The Resurrection of Our Lord
Mark’s account of the Resurrection sometimes seems like an odd choice for the Gospel reading for Easter morning, because it doesn’t actually recount the Resurrection itself. Instead, it tells us what some of Jesus’ followers, namely three women, were up on to that morning. If you’ve lived through a tragic and historic event, you can generally remember what you were doing when everything happened. If you’re over fifty-five, you probably remember exactly where you were when you heard the news of JFK’s assassination. If you’re over thirty, I’m sure you remember what you were doing on the day the Twin Towers fell.
So, what about the followers of Christ who lived through the events of the Good Friday and Easter Sunday? Where were they and what were they doing at the moment Jesus was raised? Nothing worth writing about, apparently. Notably absent from the narrative is anything about Peter, James, John, or any of the other apostles. The only people who are even mentioned are three women, two of whom are named Mary, and they aren’t acting in a particularly brave or logical manner.
The women are not prepared. They’ve stumbled out there with spices and a vague idea of anointing Jesus’ body, something that doesn’t need doing. Jesus was already anointed by John in the Jordan River. He was anointed for His burial by Mary of Bethany. And, in case that wasn’t enough, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea had anointed Jesus with a hundred pounds of spices when they laid Him in the tomb. But the women feel like they ought to be doing something, so they are headed to the tomb, even though they know they won’t be able to roll away the stone. They’re trying to be busy, but they don’t actually have a plan, and they think Jesus is dead. They’re like confused children or lost sheep. First they are alarmed, later they are trembling and astonished, and finally they flee from the tomb and don’t say anything to anybody.
And the apostles? As I’ve already said, they weren’t even as brave as the frightened women. At least the women came out of hiding to try to anoint Jesus. The apostles, who had all promised only a couple days before that they would die for Jesus if necessary, were all cowering behind locked doors. Do you see why Mark’s account is an odd choice for Easter Sunday? Every last one of Jesus’ followers is either doing dumb stuff, running, hiding, or doing nothing at all. And yet, the Church fathers in their wisdom, chose this passage rather than one of the other Gospels to be read on Easter morning, the greatest and most triumphant day of the Church Year. Why?
Perhaps because the fact that the apostles are absent and the women are terrified is part of what makes the Resurrection such wonderful news. Jesus was raised without any help from his followers. He accomplished the salvation of the world without any human contribution whatsoever. Easter is not even one tiny bit about what we must do or how we must behave; it is only about Christ and what He does. This is the heart of the Gospel message. While we were sinners, Christ died for us. While we were forsaking and abandoning and denying and betraying and hiding, He bore the sins of the world alone. And without any help from His closest followers, Jesus rose on Easter morning. There were no eye witnesses of that actual moment, no cheering fans, no loyal supporters. Jesus accomplished everything Himself.
By the time the women get to the tomb with their ill-conceived plan, as St. Mark tells us, the Sabbath is already past and fulfilled, the sun has risen, the stone has been rolled away, Satan has been conquered, the grave has been robbed of its prey, and the tomb is empty. Alleluia! Christ is risen!
It’s no trivial detail that the women went to the tomb early in the morning after the sun had risen. The rising sun is important as a reminder that God is in control, Jesus rose from the dead, and creation goes on because of God’s mercy and grace. If God would have held Adam and Eve accountable for breaking His law and not provided a means by which they could have been restored to Him, they would simply have been destroyed. There’s no reason for God to come walking in the garden and look for them, there’s no reason to talk, there’s no reason to promise a Savior. The earth would have been just snuffed out—no oxygen, no light, no morning. The rising sun is in reality a gift from God, evidence of His mercy that creation is continuing, that God is with us, and that our sin is paid for. Every sunrise should impress upon us the fact that Jesus rose from the dead.
The women were shocked to hear that Jesus was risen, the disciples didn’t believe it when they first heard the news, and yet, the Resurrection of Christ is inevitable. Without it His death means nothing. But there was never any doubt, except in the minds of Jesus’ followers. When Jesus dies, He dies as a Christian does, knowing that He would be raised. In this regard, your death will be no different than His. According to the promise of Christ, your resurrection is just as certain as Jesus’. To be a Christian is to go to your death knowing with absolute certainly that you will be raised. Because the grave could not hold Jesus, it will not hold you.
Jesus is the firstfruits of the grave, the first believer in the Resurrection to be raised, though He is not the first to die in the hope of the Resurrection. Today the Prophecy was read from the oldest book of the Bible, that is, the first book to be written. The prophet Job, who lived long before Moses, long before the Levitical Law that spoke of a kinsman redeemer, expects to have a kinsman, a relative, who will redeem him after he’s died. He expects to be raised up and redeemed, to be bought back out of slavery to sin, death, and the devil. That’s what it means to be redeemed. Job says, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:25–26). Job means, he is confessing, that God Himself will become His kinsman—because remember, Job doesn’t have any kinsmen, not any more. Everybody’s dead. Job’s at the end, mourning the loss of all ten of his children. But Job believes that God will make Himself Job’s kinsman precisely in order to redeem him, and He will do that long after Job has died and worms have destroyed his body. Yet, with that same body, he will see God. Job, a Christian, goes to his grave believing in the Resurrection. And his hope was not in vain.
Just as surely as Christ was raised, Job will be raised. We celebrate the day of our Lord’s resurrection as a literal, historical event that actually happened. But Easter is not only a past event, it is your future, and the future of every believer. Your resurrection is inevitable. Why? Not because of you. Thank God for that! To Christ and Him alone belongs the glory! For our sakes He did battle with our ancient enemy and emerged from the fray triumphant. Without any contribution from us, He swallowed up death forever. Motivated solely by His great mercy—which we could never earn or deserve—Jesus redeemed us from sin, and stepped out of his tomb with the rising sun on Easter morning. He lives forevermore, and we too shall live. Alleluia! Christ is risen! Amen.