I. Were You There? Well, I Wish I Was!
As we celebrate the Sunday of Sundays, I wonder where you’re at this morning. Are you full of lively faith in Jesus? Or, have you more come to pay your respects, to toss a lily down by the empty tomb, wondering what really happened? Is your heart bursting with the news of the Resurrection, or are you wishing you could have been there to see it yourself? That you’d like to have the chance to examine things on your own.
We opened the service this morning with “Were You There?” In one sense we were, in another we definitely weren’t. And part of the good news about Mark’s Gospel and the way it’s written is that it seems to be written for audience much like ourselves. Mark’s audience was removed the events themselves. So, they asked questions much like we might be asking. They wrestled with how they could be sure they could hang their hat on Jesus’ work and the Gospel proclaimed by the Apostles.
As it was then, the answer today remains the same, and it was given at the empty tomb that very first Resurrection Sunday. Today in our time together we’re going to focus in on the answer given by the angel in verses 6 and 7.
II. Jesus Is Not There (v.6)
What we find proclaimed in verse 6 is that Jesus is not present in the tomb, but the work that he accomplished is still very much present for us.
Now let me just break here for a moment before we untangle that and ask you the question: are you coming this morning looking for Jesus among the dead and the powerless? How many people think of him like this? How many people come to Easter Sunday like this? Risen Lord – well, that has a nice ring to it – I’m sure it’s just a metaphor, right? Are you willing to be shaken by what you hear proclaimed at the empty tomb? Or will you persist in treating Jesus like any religious teacher? The reason for the fear expressed in Mark 16 is God has shown up and acted, doing what no one else can do. As I like to say, no one showed up that first Easter morning expected Jesus to be risen. Death has a pretty good track record, except for this one time.
Listen to the answer given to those at the tomb that morning: “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here.” And here, we should, I think slightly depart from the ESV translation. When the angel says Jesus was crucified, it’s closer to “You seek Jesus…who is the Crucified One. HE has risen.”
As we are fond of saying, Jesus still wears and bears the marks of his Cross even now. You see the message here is that, far from being forgotten, the finished work of Good Friday, the full satisfaction and offering made for your sins and mine, is not only fully accomplished, but fully available. In the phrase of Bill Weinrich, “The Resurrection places the Cross in power.”
There is this impulse in some streams of the church that we ought to “move on” from the Cross. After all, it is said, we serve a risen Savior. But friends, it is precisely because we serve a risen Savior that we can be assured that all the benefits of his Passion and Cross are available to us right now.
As we will shortly sing, “This the pow’r of the cross, Christ became sin for us, Took the blame, bore the wrath, We stand forgiven at the cross.” And we know this because of the Resurrection of Jesus. The Resurrection does not erase the Cross of Christ – it validates it.
Thomas Howard writes, “We don’t just have an empty cross with the work finished and done. Oh to be sure, logic and chronology will dictate that it is so. …We know that. We cling to that. But that which is thus “finished” remains present and actual in time. … The victory of Easter, with its empty tomb and mighty risen Prince, cancels sin, suffering, and death: but we experience that canceling, not as a mathematical point that has no longevity, so to speak, but rather as the condition for our salvation, that is, the condition by which we are brought to glory.” (On Being Catholic, pg. 199)
III. Trusting His Word, That We May See Him (v. 7)
Let’s move on to verse 7. And let us now return to one of my original questions. What are the women at the tomb, what are the readers of Mark’s Gospel, told to hang their hat on? Granted, they are told that his disciples (and Peter!) will see him. Physically. For is he is actually risen. But what are they are told to put their confidence in? The word of Jesus. The promise made to them. “You will see him, just as he told you.” So someone may say, well I simply need more evidence in order to believe. To that I say, the evidence is there to see, plenty has been written on it, and it holds up. But it will never get you in the door. We must come to trust this person called Jesus before we understand. This is the way God deals with sinners: by faith. But not faith in nothing, not faith in faith, but in the rock-solid promises made by Jesus.
All throughout Mark, he is leading his readers to see the trustworthiness of Jesus and his promises. Look at Mark 10:32-34, “32 And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33 saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”
This parallels Mark 16 in many ways. In answer to our questions, Mark wants to show us again and again, that what Jesus said came true. He never made a promise he broke. And his promises still stand for us today.
IV. Seven Stanzas at Easter
I can do no better than to end with a few lines from John Updike’s Seven Stanzas at Easter:
Make no mistake: if he rose at all
It was as His body;
If the cell’s dissolution did not reverse, the molecules reknit,
The amino acids rekindle,
The Church will fall.
It was not as the flowers,
Each soft spring recurrent;
It was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the
It was as His flesh; ours.
The same hinged thumbs and toes
The same valved heart
That—pierced—died, withered, paused, and then regathered
Out of enduring Might
New strength to enclose.
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
Analogy, sidestepping, transcendence,
Making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded
Credulity of earlier ages:
Let us walk through the door.
The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
Not a stone in a story,
But the vast rock of materiality that in the slow grinding of
Time will eclipse for each of us
The wide light of day.
And if we have an angel at the tomb,
Make it a real angel,
Weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair, opaque in
The dawn light, robed in real linen
Spun on a definite loom.
Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
For our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
Lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are embarrassed
By the miracle,
And crushed by remonstrance.
Friends, walk through the door. For walk through the door we must, and we will find him trustworthy, just as he said. Amen.