter like they do Christmas, but I do know that this is the best account of Easter because it's my Easter.
The best Easter account ever has "lion and tigers and bears, O my!" Yes, it's like Wizard of Oz. As Dorothy, Tin Man, and Scarecrow enter the woods they realize lions, tigers, and bears could be about. As the women approach the tomb there is darkness; there is death, and they expect Jesus is going to be in that tomb. O My.
And I guess I do too, because I come here like the women not expecting Jesus to do anything for me. Though one of them is Mary Magdalene whom Jesus had cast 7 demons out of, Jesus casting days are done, to her. Though the other Mary had expected Jesus to have a kingdom and wanted Him to put her sons next to Him on the throne, not anymore. He's got no kingdom now. He's dead.
Sin, death, and the devil, O my, are still about. Death will one day carry me away as it will you. The Devil is on the march from the march of ISIS to the march against marriage and the unborn, and don't get me started talking about sin. I've got a few. And here I am at another Easter, and what am I really expecting Jesus to do for me. Nothing. O my.
No, like the women I come here to do for Jesus. They came to bury Jesus properly because Jesus needed that. The men had only buried Jesus with dry powders. The women had the spices necessary to anoint the body. I come to properly praise Jesus, properly thank Jesus. I come here to be His hands and mouth in this fallen world. You see Jesus needs me more than I need Him. O my, indeed.
When you get down to it the best Easter ever is really an imperfect one. I'm referring to the fact that there are 4 Greek imperfects in this text that keep the lions, tigers and bears hanging around, that keep sin, death, and the devil close at hand. The first is the stone. They set out for the tomb between 3 and 6 AM. On the way, they keep on asking, "Who will roll the stone away? Who will roll the stone away?" An imperfect denotes something that is ongoing.
Though this Easter account has imperfects it's the best Easter ever. It's the only where the women ask each other at all, let alone repeatedly, about the stone. Scholars say a stone of this size would way between 3,000 and 4,000 pounds. Who will roll stones like that away from my life, from yours? I know mine, but I don't need to know yours. You could put them all under the category of sin, death, or devil. Whatever your problems be: family, health, wealth, loneliness, sadness, fear of the future, past, or present, they fit somewhere under sin, death, or devil.
The stone they kept on asking about wasn't there. An angel had come down and rolled it out of the way, but Mark doesn't tell you that only that the stone is gone. Instead he focuses on the young man who tells them Jesus has risen, but even this doesn't make it the best Easter account ever. The 3 remaining imperfects do because they describe my Easter experience.
After seeing the empty tomb, after hearing the resurrection proclaimed the women were trembling and in a continued state of bewilderment and they fled from the tomb afraid. The words trembling, bewildered, and afraid are all connected to imperfects. The women are in a repeating loop. They are caught in trembling, bewilderment, and fear. The empty tomb, the news Jesus is risen sends them into this spiral, and that's where I find myself.
You don't believe me. True, I don't have a palpable sense of these all the time, but I conclude what is true of the women is true of me because the results are the same. "They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid." All they came away from the empty Easter tomb with was trembling, bewilderment, and fear; no wonder they said nothing to nobody. This is the perfect Easter account because it describes my imperfect one.
O no it doesn't. You're standing there preaching. That's right; but I start right where the women do, every day. Every day, I'm not expecting Jesus to do for me, but for me to do for Jesus. Every day, I'm continually wondering who is going to roll away the stones of sin, death, and devil. Every day I'm trembling over something, bewildered about something else, and fearing in general, and in such loop as this what can I say to anybody about anything?
Okay, this is not the best Easter account ever. It's the best start because it's where I start every day, but by God's grace, its not where I finish. The other Gospels finish the story. The other Gospels show the women after meeting the risen Jesus racing with joy to tell the others. The other Gospels at last get them, and me, and you too out of the weeds.
"In the weeds" is an expression that when you hear it you know what it means. A person is in trouble, in difficulty, in a place he would rather not be. Some think it comes from golf and being not only off the fairway but off the rough in the weeds. I think it comes from 19th century funeral practices. Some women who could afford it "decided to remain in their weeds." A footnote says, "'Weed' (singular) initially meant an item of clothing, but by the end of the sixteenth century it had taken on its current meaning of black mourning dress, always in the plural" (Inside the Victorian Home, 384).
So in the face of death you were said to be in the weeds. You know where weeds come from. From the Fall. Since Adam fell away from God and all that is good, we sow grain and grow weeds; we sow life in the womb and give birth to death; we sow good intentions and like dragon's teeth they sprout evil skeleton soldiers that make war on good.
What we need is a weed eater. No what we really need is a sin eater. There is a 2007 movie about backwoods people who put their sins on one man in the community much like the High Priest confessed all the sins of the Old Testament Church on the scapegoat. The weeds in our life, in our thoughts, in our very souls come from sin, so what we need is a sin eater, and see how specific God is that this is exactly what we get.
Paul says that God made Jesus who knew no sin to be sin itself. John says Jesus was an atoning sacrifice not only for our sins but the sins of the world. John the Baptist identifies Jesus as the Lamb of God who carries away the sins of the world so that the angel of death and judgment might passover us. Surely you know from the Old Testament that goats and bulls, lambs and birds were slaughtered and their blood poured out in place of sinners. Surely, you know that Hebrews says the blood of animals could never take away, forgive, or cover sins against God. It takes the blood of God to get that done.
Yet how can God have blood? He is a spirit. A spirit has no blood to shed to pay for sins. So God the Son placed Himself in the Virgin Mary's womb to take on flesh and blood. Now God has blood to shed, and not only that, He has established a beachhead in humanity from which to conduct a war against sin, death, and the devil, but not like you think. Not by power, force, or miracle, but by living a holy life: never fearing anything above God, never worrying about rocks that won't roll, never failing to trust the Father. Jesus' blood is perfect not only because it is the blood of God but because He lived a perfect life. So His blood can be poured out as a ransom, as a payment, as a wrath removing sacrifice for all sins, even mine, even yours.
You pour out anyone's blood, and they die, and Jesus did that, but look see the place where they laid Him. He is not there. Christ resurrection is a historical fact as much as the defeat of Xerxes in 480 B.C., Columbus discovering America in 1492, or the assassination of Lincoln in 1865. All historical facts are only known and proven by the word and record of eyewitnesses. The ancient Bible records are far better attested to than any other ancient source.
The historical announcement heard by the eyewitnesses and recorded for posterity is that we not only have a Weed Eater, and a Sin Eater, but a Death Eater. The Old Testament reading says, "He will swallow up death forever." The root meaning of sarcophagus is "body eater," (Browser's Dict. 345) but Jesus' tomb didn't eat Him, being God almighty, He ate it, and being True Man, He ate it for us men and our salvation. When the idea of death and the idea of Jesus meet in your mind it is the idea of death that must change (Grief Observed, 149 adapted). Although Shakespeare didn't write this sonnet of Christ we can hear it of him, "So shalt thou feed on Death, that feeds on men, And, Death once dead, there's no more dying then" (Sonnet, 146).
But wait there's more. The risen Jesus calls us wondering, trembling, and fearing people disciples. Disciples not cowards, not deserters, not betrayers, not even sinners but disciples! And look, if Jesus singles out Peter who had denied and forsaken Him so brazenly to be told personally, rest assured He has singled you too out to be told He has swallowed the death you deserve and forgiven the sins you can't forgive yourself for.
Everyday I get up sure that my sin, death, or the devil, has ruined God's plans for me, but listen to what the Easter angel says, "He is going ahead of you into Galileejust as He told you." Not the sins of the entire world, let alone mine, not eternal death let alone temporal, not the devil let alone all the demons that plague me can ruin Jesus' plans.
Go ahead; run from the Easter tomb. Not chased by sin, death, or the devil but run on top of them, over them, victorious. Run to the place He has promised to meet you as a beloved disciple. Not in Galilee, but in that font, at this pulpit, on that altar. Here you'll find the best Easter ever because here you find the risen Jesus today. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Resurrection of our Lord (20150405); Mark 16: 1-8