Saturday, April 11, 2020

The Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord (Easter Sunday)

Mark 16:1-8; 1 Corinthians 5:6-8; Job 19:23-27

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The stone has been rolled away. The tomb is empty. Death has been defeated. Jesus is risen. You are no longer in your sins. That, dear Christian, and only that, is the “new normal,” inaugurated nearly 2000 years ago in Jerusalem. But, it’s all too easy to forget that. It’s easy to doubt that when the economy is crashing, when the fear of disease is palpable, when unemployment is through the roof, and when there seems to be no end in sight. It’s easy to forget the “new normal” of the empty tomb and fear another “new normal,” one in which we are no longer able to celebrate holidays with our extended family, travel across state lines, gather in worship, or even to hug each other or to shake each other’s hands; one in which your retirement income is gone, where education is before a screen with no office hours, study halls, or friends; where sports are played in empty stadiums, if they are played at all. That’s the “new normal” of fear and unbelief, but that is not the “new normal” for you, O Christian.
That was also the “new normal” that enslaved the minds and hearts of the women who visited Jesus’ tomb early this morning. The “new normal” for them was that Jesus was dead. Their teacher, their King, their Messiah, their hope was dead, and surely those who killed Him would come for them next. The women visited Jesus’ tomb to anoint His dead body, to prepare Him for burial. Their greatest concern was not that they wouldn’t find Him there, but rather the large and heavy stone that sealed His tomb. That was normal even before Jesus’ death, but His death brought a newness and a finality to it, making it for them a dark and hopeless “new normal.”
When they arrived at the tomb, they were surprised, they were terrified, to see that the stone had already been rolled away. Still they did not believe, however. The “new normal” for them, introduced by Jesus’ death, was simply too much for them. It stopped their ears to what they had heard, it blinded their eyes to what they had seen, how everything foretold by the Law and the Prophets, how everything taught by Jesus, had been fulfilled. Fearfully they entered the tomb to approach Jesus’ body, if it was even there and not stolen away by His enemies, when they were greeted by a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe. That was certainly not normal. “Do not be alarmed,” the angel said, “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here.”
The women approached the tomb in fear and, sadly, despite the angel’s announcement, they fled the tomb in fear as well, because they could not comprehend, and they did not believe the “new normal.” “Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you,” said the angel, but “they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” That’s what fear does, it paralyzes you and prevents you from doing what you have been given and called to do. Fear imprisons you and every aspect of your life so that you cut off communication with others, even with those closest to you. This is the enemy’s strategy, as the prophet had declared, “‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered’.”
The historic Gospel for Easter Sunday ends, not with joy, but with fear, not with shouts of “Alleluia!” but with silence. The women are seized and silenced by trauma and fear so that they were robbed of hope and couldn’t remember the words of Jesus that had comforted them when He was with them. They were overcome with what their eyes saw now and with what their ears heard now, and without the sound mooring of God’s word, they were confused and frightened and they didn’t know how to interpret what they were experiencing. We are at risk of the very same at this moment in time. Apart from God’s word and promises we have no mooring and must succumb to despair.
The Old Testament patriarch Job had good reason to despair, had he not the sound mooring of God’s word and promise. Though he had lost his wealth, his health, and his family, and though he suspected, no, he knew, that the LORD had permitted it, Job confessed, “The LORD has given, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the Name of the LORD.” And, though his flesh had been reduced to ashes, Job was strengthened to persevere by the LORD’s promise of a Redeemer and the resurrection of his body so that he confessed, “I know that my Redeemer lives…, and after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold.” Job confessed this truth nearly 2000 years before the birth of Christ, because of the word and promise of the LORD. That this comfort and confidence might be extended to others, to you, Job deeply desired that these words were written that they would be inscribed in a book, that with an iron pen and lead they would be engraved in rock forever.
In these uncertain times, there is great temptation to give yourself over to fear, to take matters into your own hands, to make rash and hasty decisions that may prove harmful as time goes on. Thus, this Easter Day be reminded that everything the women and the disciples thought about Good Friday, based upon what their eyes had seen and their ears had heard, unmoored from the Lord’s word and promise, was simply, plainly, and tragically wrong. What they fearfully believed was the “new normal,” that Jesus was dead and their hope was ended, couldn’t have been further from the truth. Jesus’ crucified body on the cross was not the “new normal.” Jesus dead body lying in the tomb was not the “new normal.” But, the stone rolled away and the empty tomb, that was, and is, and ever shall be the “new normal,” no matter what may befall you in this world and life. The stone has been rolled away. The tomb is empty. Death has been defeated. Jesus is risen. You are no longer in your sins. That, dear Christian, and only that, is the “new normal.”
Is the “new normal” a change in the way you live your lives? Good! The resurrection of Jesus Christ has changedeverything indeed! Jesus’ empty tomb is the “new normal” for you and for all who believe. As St. Paul teaches, the old leaven of sin and guilt has been cleansed from you in Jesus’ blood. You really are unleavened. You are a new lump. “Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” Do not let fear paralyze you and keep you silent. Do not let our forced separation keep us from reaching out to each other in the ways that we can, and praying for each other more than ever before. Do not love your life in this world so much that you fearfully forget the words and promises of our Lord, fulfilled in Jesus’ own resurrection and the empty tomb, and so sacrifice the comfort and peace of God’s word and promise which proclaim and offer life that cannot die in Jesus Christ who is risen! The tomb is empty. That is the “new normal” in Jesus Christ. Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! We go forth in peace in the Name of the Lord. Amen!
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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