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Sermon for Easter 4 April 2-21

First Reading: Isaiah 25:6-9

6On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. 7And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. 8 He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. 9It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

Psalm 16

1Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you; I have said to the Lord, “You are my Lord, my good above all other.” 2All my delight is upon the godly that are in the land, upon those who are noble among the people. 3But those who run after other gods shall have their troubles multiplied. 4Their libations of blood I will not offer, nor take the names of their gods upon my lips. 5O Lord, you are my portion and my cup; it is you who uphold my lot. 6My boundaries enclose a pleasant land; indeed, I have a goodly heritage. 7I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel; my heart teaches me, night after night. 8I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand I shall not fall. 9My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices; my body also shall rest in hope. 10For you will not abandon me to the grave, nor let your holy one see the Pit. 11You will show me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy, and in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

1Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you — unless you believed in vain. 3For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

Gospel: Mark 16:1-8

1When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” 4And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back — it was very large. 5And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. 6And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” 8And 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.

Easter Angel’s Eyes

We’ve finally arrived at the destination of the season.  For the 40 days of Lent and through Holy week, we’ve removed the Hallelujahs from our hymnody and liturgy as we observed the disciplines of Lent.  Today that all changes, not only do we add the hallelujahs back into our hymns and liturgy, but we also get to excitedly proclaim, Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!  And while every Sunday can be seen as a “little Easter,” the festival of the Resurrection of Our Lord is the high point of the Church Year.

Not surprisingly, the Readings for today are wonderfully oriented toward the proclamation of Christ’s resurrection—and ours.  “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).  In the book of Job, Job confesses the glorious truth that our Redeemer lives, and that we will see Him with our own eyes, even after worms have destroyed our mortal remains (ch. 19).  Then, in 1st Corinthians chapter 15, we have the climax of the great “resurrection chapter,” celebrating the defeat of sin, death, and the Law and the victory we’ve been given through our Lord Jesus Christ (51–57).  And in our gospel reading for this morning, Mark records for us the conversations between an angel and the two Marys and Salome.

Jesus had predicted His suffering, death, and resurrection 3 times in Mark’s Gospel.  Mark 15:47 tells us that the two Marys had seen where Jesus was laid, which sets the stage for the shocking and wonderful surprise they would experience at the empty tomb.  Early in the morning our three ladies make their way back to the tomb to finish the job of burying Jesus.  They had gathered the spices and other necessities and I’m sure with heavy hearts they head back to the garden that contained the tomb.  When they got there, Mark tells us they came face to face with and unexpected surprise, an angel sitting in the empty tomb.  One can only imagine the surprise on their faces as they looked into the eyes of God’s messenger.

The phrase “angel eyes” will most likely conjure up different thoughts based on your age and interests.  Older music lovers may think of the 1946 jazz standard popularized by Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra.  My generation will probably think of the power ballad of the same name released by The Jeff Healey Band in 1988.  And listeners to modern country radio might recall the 2012 song “Angel Eyes” by the band Love and Theft.  But for now, push all those other kinds of angel eyes out of your mind; today I want to focus on only one set of angel eyes, and through those eyes see the greatest sight this world has ever seen.  I’m talking about the eyes of the Easter angel in the empty tomb of Jesus.

It’s funny that we call it the “empty tomb,” since St. Mark’s account depicts the tomb as being a bit overcrowded on the first Easter Sunday.  The two Marys and Salome were shocked to discover the large stone rolled away from the tomb, and they went inside to investigate.  They were startled to find not a dead Jesus inside, but a young man dressed in white, an angel of the Lord.  Their alarm was most likely twofold: first, they were distressed that no Jesus was to be found, and second, angels of the Lord can be scary!  Despite our modern notions informed by figurines and artistic depictions, God’s angels usually appear in a manner that strikes fear into the hearts of onlookers.  This is probably why the first words out of the mouths of angels are often “Don’t be afraid!”  This is exactly what occurred on Easter morning, the angel says to the terrified women, “Do not be alarmed” (Mark 16:6).

In this case, the ladies didn’t need to fear this angel, he had come in peace to be the bearer of Good News.  The word we translate as “angel”, as we’ve come to know, means “messenger,” and bringing the Easter proclamation was this messenger’s main job!   He announces that they don’t need to fear what happened to the body of Jesus, because He is no longer dead but, by the power of the Father, had been raised!  The angel continues, “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He has risen; He is not here.  See the place where they laid Him.  But go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee.  There you will see Him, just as He told you” (vv. 6–7).

The angel tells the women to see with their own eyes, to be witnesses to the fact that Jesus isn’t there, and then he explains what his own eyes have witnessed.  He knows they are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, “who was crucified.”  Another interesting way of translating this is “the Crucified One,” which is very significant.  The women had witnessed Jesus’ suffering for the sin of the whole world under His Father’s wrath on the cross, and they had watched as Joseph of Arimathea buried Jesus, but that’s all they had seen.  The angel, however, has seen the resurrected Jesus with his own eyes and accurately refers to Him as “the Crucified One.”

Later that afternoon, Jesus would appear to ten of His apostles and prove His identity by showing them the nail and spear scars on His hands and side.  The next Sunday, Jesus invites doubting Thomas to touch those scars, which turns him into believing Thomas as he cries out to the Crucified One, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).  Still later, St. Paul would encounter the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus and then write to the Corinthians, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).  Paul characterized his preaching to the Galatians this way: “It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified” (Galatians 3:1b).

Now at this point you might be thinking, this is Easter, why are we still so focused on the crucifixion?  The answer is important:  the cross must always be at the center of our theology, the focal point of life.  A God who has not been crucified on our behalf would do none of us any good.  Look through the angel’s eyes and see that Jesus is the Crucified One, put to death for your sins.  The cross is our life!  St. Paul wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20); and “far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (6:14).

This isn’t to say that the resurrection isn’t essential too.  We also need to see through the angel’s eyes that Jesus was raised on Resurrection morning for our justification.  I’ve mentioned this before, Good Friday and Easter are like two sides of the same coin.  You can’t buy anything with a one-sided quarter.  Jesus couldn’t pay for our salvation only by dying or only by living, God’s will was that He do both.  He had to actively obey God’s Law on our behalf and passively suffer for your sins against the Law.  He had to actively fight Satan, whom you nor I can defeat, and die for all the times we have fallen for the devil’s temptations.  Jesus had to go into the grave and deposit all of your sins there, and He had to come out alive in order to grant us both forgiveness of sins and His own righteousness.

After His resurrection, Jesus continues the pattern established on the first Easter by hiding Himself from the sight of His disciples and by using angels to proclaim His death and resurrection.  Although you and I are like the women at the tomb, we cannot see Jesus with our own eyes, the reliable testimony of the Easter angel, recorded in Scripture, is the precious Gospel that we should keep before our eyes at all times.

Although Jesus remains hidden from our physical sight, He has continued to send us angels ever since His ascension to testify to His presence among us.  Now, I’m not talking specifically about angels from heaven, but also about the earthly angels who proclaim the Gospel.  Remember, angel simply means “messenger.”  In the Bible, “angel” doesn’t necessarily imply a heavenly being.  The very human and mortal John the Baptist, for example, is called God’s “angel,” or messenger.

After His resurrection, Jesus sent His apostles out to be His angels, His messengers, to preach the Gospel to all nations.  And those angel apostles appointed, everywhere they went, pastors and teachers to continue sharing the Good News of Good Friday and Easter.  Just as the heavenly angel Gabriel visited Mary with the wonderful news that the Lord was with her in the incarnation, now earthly angels or messengers proclaim to all who believe and are baptized that the Lord Jesus is with them until the end of the age.

Just as the angel of the Lord brought glad tidings of great joy for all people to the shepherds at Christmas, now earthly angels proclaim the glad tidings of great joy that Christ has died for all, for the sin of the whole world, and has risen to declare as righteous so that they may be saved by believing this message.  Back then, there wasn’t anything particularly angelic about the apostles, nor about Christian pastors and His witnesses today.  For the most part, we’re a pretty sorry lot.  But it really isn’t about the messenger who shares the Good News, it’s about the message itself.

It’s such a glorious message that those who share it with others are said to have beautiful feet.  Not literally, but figuratively of course, and I say this because according to the prophet Isaiah and the apostle St. Paul, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:15).  In other words, the footsteps of angels who preach the Gospel to us are beautiful because they proclaim the wonderful message of Christ, and Paul continues, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).

Today you hear this word of Christ through this messenger, your pastor and for the sake of Jesus Christ, our sins are forgiven.  Baptized into His death and resurrection, we are now clothed with His righteousness, which grants us eternal salvation.  We also recognize that Jesus comes in His Holy Supper to feed us, His followers, with His true body given and true blood shed for the forgiveness of sins, hidden under bread and wine.

We don’t see Jesus with us, but through His angel messengers and the Sacraments, He announces that He has promised to be here, so we see Him through the eyes of faith.  I encourage you to look under the bread and wine and worship Christ through angel eyes, as we gather “with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven” around Christ’s glorious throne.

On Resurrection morning, the angel told the women where they could find Jesus; likewise, today I have the same message: Jesus has promised that we can find Him in His Word and Sacraments.  May our eyes always stay fixed on Jesus Christ, crucified for our sins and raised for our salvation.  Join me in boldly sharing the Easter proclamation:  Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!


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