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Sermon for Easter Sunday 2024

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. Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. 10 She went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. 11 But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it. 12 After these things he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. 13 And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them. 14 Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. 15 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.


 He is Risen Indeed!

If it weren’t for the fact that this is Year B of the liturgical calendar, and the reading from Mark is the gospel lesson assigned for the day, I would have probably chosen one of the other Gospels from which to read the Easter story.  The other Gospels tell a fuller and more complete, even more dramatic, story of the Resurrection.  For me, St. Mark’s announcement of Easter is really rather understated.  For Mark, the big day is Good Friday.  He builds up to that day for five chapters, beginning with Palm Sunday.  I don’t know whether you’ve ever paid attention or not, but the events of Holy Week take up almost one-third of Mark’s gospel.  In comparison, he initially used just 8 verses to describe the Resurrection — 8 verses compared with 5 chapters.  For me, that’s an understatement.

It’s such an understatement that Mark, or possibly another editor, felt the need to add to it later, so there’s a second ending to the Gospel of Mark.  This is why I went ahead and included the additional 7 verses in the reading of the gospel this morning.  Earlier manuscripts ended the book of Mark at verse 8; the 9th verse begins a second ending.  Some of your Bibles note that.  In fact, if you were to open your pew Bibles, you’ll see how that’s highlighted.

In the older Revised Standard Version, verses 9 — 20 are simply printed as a footnote.  So, according to earlier manuscripts, Mark describes the Resurrection in just 8 verses.  Now you understand why I say it’s an understatement.  Easter Sunday is, in fact, the most earth shattering, world changing event in history!  So why do you suppose Mark would initially tell this event in 8 verses?  Why such a glaring understatement?

Could it be that Mark wanted to make the point that the story doesn’t end in the First Century?  Those first 8 verses are the beginning of the story of the good news of the Resurrection.  Maybe for Mark, Easter is the opening chapter to the gospel that you and I would write.  Isn’t it a real possibility that the second part of the story of the Resurrection is still being written wherever and whenever someone experiences the gift of new life that comes to us undeserved and unearned?

With that in mind, it might be good to lift some poignant truths out of this understatement of the most dramatic event in history.  First, we must consider the first of several important verses.  Starting in verse 3 we read: “And they were saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the door of the tomb?”’  It was quite a dilemma.  They were moving quietly through the streets of Jerusalem toward a tomb in the garden.  It was a little after daybreak.

If we were to look closely, there’s a look of sadness, of deep grief, in the women’s faces.  Their slow, somber steps suggest a weariness and heaviness of heart and spirit.  As the sun’s rays begin to pierce the morning sky, the women went and procured the spices needed to prepare the body of Jesus.  As they walked slowly along, they asked a single question, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the door of the tomb?”  That stone was a tragic reminder of the death of Jesus.  The women were still in a state of shock as they recalled the events of Friday.  On Friday, they had seen the trial and of Pilate’s attempt to free Jesus.

They watched in horror as their Lord and Master was strapped to a post and stripped to His waist.  They witnessed a Roman soldier take a whip, the “Cat of Nine Tails” and beat Him again and again until His back was cut so deeply the flesh torn lose.  It was a terrible punishment.  Men often died during these beating.  Others went insane.  On Friday, Jesus had been cruelly treated.  They saw Him crowned with thorns.  He had been mocked and spit upon.  On Friday they heard the crowds yell for the release of Barabbas, a murderer and insurrectionist, and cry out for Jesus to be crucified!

On Friday they watched Him carry the heavy cross through the streets of Jerusalem; they had seen Him stumble and fall; they watched as Simon of Cyrene was compelled to carry the cross for Him.  On Friday, they heard the ring of the hammer against the nails as the spikes were driven through His hands and feet.  On Friday, they saw the cross lifted and then dropped into the ground.  On Friday, they watched as Jesus struggled for every breath of air.

On Friday they heard His final words from the cross, “Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit.” (Luke 23:46).  On Friday they watched as His lifeless body was taken down from the cross, was wrapped in a linen shroud and placed in a borrowed tomb.  The cries of the mob, the shrieks of the crowd, the cursing of the thieves; all these sounds still rang in their ears.  Finally, the stone place over the front of the tomb was a grim reminder of Jesus’ death.  They had no thought or hope of resurrection.  Who will roll away the stone?  For you and I, that stone may also be a grim reminder of the stones in our lives.

The stone covering the entrance to the tomb is a reminder of our own death, or the death of a loved one.  I’m sure the stone sealing the tomb of Jesus was for those women a gruesome reminder of the “grim reaper” who had not only claimed Jesus, but would come to claim each of them.  Woody Allen speaks for most of us when he says, “I don’t mind talking about death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”  Not only does the mystery of death and the finality of that pronouncement shake us, but the stone also represents the unfairness of life.  Ask these women about the fairness of life and they’ll remind you that Jesus had done only good in His ministry.

Jesus had healed the sick and reached out to the hopeless.  Still, He died an agonizing death between two criminals.  It wasn’t fair, and still isn’t.  Our lives are filled with tragedies.  Strokes, cancer, disease – all sorts of illnesses come along.  Tragic accidents, things happen all the time where lives are twisted and broken.  It doesn’t make any sense, and life isn’t fair.  That stone is a reminder of the tragedy and adversity that can come to the people we love, just as it had come to those women.

The stone is a reminder of death and the unfairness of life, but also the other things which happen over which we have no control.  Who will roll away the stone?  And this is something we need to take note of about those Easter women.  They kept on, walking through the first light of the day to the tomb — walking on, even though they were burdened by the question, “Who will roll away the stone?”  The good news is we know that this isn’t the end of the story.

We know that the last verse of the short ending of St. Mark’s gospel isn’t the final word.  There’s more, 12 more verses.  Evidence bears out that while the women were silent for a short period of time, they did share the good news that Jesus is risen.  And this is the good news for you and me today.  It’s good news because we can now proclaim all that God has done for us in Christ: the forgiveness He offers; the salvation He has won for us; the life eternal that He has secured for us.  Throughout this season of Lent, our focus has been on God’s call for His people to return to Him.

We’ve heard the different sins committed through the course of His Passion; we’ve considered our own sinfulness; we’ve been reminded of God’s call to return to Him, and we’ve been comforted by the word that our God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and most of all, that He relents over disaster.  Our attention keeps coming back to Jesus and the sacrifice He made to reconcile us to God the Father.  Today, it all comes together as stone in front of the tomb is rolled away and Jesus rises from the dead and invites His followers to come and see Him.

Why?  Because when they saw the risen Jesus, they began to understand the significance of everything He’d been doing over the last three years.  They started, as St. Paul writes in Ephesians chapter 3, “to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (vs. 18–19).  And that realization would lead them to share this Good News with others, that they too, might come to know “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).  But there’s more, and to see this “more”, we need to see what God said through Isaiah, as he looks into the future, to give us a picture of the Feast to come.

“On this mountain,” Isaiah writes, “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” (Isaiah 25:6).  It’s a vivid picture of the third part of our Easter proclamation, “Christ will come again” and of the feast to come when He returns.  It will be a joyful gathering of people “from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Revelation 7:9).  And in this gathering, the Lord of hosts [will] “swallow [up] the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations” (Isaiah 25:7).  This says nothing less than that the Lord has taken away the sting of death and covered over the consequence of sin that would otherwise mean eternal separation from God.  Sounds amazing, doesn’t it?  When we read Isaiah’s account, we can picture its fulfillment, and in doing so, we long to be there.  But what is this covering that Isaiah talks about?

St. Paul explains this “covering” is nothing less than the fact that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  All: you, me, every single one of us.  This covering is cast over humankind, and we, on our own, can’t shake it.  We cannot uncover ourselves.  Our sinful nature clings to us so stubbornly that we cannot possibly strip ourselves of it.  And we know it.  Our conscience cries out against us, and our thoughts accuse us every waking moment (cf. Romans 2:15).  It seems impossible.

We all know this and lament: “Who then can be saved?”  To this Jesus tenderly replies: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).  God sent His own Son to deal with this problem.  He has provided everything we need.  “[God] gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).  God has stepped in and made it possible in Christ.  In Christ, our sins have been forgiven.  In Christ, our salvation has been secured.

In Christ, we “have an advocate with the Father” (1 John 2:1).  One who is perfectly righteous.  An advocate who lived a perfect life and then turned around and offers us His own righteousness and took our sins in return.  He has clothed us with pure vestments in return for our own filthy garments (cf. Zechariah 3:4).  Through Baptism, Christ has wrapped us in the robe of His own righteousness, which covers all our sins.

And now, we have a seat at His table!  You and I have been invited to the feast!

And Isaiah gives voice to our response: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation; He has covered me with the robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10).  On the first day of the week, Jesus emerged from the tomb, resurrected from the dead, fully alive, and His first task was to invite the disciples to Galilee, to come and see.  This morning, Jesus extends the same invitation to us: Come and see!

Come and look on the One who was pierced and see that the plan of salvation is now complete.  Come and see what He has in store for us: our own resurrection!  Our very life!  Come and see!  But how?  Where?  For the disciples, the answer was simple.  Go to Galilee.  Come to the mountain where you will find Me.  And so they did.

They came to that mountain and gathered at Jesus’ feet, and He gave them a task.  It was simple, but crucial.  You’ve come.  You’ve seen.  You’ve worshiped.  Now, go.  Go and make disciples.  Go and baptize.  Go and teach.  Go, and know that I am with you always.  Come and see; then go and tell.  But we don’t have a mountain.  Jesus says, “Come to Me,” and we stand like Thomas at the Last Supper, gawking at Jesus, stunned by His words.  “How can we know the way?” (John 14:5).  God gives us the way: His Church.  That is to say, we know where to find Christ, because God’s promises and His Word make clear where to find Him: Luther was helpful in his Articles of Faith; you will always find Christ in “the assembly of all believers among whom the gospel is purely preached, and the holy sacraments are administered according to the gospel.” (AC VII 1).  St. Matthew records Jesus’ words: “Where two or three are gathered in my name”, I am among them (Matthew 18:20).

We come to this place, because it’s here that we encounter the risen Jesus.  We gaze on the cross of His crucifixion and ponder the penalty for our sins, which He willingly bore.  We can see Him reach down and claim His own in Holy Baptism.  We can “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8) as we receive Christ’s very body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine of Holy Communion.  It’s here that you can see Him.  And then what?

It’s no different for us than it was for the disciples: Come and see; go and tell.  Isaiah’s words are beautiful here: “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” (25:9).  That is the pattern that Jesus lays out for the Christian life: we trust, we wait, He acts, and we rejoice and then go and share the news with others.  It’s so simple, and so powerful.

So today, as we gather and recall the salvation won for us by our Lord and Savior, may we all be moved to go out into the world and to share with others what we have seen and heard.  Be glad.  Rejoice in Him.  So go and share your great good fortune with the whole world.  And may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, our saving faith (cf. Philippians 4:7).

Alleluia! Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed! Alleluia!


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