(Acts 10:34-43, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11)
(watch here for praise service: https://youtu.be/4Odp7XEpW5c)
(watch here for communion service: http://youtu.be/2XabvCkbWEM)
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and 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. 3They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 8So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! These words have rung out in churches for centuries. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! A couple of nights ago, I suggested the statement, “It is finished,” is one of the most powerful combination of three words. “It is finished” has a dreaded sense of finality. We hear these words and invariably a lump forms in our chests. We know all things come to an end eventually. We prepare mentally and spiritually for the inevitable. This doesn’t mean the end comes with less of a shock. No, we hear “it is finished” and we invariably become anxious. What is finished? Why must “it” finish? Why can’t “it” keep going? What does this mean for us who keep going? We aren’t finished, we keep going. Why are we being told “it is finished?”
Today we proclaim an equally powerful statement: Christ is risen! Jesus’ life, his ministry, his pain and suffering on the cross, and the sin of the world all came to an end that fateful Friday so many years ago. But that was by no means the end of God. Jesus entered into death and rose out of it three days later, conquering it much the same way he conquered our bondage to sin. Jesus, the Son of God, did what he had said he would do—the temple was destroyed and rebuilt in three days. The sin of the world and death itself couldn’t destroy Jesus. Jesus rose from that tomb victorious over sin and death. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
It is a statement no less shocking than the words uttered by Jesus on the cross just before he died. We heard how the three women reacted to hearing it at the empty tomb. “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” The statement is just as fear-inducing as Jesus’ statement on the cross. Why be afraid? This is good news! Jesus rose from the dead, presumably to carry on his life and ministry that he left three days earlier. Why be afraid? Because this is the end of Mark’s narrative, we are left to ponder why the women were afraid. Perhaps they we afraid because no other person had survived a crucifixion. Perhaps they were afraid because others might think they had removed his body and persecute them for it. Perhaps they were afraid that Jesus had miraculously come back to the living to bring God’s wrath upon his persecutors and executors. There are a number of possible reasons for why the women are afraid. To proclaim “Christ is risen!” means to defy logic and explanation. And yet they are words that provide so much hope, so much joy, and so much love. Christ isn’t finished on the cross! His life and ministry aren’t finished on the cross!
A risen Christ does defy logic and explanation. A risen Christ demands faith. And isn’t this what he expected of us all throughout his ministry? Wasn’t he testing the faiths of his disciples all throughout his earthly ministry? Wasn’t our faith tested along the way too? It’s only right and fitting that his death and resurrection would also test our faith and belief. Jesus lived his life to test and strengthen our faith. Jesus died and rose again to test and strengthen our faith. Everything about Jesus was meant to build up our faith and belief. When we proclaim, “Christ is risen,” we are boldly asserting our faith and belief in Jesus and the grace and mercy of God. We are telling the world we will no longer live in fear of death or be captive to the power of sin. Jesus gives us faith through his life, ministry, death, and resurrection. Faith enables us to endure all sorts of trials in this life including the trial of death. Christ rose from the dead and we, too, will rise from the dead into Christ.
Christ didn’t rise from the dead just for our sakes. Christ rose for everyone’s sakes! Christ rose so that ALL people might come to believe in him through faith. Remember what he commanded us to do when he appeared to the disciples soon after his resurrection? Matthew’s gospel tells us, “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” Jesus came back to us not only to reinforce our own faith but also to reinforce the faith of others. We have witnessed the power of Christ so that others might witness it too.
Each year we gather to celebrate our risen Lord for a reason. It isn’t to simply marvel at Jesus’ ability to do what no other person can do. We gather to celebrate what the risen Lord has given us—faith. We need faith to believe in a risen Lord. If we proclaim “Christ is risen…he is risen indeed,” we proclaim our faith. Proclaiming is exactly what our risen Lord wants from us. We are called to testify to the light! The apostle Peter understood this as we hear in Acts: “He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead.” The apostle Paul understood this as we hear in his letter to the Corinthians: “Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.” Even David testified to the risen Christ by proclaiming the mercy and love of God: “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!” God’s goodness and steadfast love does endure forever as witnessed by the resurrected Christ. Neither sin nor death could keep God’s goodness and love from us.
Testifying to the risen Christ, to God’s steadfast love and mercy, can be difficult. We will leave here and go forth into the world having witnessed God’s love, having felt the risen Christ among us. It is a world that doesn’t want to believe in a risen Christ; a world that wants to disprove a risen Christ. Testifying to the risen Christ means letting Christ live within us. Christ wants to live within us! We shouldn’t be as concerned with telling the world about the risen Christ as we are about being the risen Christ in the world. The true glory of the resurrection is witnessed in the love we share with each other.
Whenever I ponder the importance of witnessing and testifying to the risen Christ, I recall a poem by Arthur McPhee:
The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
Are read by more than a few,
But the one that is most read and commented on
Is the gospel according to you.
You are writing a gospel, a chapter each day
By the things that you do and the words that you say,
Men read what you write, whether faithless or true,
Say, what is the gospel according to you?
Do men read His truth and His love in your life,
Or has yours been too full of malice and strife?
Does your life speak of evil, or does it ring true?
Say, what is the gospel according to you?
Jesus died and rose again as a witness to the deep love God has for us. By boldly proclaiming, “Christ is risen!” and sharing God’s love with each other, we come to realize…resurrection glory.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.