2020-04-12 The Resurrection of Our Lord
Today is an Easter unlike any other in the history of Christianity. Never before have the churches across the world closed their doors on this day. Never before, and I hope never again, have the faithful not gathered on Easter morning to celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord. If you had told me that this day would come, I would not have believed it. If you had said that pews and parking lots of churches in every nation would be empty on this day, I would not have thought it possible.
Yet here we are. Or rather, here we aren’t. On the most joyous day of the Christian year, the day of Jesus’ triumph over death, we are sheltering in place in our homes in an effort to avoid death. What a strange Easter this is. But have you considered that this has happened before? In the long history of Christ’s church, there was one other Easter such as this: one other time in which fear drove the faithful into hiding, one other Easter when the gathering place of believers was empty on Sunday morning. It was the first Easter, the glorious day of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus.
And where were the faithful? They were sheltering in their homes. Judas was dead. Peter, having denied Jesus, was weeping bitterly. The others were scattered, overcome by sorrow and fear. If you had told the disciples on Palm Sunday that this day would come, they would not have believed it. If you had said that by the week’s end, the worshiping throng of joyful followers would have vanished, that the faithful Twelve would be deserters or worse, and that Jesus himself would be dead and buried, it would have seemed impossible.
Yet here they were. As the sun rose, nothing about that morning appeared hopeful or joyous. None of the disciples had a plan. None of them saw a way forward. Only some of the women thought to do anything at all, and that was to go anoint the dead body of Jesus. But even this effort was hopeless from the start. They knew that the tomb would be sealed shut, that they could never move the stone. Yet they went anyway, acting solely out of irrational grief. Of all the followers of Jesus, these women are the best example, and yet even they did not believe in the Resurrection. They went out to find a dead body. What a sorry Easter this was, if we look to the state of the church on earth.
Here’s something you may never have considered about the accounts of the Resurrection in the Gospels. They are told from the perspectives of the women or of the disciples. We read of Mary weeping, of Peter and John running to the tomb, of Thomas doubting. But there is something important missing from every account. Nowhere is the actual Resurrection itself recorded. No one saw it. No one was there. No one witnessed the moment that Jesus rose from the dead. The Gospels accounts tell us what happened after the Resurrection. The women found the tomb empty. The angels said, “He has risen. He is no longer here.” St. Matthew tells us that an angel descended from heaven and rolled back the stone. But all these things happened after the Resurrection. The angel didn’t roll away the stone to let Jesus out. Certainly, Jesus, the Creator of all, does not need a created angel’s help to rise from the dead. The angel opened the tomb to let the women in.
What great comfort this is for us today. We don’t make Easter. Our Lord does. Whether there are witnesses or not, whether there is a crowd full of believers or a scattering of doubters, even though all the hosts of hell be arrayed against him, Jesus rises from the dead on Easter morning. The sealed tomb could not keep him, hell could not contain him, death could not hold him. Though all forsook him, betrayed him, and denied him, Jesus alone was faithful unto death. He drank our bitter cup, he fought our fight, he died, he conquered, and he rose.
Whenever we encounter death, it is always accompanied by feelings of regret. If only I had said this. If only I had done this. If I had had less fear, stronger faith, less doubt. If only I had been there! This is perhaps the most difficult thing that our nation is facing with the coronavirus. We can’t be there with our loved ones at the end. I know this hurts me as a pastor. My place is supposed to be with my people in their final hours. Imagine then Peter’s guilt on this Easter morning. Where has his place as Jesus’ lieutenant, as his top disciple? Peter, were you there when they crucified the Lord? “No I wasn’t. I was afraid. I ran and hid. I forsook him. I denied him. I am not worthy to numbered among his disciples.” But the angel said to the women, “Go tell his disciples, including Peter, that he goes before you, just as he said” (Mk 16:7).
Here is the message of Christ to the doubting, the fearful, the scattered members of his broken Church: “I am risen, and I go before you, just as I said. The grave could not contain me, and it has no power over you. I go before you, the first to be raised. I am the Way, and all who believe my words and follow me will enter into eternal life.” No matter how dark and gloomy this Easter morning may appear, our Lord goes before us, leading the way out of the tomb, passing from death into life. It does matter how things seem. It doesn’t matter that we are sheltering in our homes, unable to gather in Lord’s house. It doesn’t matter that your heart is beset by doubts, plagued by fears, burdened with guilt. If all the forces of hell could not keep our Lord bound, do you think a coronavirus will cancel his Resurrection?
They say only two things in life are certain: death and taxes. Well, this year, the government postponed taxes. They aren’t canceled. You still have to pay them, of course, but not on Wednesday. Now that is something that no one ever expected to see. But guess what? That’s nothing. This is the day that Jesus canceled death. He canceled it for you, he canceled it for Alice Dobrucky, and he canceled it for every believer. They can shut down our schools and our jobs. They can close the beaches and restaurants. They can cancel every part of our normal routines. But no one can cancel the Resurrection of our Lord. No president, no government, no virus. Fear and doubt can’t cancel Easter. On this joyous day, Jesus is the one who does the canceling, and no power on earth can stop him. He cancels your guilt. He cancels your sin. He cancels death itself. Jesus goes before us, and where he goes, there we shall follow. We will follow our risen Lord through death and into eternal life, just as he told us. Alleluia! Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!