Sermon for Easter Sunday – April 4, 2021
Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our risen Lord, Jesus Christ!
The women who came to the tomb were anxious. After seeing their beloved Lord Jesus die a humiliating death on a cross, now their minds were racing with details as to how they would get in to tend to his dead body. As they made their way to the tomb, they asked each other: “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?”
Soon, their anxiety was ratcheted up a few notches to a state of alarm. They found that the stone had already been rolled back! They entered the tomb, and found a mysterious young man dressed in white sitting there where Jesus’ body was supposed to be. “Do not be alarmed,” this young man said. “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised. He is not here. But go, tell the disciples that he is going ahead of you to Galilee, and you will see him there, just as he told you.”
But rather than joyfully shouting, “He is risen indeed! Alleluia!” the women were now in a state of terror! The story ends with St. Mark telling us they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
This account of the resurrection from St. Mark’s gospel is fraught with anxiety, alarm, and fear.
Kind of fitting, don’t you think? I mean, how has your past year been? Have you experienced any anxiety lately? Any alarm? Any fear? In a time of pandemic and political turmoil and social unrest, it is kind of hard not to be at least somewhat anxious and alarmed and afraid.
This is a great gospel reading for us to hear this Easter, because we can identify with these women. We know what it is to be anxious about the future, having details racing through your mind, not knowing how you are going to get done what you need to get done, not knowing how you are going to go about your life when everything has been upended. We know what it is to be alarmed at things we see that we cannot completely comprehend. We know what it means to be so afraid that we just kind of shut down, we clam up, huddling together in our little bubbles, afraid to venture out.
This is indeed where our reading ends – with anxiety and alarm and fear – but it isn’t where the resurrection ends!
St. Mark seems to enjoy leaving us with a cliffhanger ending, but he’s winking at us here. Because if you think about it even just a little, you know that these women didn’t stay quiet forever! If they had, how would Mark have been able to tell this story? These women didn’t stay anxious and alarmed and afraid forever! Eventually the Good News of the resurrection took hold. Eventually the reality of the resurrection sunk in. Eventually the word spoken to them by this mysterious young man chased away their fears. The Good News that Christ had been raised eventually filled them with life and hope and joy and peace, such that they did indeed venture out of their bubble to go and tell the disciples!
Like many of you, I struggled a lot this past winter. Even in a so-called normal year I often struggle with mild winter blues triggered by the short, dark days of January and February. Nothing serious or debilitating, just kind of a darkness-induced winter funk. Well, add on everything we’ve been through this past year, and there isn’t enough vitamin D in the world to chase those blues away! There were a few days in particular back in late January when I found myself especially anxious and alarmed and afraid. I was worried about my two younger sons who until very recently were spending too many of the precious and fleeting days of their youth stuck in their rooms shackled to their computers for school. I was worried about the church, and how or whether we will snap back to form once the pandemic is over, or what exactly the toll will be. I was alarmed about events unfolding in our country, alarmed about the general direction our culture seems to be taking. It was all piling up and dragging me down. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has had days like this in the past few months.
But that same week, out of the blue my youngest son came downstairs humming a tune. I stopped what I was doing in the kitchen to listen, because the tune sounded vaguely familiar. It took me a minute to figure it out, but I kid you not, in the darkness of a dreary January day – dreary in more ways than one! – my son was humming “Jesus Christ is Risen Today!”
When it sunk in just what he was humming, I realized that this was exactly the tune I needed to hear. It was both so random and also so very timely! I have to admit I got a little choked up! This tune proclaiming Christ’s victory over sin, death and the devil was exactly what I needed to be reminded of. I needed to be reminded that the darkness and death all around us will not have the last word, that the future is in the hands of the God who raised Jesus from the dead.
Though he may not have intended it, this mysterious young man (aren’t all teenagers a little mysterious?) was doing more than humming a random tune. Whether he intended it or not, he was preaching to me. He was telling me, “Do not be alarmed. Christ is risen.”
Dear friends, today is the day that fear begins to loosen its grip on our throats. Today is the day we begin to reclaim the hope that is ours in Christ. Today is the day that the reality of the resurrection sinks in for all of us, so that we can start living again without being so anxious or alarmed or afraid. Today is the day that the Good News of Christ’s victory fills our ears and our hearts with joy and peace.
In his resurrection, Jesus Christ has conquered your sin. It no longer separates you from God! In his resurrection, Jesus Christ has conquered death. It will not have a permanent hold on you! In his resurrection, Jesus Christ has ultimately conquered the devil and all the powers of darkness.
Now today let him conquer your fear as well.
And then go out to hum or sing or speak this Good News for all to hear, because there are people out there right now who desperately need to hear it.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer
Oak Harbor Lutheran Church