Easter Sunrise 2011
The earth shook. The angel rolled away the stone. The seal is broken. Death is destroyed. The evil one is cast down. The holy angels rejoice. The tomb is empty. Christ is risen from the dead! He has died for our sins and rose again for our justification. The battle is done. God has won. Why is not all the world rejoicing?
The guards were terrified. They were like dead men. They saw Him rise. Their hatred and their spears were too weak to seal Him in, but still they would not worship Him. Their terror did subside enough for them to take the bribe and tell the lie. They witnessed the resurrection. But all they had was fear and hatred for His love.
Why does not all the world rejoice at the defeat of death, at the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Are there men so cold as to stay in bed this morning? Why would those guards not believe? Why would they shame themselves and say that they were drunk and fell asleep? They´d rather be thought by men to be negligent incompetents than followers of Jesus?
Into the tomb of the Arimathaean, went the Mary´s. They found the empty grave clothes, a blood stained shroud, and an angel with a promise: “He is not here. He is risen. Save the spices and the ointments for the dead. Jesus lives.” He said, “Fear not.”
But they did. They were afraid. When St. Mary Magdalene came back she failed to recognize the Lord. She thought He was a gardener. She wept as though Jesus was dead and His body had been further desecrated. So, too, those two disciples on the road to Emmaus, St. Thomas in the upper room, those other ten who locked the doors, they were all afraid.
Jesus is risen. The tomb is empty. Some had seen Him. Others had seen the empty shelf where His Body had been and heard an angel proclaim the Good News. He even reminded them of what Jesus had said. But, still, they were afraid. They were all afraid.
What was it that those first witnesses of the Resurrection feared? Did they think that they would be held accountable for their Friday betrayals and cowardice, for denying Him or turning away? Or was it yet deeper even than that? Did they recognize that it was not just the sins of Judas, Caiaphas or Pilate that nailed Him to the cross? Did they know that it was their fault that Jesus suffered so and died? Did they feel the earth shake and know that in all fairness it should have swallowed them? Were they afraid that He rose and was coming for revenge? Seeing that Joseph´s adopted Son is true God, were they then afraid for what they had done, for who they were?
Repent, ye fearful men. There is no end of such things for which you should be afraid, according to the flesh. For what if your wife or your friends knew your secret thoughts and fantasies or your many vain ambitions, and what roles you would have them play? What if you had to account for every minute at work? What if your lies were exposed? What if your dark heart was known? Repent. But do not be afraid. For it was His heart and will to suffer, die, and rise again to liberate you from fear and death, from sin and Hell. He wanted to buy you back and set you free.
He rose not for vengeance but for mercy! He is the Alpha and the Omega. This is the way He has always been. He used evil for good with Joseph and his brothers. Israel came through the Red Sea on dry ground. Even after they complained and went after idols God forgave them and brought them to the land with milk and honey. Samson defeated more by his death than in his life. Weak and youthful David killed the giant with his own weapon. The prophet Nathan absolved the adulterous murderer. Namaan was cleansed of leprosy in the Jordan. The three young men came out of the fiery furnace alive. Daniel arose from the lion´s den.
Jonah was thrown overboard. His body stopped the wrathful, killing waves. The men who sacrificed him were spared. But then Jonah came out of the deep, back from the dead, that the Ninevites, even we, might receive God´s Word.
“Peace be unto you” the sign of Jonah said to the fearful disciples in the upper room. “Stop doubting and believe. All authority has been given to Me and I am with you always.”
Behold, I tell you a mystery. You were once dead. You were conceived in sin. You were born in death. You lived in fear and as an enemy of God. But by His grace, you were brought to life through the waters of Holy Baptism. God´s Holy Name and promise were placed upon you. You were joined to His resurrection. Now you are not dead. You are Baptized. You are ever hopeful and eager, awaiting the fulfillment of the promise and the return of Jesus Christ. And there is no stopping your heartfelt Hallelujah´s, even as His Body and His Blood are place within you, even as He declares you righteous from His grace.
The angelic prophecy made in the fields of Bethlehem has come true: peace on earth! Peace has been won through the violence He endured on the cross. Peace is bestowed in His Body and Blood, by the power of His risen Word. You may depart this day in peace for you are not God´s enemy. Your guilt has been covered. Your sins have been removed. There is no one to accuse you. Jesus loves and forgives you.
He is the firstfruits of them that sleep, the Firstborn out of death. He is the Resurrection and the Life, the Redeemer who buys back His wayward children with His blood. He is merciful, gracious, steadfast and loving. His humiliation is ended. Death is dead. Jesus is not. He lives. He is risen. And, as always, He bestows that hard won victory upon you without cost or price. He did it all for you. He gives it all to you. You have nothing to fear. He loves you and He lives. So rejoice, and be at peace.