Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Resurrection of our Lord, Series B

Sermon on Mark 16:1-8
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
April 8, 2012 (The Resurrection of our Lord, Series B)

Who will roll away the stone from the tomb?  After Jesus had been buried, a huge stone had been rolled into place over the door of the tomb.  This was normal for these kinds of tombs, because this was how they were closed off in order to isolate the odor and the possible disease associated with a corpse, and it was also how grave robbers were kept out.  The stone was very heavy and was impossible for one or two people to move by themselves.  In addition, this particular tomb was made extra secure.  A seal had been put on the door, and guards had been posted to make sure the disciples didn’t try to steal Jesus’ body.  The Jewish authorities had heard Jesus predict His own resurrection, and they wanted to prevent the disciples from taking the body and pretending that He had been resurrected.  And so the women were concerned that they would not be able to get into the tomb.

But when they arrived at the tomb, the stone had already been rolled away!  And not only that, but their task was no longer necessary, for Jesus was no longer in need of the spices and the wrappings that were normally used on a corpse in those days.  “He is not here, He is risen!” the angel tells them.  Instead of the sorrowful task of properly finishing the burial, the women were given a new task, that of telling the disciples about what had happened.  He is risen!  Instead of fighting and struggling with death, they are now to proclaim life.  The stone wasn’t rolled away to let Jesus out, by the way.  He had left the tomb already before the stone was rolled away, just as He entered the locked upper room that night without the door being opened.  The stone was rolled away so that the women and the disciples could see into the tomb and know that He had risen from the dead.

The stone that covered the mouth of the tomb before the resurrection represented the same problem for these women that the rocky, hard rebelliousness of our hearts presents to us as we contemplate our relationship to our God.  The fact that man is by nature not in fellowship with his God and Creator is entirely man’s fault, and is traced back to the corruption of original sin that is in each of us from the moment of our conception.  We are born with stubborn, cold, selfish, rebellious hearts.  Even though we know that it is wrong to be against God and in rebellion against Him, we cannot help the fact.  We are sinners.  There is nothing we can do to break down the wall that separates us and our sinfulness from the living God, just as the women were not able to move the stone that separated them from their Lord and Savior.

Fortunately, we don’t have to.  The Lord breaks down that wall that separates us from Him.  He is the one who recreates us to be new creatures who fear, love, and trust in Him above all things.  The women couldn’t get to Jesus on their own because of the stone.  But instead He came to them.  All of our sinfulness, all of our rebellion against God, all of the things that make our hearts like huge lumps of stone that are impossible to move, have been done away with.  The stone is not only rolled away, it is taken completely out of its track and dumped on its side.  Christ took upon Himself our sins so that we could be completely free of them.  And by rising again He showed us that we are indeed free of our sinfulness and that it is no longer a barrier between us and Him.  The stone of our hard and cold and sinful hearts has been cast aside and is no longer a barrier to Him, because He has raised us up with Himself to live in newness of life.

Remember that the stone was not removed so that Jesus could get out.  Jesus had already risen and left the tomb miraculously.  He had already won the victory over sin, death, and the devil.  The removal of the stone was only done so that the women and the disciples could see the empty tomb and believe in His resurrection.  Likewise with our hearts.  The victory over our sin, selfishness, and hardness of heart doesn’t depend on the fact that the stones of our sin have been removed from us.  Otherwise, we would never be sure of our salvation, because while we live in this world we are constantly falling again into sin.  The victory over our sin, the freedom from death that has been won for us, depends only on Christ’s resurrection.  It is true to say that the sins of even the unrepentant sinner are forgiven, because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.  It’s just that the unrepentant sinner isn’t in a position to receive forgiveness rightly, and so we keep him from the forgiveness which is offered in the Lord’s Supper until he does repent.  But the forgiveness is still real, still true even for such a person.

But at the same time, Christ’s resurrection would have done no good if the disciples had not known about it.  They would have continued in despair and ultimately gone back to fishing and the rest of the world would have died in sin and rebellion against God.  Faith comes through hearing, and for hearing you need preachers.  Without the message of the resurrection, without the message of the open tomb, without the removal of the stone, the world would still have been lost in trespasses and sins.  The people of the world would have continued in their rebellious rejection of their Creator and their God and would have died eternally in that rebellion.  Likewise with you.  Even though the message of forgiveness was true even while you were yet sinners and enemies of God, your rejection of that message would have made it all for nothing.  But since God has broken the stones of your heart, put you to death and raised you up again in Holy Baptism and thus made you into new creatures, you can hear that message and appreciate it.  You can carry that message to others so that they too will be able to come to die and be reborn in the waters of our font.  The stone has been removed.  Your hearts have been cleansed by the blood of Christ.  The wall of separation has been broken.  Christ now invites you to sprinkle your hearts with His blood by partaking of His body crucified and His blood shed in the Sacrament of the altar.  Even this intimate connection with Him, where we actually eat His body and drink His blood, is made possible by His victory over the sin that had separated us from Him.  The stones of your hearts have been rolled away by Christ.  Then let us feast this Easter day on Christ the Bread of Heaven.  The Word of grace hath 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!  Come and rejoice in the fellowship of our risen Lord.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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