There is one simple thing that we are gathered to celebrate this morning: the fact that Christ is risen from the dead. These simple words are the backbone of Christianity. There is no forgiveness without these words, no salvation without these words, no eternal life without these words.
And this is one of those places where language matters. We don’t say Jesus is alive or Jesus lives. Yes, He is alive. Yes, He lives. But so do you and I. To say that Jesus lives misses the whole point of not just the last few days, but Christianity in general. St. Paul told us that we preach Christ crucified. Friday night’s Readings ended with the words, “Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury. Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So there they laid Jesus, because of the Jews Preparation Day, for the tomb was nearby.” Jesus did not continue living. He died. His breathing stopped, His heart quit beating, there was no brain activity. He was completely and undeniably dead. So to say “Jesus lives” or “Jesus is alive” misses the content of our preaching. This is an article of faith. We must confess with all boldness and confidence: Christ is risen. He has done something that none of us can do. He died and took up His life again. But this is no surprise. The angel Gabriel told Mary at His incarnation, “Nothing will be impossible with God.”
But in grief and shock and sorrow over their abandonment and everything else, the disciples have forgotten this message. And we cannot give them a hard time for that. It’s easy for us to scoff, to roll our eyes at their behavior on the first Easter. But we have the benefit of 2,000 years of witness to the resurrection. We have the benefit of the completed Bible, the whole story. They were living it, so sometimes things don’t click right away. We can all relate to that!
This morning we get to experience Mary Magdalene’s moment of conversion. We follow her in the early moments of the first day of the week as she sets about her solemn task of finishing the work of burial, only to find that the stone is gone, and so is the body of Jesus. Her first reaction is theft and more Jewish atrocities. She runs to Peter and John and tells them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him!” They race to the tomb and find her words partially true—Jesus is no longer in the tomb. But notice their reaction! For being the leader of the apostles and the beloved disciple, they certainly weren’t model Pastors! Mary is standing there weeping, and what do they do? Do they comfort her? No! John records “They did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes.” They walk away. They have their own lives to figure out now that they appear to have wasted the last three years of their lives. Mary can sort this out on her own.
So she does what we all do in grief and shock: look at the situation again; maybe I saw it incorrectly. So, she stoops and looks in the tomb one more time. But this time she is greeted with a vision of angels sitting where Jesus’ head and feet had been. But they don’t make it any better for her. She continues her search for Jesus. She doesn’t want angels, she wants Jesus. Faith lives upon no other! She doesn’t want pious platitudes. So, maybe it’s better that Peter and John didn’t even bother to console her—what help can mere men offer when what she truly needs—what we all need—is Jesus?
And then the impossible happens. She sees Jesus, but in her grief thinks it’s the gardener. Again the request: please, give me Jesus! And then He rewards her faith by revealing Himself, by showing that the object of her faith was standing in front of her, in the flesh. He was not a ghost, not a spirit only partially visible. It was Jesus in the flesh, truly human, the same one who had real nails in His hands and feet only three days prior. He calls her by name and her heart rejoices. After gloom and sadness comes forth the glorious sun. As day breaks the first light reveals Jesus, not just alive, but risen.
And because He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity, He will call you by name as well. He already did at the Font. He called you by your name, placed His name upon you, and gave you the benefit of His death and resurrection. Today He calls you by name, and shows Himself to you, just as He did to Mary Magdalene. He shows Himself to you as your Help in times of trouble, your Joy in sadness, your Life in death, your Forgiveness in sin. What He gives you cannot be given to you by men or angels. Only Jesus can wipe away tears from your eyes because He is the Son of God, Emmanuel, crucified, died, buried, and risen.
Mary Magdalene was given the pleasure and privilege of delivering the Easter Gospel to the disciples: I have seen the Lord! You, too, get to come face-to-face with the resurrected Christ in His living Body and Blood. You get to leave this place to go into your family dinners, your schools, your jobs, your daily life with the same joy of Mary Magdalene: You have seen the Lord. He was dead, but He is risen. He has called you by name.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.