St. mark’s account of the Resurrection is the shortest and most abrupt of the four evangelists. The women come to the tomb to finish the work of burying Jesus, find the stone rolled away, hear the angel’s message, run away in fear, and tell no one. And, according to some ancient manuscripts of Mark’s Gospel, that’s where it ends. It seems a strange way to end a Gospel, and an even stranger place to leave us on Easter, for us who know the rest of the story. As odd as that may seem, it’s good for us. It causes us to look at the Resurrection and realize that, as earth-changing as it is, it wasn’t at the time, at least not for those shocked and confused and traumatized disciples living in complete fear. We see now, as we study the history from the Resurrection to today, that this is an event that turned the world on its head and has rewritten the entire story of mankind.
St. Mark gives us raw emotion. The women were present through all of Jesus’ gory crucifixion. Even those of us who have watched someone die have never seen a death this horrific. We have seen it in sanitized hospital rooms, not on a cross, with nails through hands and feet, the body ripped to shreds, and a spear thrust into the corpse’s side. The women collected Jesus’ body from the cross and placed Him in the tomb with a very hasty burial ritual. So they come, after the Sabbath, to finish the work they began. But they’re still trying to figure it all out. If this were a fake account, it wouldn’t have fear and trepidation. There wouldn’t be that last-minute panic, “Who will roll the stone away?” All the details would be neat and in order and bathed in victory. Instead, everyone is confused, bumbling around. And anyone who has been through trauma knows that’s how you go around for some time afterward.
They came to find a body, but instead found an empty slab, folded linens, and an angel with good news. When those bewildered women went into the tomb, the angel told them not to be alarmed because they Jesus of Nazareth, whom they sought, who was crucified has risen. “He has risen”—can you imagine what was going through their minds at that moment? It was impossible to understand. They were just three little words, ordinary words. They weren’t presented with legal jargon or scientific formulas. They were recipients of three simple words, but those were the words that altered the course of human history.
Those are words that we cherish—“He is risen!” Because they haven’t just changed human history, they have changed your history. Those three plain words have given you forgiveness in place of damnation, hope instead of despair, and, most importantly, life instead of death.
What you heard this past week, on Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday as we read the four evangelists’ Passion accounts, was what you deserved. You deserved agonizing, bitter death and eternal separation from the Father. You deserved to go to trials and not to have lies told about you, but much worse—the truth! You deserved to stand before the judge of all and hear in vivid detail every sin you ever committed. You deserved to hear painful words—depart from Me, I do not know you, cast this sinner off into the outer darkness.
But Christ is risen. Christ is risen and your world is changed. That should leave each of us as bewildered as those women, because it’s hard to believe. Each of us know what we have done to sin against God and against one another. But this resurrection changes everything. It means that the Blood that drained from Jesus on the cross was offered to the Father as the payment for your sin. It means that the death that caused the sun to hide its face, the veil of the temple rip in two, and the earth to shake was accepted by the Father. And the Father raised the Son from death to prove that death, once the penalty for sin, has been defeated. Christ is risen and neither sin nor death nor Satan have any power over you. They are all defeated!
And that is a message that, once it sinks in, changes those who hear it. Those men and women who hid in the Upper Room, afraid for their lives, soon see Jesus in the flesh. They receive the Holy Spirit. They are transformed into heroes and heroines, fearless people whose faith in turn transforms the Roman Empire and moves out from there to change the world forever. We are here in Dorr, some 2,000 years and 6,000 miles removed because of the message that Jesus is risen and the confidence it gave to those who heard it and spread that Gospel and all that it entails.
As much as that glorious Gospel transformed their lives, it transforms ours as well. We rejoice in the forgiveness that Easter gives us. And we also rejoice in the future that Easter gives us. It gives us a future without the sin and death that permeates our world. It gives us a hope that can face death, division, sin, and even pandemics. We can face today, tomorrow, and every day because Jesus is risen and has given His resurrection victory to us. Because we are Baptized into Jesus and into His death and resurrection, we are shown where we will go and what lies ahead for us. Jesus has taken human flesh into heaven, and we can see where we will go. We will spend eternity in the presence of God. There nothing frightens or alarms us. Nothing traumatizes us. Jesus is risen and everything is—and will be—wonderful.
As abrupt as St. Mark’s record of the Resurrection is, it’s good for us. It reminds us that Easter is not a one-time event, but it is our Christian life. Just like the women and the disciples grew in an understanding of what the angels’ message meant, so do we. We come to realize more and more what an impact those three simple words—Christ is risen—has in our life. In the Church Year alone we have seven weeks of Easter to celebrate what Christ has done. But more than that, we have been given an eternity to sing alleluias to our risen Lord and Savior, the Victor over death. Christ is risen and has given His life to us.
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.