He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
Jesus was dead and buried. Everything, so it seemed, was lost. For the disciples who had believed in Him and had followed Him for over three years, all hopes were gone. To the human eye it looked like God had lost and the devil had won. The world’s great Redeemer – the long-awaited Messiah – was dead, defeated and humiliated. His dead body was in a tomb – and there, like all dead bodies, it would remain.
If the story had ended there, we would be a pitiful bunch of people, wouldn’t we? Two thousand years of Baptisms, confirmations, funerals, sermons and Communions would mean absolutely nothing. Worst of all, we would all still be dead in our trespasses and sins. We would have no hope for eternal life – but only the sure expectation of eternal damnation.
Opponents of Christianity know how essential this piece of the puzzle is. They know that without Jesus’ resurrection, the whole Christian house of cards comes tumbling down. And that is why they do everything possible to question the truthfulness of the resurrection. They do whatever that can to put Jesus back in that tomb – saying that the resurrection was a lie invented by later followers of Jesus to try to preserve His memory.
Today we rejoice that this is not where the story ended. The age-old enemy death had done its worst on Calvary. It has its way with the Son of God. It sank its killer fangs into the author of life. But its victory was short-lived. Its dominion over the souls of men was brought to an end on the first day of the week, when early in the morning our Lord rose from the dead.
This is where we find the two Mary’s in our Gospel lesson. Mark’s Gospel tells us that these two women had gone to the tomb of Jesus early on the first morning of the week to anoint the body of Jesus with spices – a common custom in Biblical times. Matthew picks this up at the point where they come to the tomb and explains how the stone had been rolled away from the entrance: “And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it” (Matthew 28:2).
The women, still in shock from the events of Good Friday, are now faced with the sight of a glorious angel, whose appearance was like lightening and whose clothing was white as snow. The guards are frightened half to death, but the angel says to the women: “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified” (28:5). And then come those simple yet joyfully beautiful words: “He is not here, for He has risen, as He said. Come, see the place where He lay” (28:6).
But all was not lost! Death did not have the final word! Their faith was not in vain. The humiliation and death of the Son of God was part of God’s plan to reconcile sinful men to Himself. It was necessary that the Christ should suffer, be crucified, and be raised again on the third day. Over and over Jesus had told His disciples these words, trying to prepare them for what was coming. But it was not until He rose from the dead and appeared to them alive that they finally believed in Him.
Good Friday was God’s answer to sin. It was about God making restitution for sins by punishing them in His Son. And now Easter is God’s answer to death. Easter is about God proving to the world that He has accepted the sacrifice of His Son as payment. Together, Good Friday and Easter mean that your sins are forgiven in Christ and that through Him you now have the victory over death and the grave.
And what better way to celebrate God’s victory over sin and death than by having a feast? What better way to celebrate the Lord’s triumph over the grave than to dine at His holy Table? Indeed, the Lord is good. He has risen! He is not in the grave, but here – with us – in the salutary gift of the Lord’s Supper.
The prophet Isaiah foretold God’s victory over sin and death, as well as a celebratory feast that God Himself would prepare: “On 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. And He will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. 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” (Isaiah 25:6-8).
God kept His promises and destroyed our greatest enemy in the death and resurrection of His Son. And in His immeasurable grace, He has also given to us a feast of “rich food” in the Supper of His Son’s body and blood. What can be richer – what can be more satisfying – than the very bread of heaven Himself?
Martin Luther’s great Easter hymn “Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands” blends together these two themes – the triumph of our Lord over death and the grave and the participation in that final victory through Holy Communion: “Then let us feast this Easter Day On Christ, the bread of heaven; The Word of grace has purged away The old and evil leaven. Christ alone our souls will feed; He is our meat and drink indeed; Faith lives upon no other! Alleluia!” (LSB 458:7).
In this feast of victory, it is no imagined Jesus that we dine with. It is no mere symbol of a far distant Savior. It is the risen Christ Himself who steps in our midst and feeds us with His crucified and risen flesh and blood for the forgiveness of our sins … for life … for salvation. What a marvelous antidote this is to our fear of death and judgment! What glorious comfort there is for Christians on this day! Not only do we hear the news that our Lord has defeated death, but we also get to celebrate that victory by feasting on His body and blood.
Is it any wonder, then, that from the very beginning the Christian Church gathered on Sunday to hear the teaching of the apostles and to break bread? After all, this is the day that God put the breath of life back into His Son for us and for our salvation. This is the day that Christ appeared to Peter and the other disciples who had been chosen by God as witnesses, “who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead” (Acts 10:41). One can easily see why Easter is the chief festival of the Church Year, and why every Sunday is a mini-celebration of that first Easter.
On the one hand, this validates and gives meaning to everything that our Lord said and did during His earthly ministry. Now there can be no doubt that His words were true. Now there can be no doubt that He was – and is – the Son of God. Nor can there be any doubt that God has forgiven all of our sins.
On the other hand, the same could be said of the Church and the works done within her. If the Lord is risen, then our faith is not in vain. There can be no doubt that Baptism truly is a washing away of sins. There can be no doubt or uncertainty that Holy Communion is truly a life-giving feast of forgiveness. There can be no doubt that the Absolution spoken in the name of the Triune God is truly the word of the risen Jesus Christ sounding forth from the lips of His called servants to comfort frightened sinners.
That is, perhaps, the best part of Christ’s triumphant resurrection – all doubts flee! All uncertainty about God, about His attitude toward us, about the extent of His love, or about the truthfulness of His promises – all uncertainty must depart. And for anyone who has borne heavy crosses – for anyone who has thought in moments of difficulty that God has forgotten them – for anyone who has feared that their faith was in vain or that their lives were utterly futile – no news is or can be more welcome!
If we are facing death or severe illness … if we have lost wives or husbands or parents or siblings or children … if we have suffered ridicule or mockery for the sake of Christ … we have no need of despair. For Christ is risen! He has won the victory over death! Crosses must be borne, but today we rejoice that death did not have the last word for Jesus and it will not have the last word for you. And we give thanks to God for preparing for us a feast of victory in the salutary gift of the Lord’s Supper.
He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
Note: This sermon has been adapted from The Salutary Gift, a sermon series published by Concordia Publishing House.