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Sermon for the Resurrection of our Lord – March 31, 2024

Mark 16:1-9

Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our risen Lord, Jesus Christ.

If the account of the resurrection in Mark’s gospel was an episode in a TV series, you’d yell at the TV at the ending. You might even throw something at the TV screen. You’d holler: “No! It can’t end there! The story isn’t over! They left us hanging! The plot hasn’t been resolved!”

We hear this account of the resurrection every third year in our cycle of readings, and it has to be the oddest of the three. The reading ends without an appearance of the resurrected Jesus. I mean, he doesn’t even make a brief cameo! The women who came to the tomb don’t get to see him. They only hear that he is risen from a mysterious young man in a white robe who is weirdly hanging out in Jesus’ tomb. At the end of this account in Mark, these women are not filled with hope or peace or joy – the things we often associate with Easter. Instead, they are filled with terror and astonishment and fear. Instead of joyfully proclaiming, “We have seen the Lord,” the reading ends with the women not saying anything to anyone.

“No, it can’t end there!”

The story doesn’t end there, of course. I’ll say more about that in a minute. But as odd and unsatisfying as this account of the resurrection may well be, I think it does a good job of meeting many of us where we often find ourselves on Easter Sunday.

For these women, the reality of the resurrection took a while to sink in. It didn’t immediately result in joy. The implications of the resurrection hadn’t yet unfolded in their hearts. Jesus had told them he would be crucified and then raised on the third day. He told them this at least three times. The young man in the white robe pointed this out when he said, “he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” Everything was unfolding just as Jesus had told them it would, but none of it seems to have sunk in with any of them. And so instead of peace, there was terror in their hearts. Instead of hope, there was confusion. Instead of joy, there was fear.

Can you identify with these women? Because I can.

As some of you know, 2024 got off to a rough start for my wife and me. In short order we had four people we cared about die, one after another. These were all people pretty close to our age. One was a neighbor. One was a beloved former member of our congregation with whom we stayed in touch. Two were people we raised our kids alongside in MOPS and in Scouts. It was like getting kicked in the stomach four times in a row. Pow, pow, pow, pow.

Just as we were catching our breath, we received word more recently that our dear friend and former campus pastor up at Western Washington University died suddenly. I asked my wife out for the first time in his van. He did our premarital counseling and preached at our wedding. He preached at my ordination. He was here for my installation at Oak Harbor Lutheran. When I’ve found myself in serious crisis situations in ministry, he was always the first person I would call. Suddenly, without warning, he is gone. No chance to say goodbye. No chance to say thank you.

I’m not sharing any of this to garner sympathy. I’m not mentioning it to portray myself as having it harder than anyone else. I most certainly don’t.

I’m mentioning it because I want you to know I’m not preaching from some kind of spiritual ivory tower up here. Even someone who has dedicated his life to the proclamation of the gospel sometimes has times when the reality of the resurrection takes time to sink in, when the implications of Jesus’ victory over death aren’t immediately apparent, when the hope and joy of Easter are slow in coming.  I’m mentioning it so that you’ll trust that when I say “we,” I really mean “we.” And we often feel like death is winning – in our lives, and in our world.

And so, we are often like the women in Mark’s gospel in that the good news of Jesus’ victory over death sometimes takes a while to sink in. Sometimes the implications of Jesus’ resurrection take a while to reach certain parts of our hearts, especially a freshly broken heart – and until they do, we often find ourselves confused and trembling and afraid.

Maybe that’s where you find yourself on this Easter morning. Maybe you’re a visitor today and you’re hearing this strange news that Jesus is risen and you just aren’t sure what to make of it, or what difference it could possibly make for you. Maybe you are a regular worshiper here and have heard the promises of our Lord Jesus over and over again, but they haven’t quite stuck, or they haven’t quite reached certain parts of your life. Maybe you’ve been kicked in the stomach recently by losses in your life, or reminders of your own mortality, or concerns about the well-being of loved ones, and all you can feel at the moment is an unsettled fear.

We find kindred spirits today in these women at the tomb. We find our lives, our experiences, reflected in them, enshrined in the pages of God’s holy Word.

But, my friends, God loves us too much to leave us where we are. Today is a day for the reality of the resurrection to sink in. Today is a day for Christ’s promises to sink in deep enough to touch those tender or sore spots in our lives. Today is a day for the needle to be moved away from confusion and fear and towards hope and peace and joy.

Because you see, the story didn’t end there. Those women did not stay silent forever. Eventually, they brought word to the disciples that Christ was risen. They brought word specifically to Peter, as the mysterious young man in a white robe specifically told them to. Did you notice that? “Go, tell his disciples, and Peter.” Peter, you see, had the most stubborn and confused heart of all. This is the guy who once dared to rebuke Jesus and got called Satan for doing so. This is the guy who said, “I can walk to you on the water, Jesus!” and then immediately sank. This is the guy who, when Jesus was arrested, just as he told them he would, drew a sword and tried to prevent it from happening. “Put your sword away, Peter,” Jesus had to tell him. This is the guy who, in a moment of spiritual bravado, swore that he would never deny Jesus, and then, as soon as Jesus was dragged away, proceeded to deny him not once, not twice, but three times. This is the guy who, with the rest of the disciples, had been told by Jesus on multiple occasions that he would die and then rise again on the third day, and then, when the third day came, spent it in hiding, sure that his Lord was dead and gone. “Go, tell his disciples, and Peter,” the young man in white told them. “Make sure you tell Peter! He really needs to know that Christ is risen!”

God seems to have a special concern for those of us who really need to know that Christ is risen. And so he has a special concern for you. God has a special concern that you know it. God is so concerned that you know it, that here is a man in a white robe to tell you! I may not be all that mysterious, and I certainly can’t call myself young anymore, but that’s my job today! It is my job to make sure you hear the good news that Christ is risen. It is my job to proclaim this message, so that the reality of the resurrection can being to sink in a little deeper for you.

And here is the reality of what happened: Jesus, who was crucified and died, was raised. This was a literal, bodily, physical resurrection. His heart, which had stopped, began to beat again. His brain, which ceased all activity, began to spark again with electricity. His cells, which had begun to decompose, reversed course and began to hum again with life. His flesh, which had become cold and rigid, grew warm and pliant again. He got up and walked out of the tomb. Death was overcome.

As St. Paul points out in our epistle reading for today, Jesus appeared to Cephas (that’s Peter) and the Twelve, and then to more than 500 brothers and sisters at once, and then to James, and then to all the apostles, and then he appeared to Paul himself. Many of these people ate with Jesus. Some of them touched his body, putting their fingers in his wounds. He was not a ghost. He was not merely “alive in their hearts or their memories.” His body was resurrected. God raised him up. And in so doing, the curse of death was reversed.

This is a victory Christ promises to share with us. By his resurrection, Jesus Christ has undone the permanence of death, and he promises to share his resurrected life with us. Because he lives, we shall live also! Death does not win! It does not have the last word!

This good news is really for you. Your sin doesn’t get in the way of it. Your stubborn or confused heart doesn’t stop Jesus from putting this good news in your ears. If God made sure Peter got this word after all his screw-ups, don’t you think this word is for you too? Just listen to Peter himself, who preaches his own Easter sermon in our first reading, telling the world that God raised Jesus from the dead and that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. Peter personally knew the restoration Christ brings, and he knows it is for you too.

Death continues to be its own painful reality, to be sure. Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed when you find yourself sad or scared. Sometimes the reality of the resurrection needs time to sink in before we can feel that hope and peace and joy taking hold in our hearts.

But know this: Because of the resurrection, for those who are in Christ Jesus, death is no longer to be thought of as a permanent condition. Christ has promised us that a day is coming when death will be no more, when mourning and crying and pain will be no more. The aching absences we feel when we lose friends or loved ones will not be there forever. The confusion and fear that hangs over us in times of sorrow or sickness will all give way to eternal joy in the kingdom our Lord has established for us.

Let this promise sink in today. Let it reach those parts of your life that it hasn’t yet touched. Put your faith in the One who has conquered death for you, and that peace and joy will start to break into your life even now.

The Easter story doesn’t ultimately end with an empty tomb, but with a living Jesus. This resurrected Lord has conquered death, and he promises to share that victory with you. And so when the last episode of your earthly life concludes, that won’t be the end of your story either.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer

Oak Harbor Lutheran Church