The Resurrection of Our Lord
“And the women went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (Mk 16:8) What a strange and somewhat anticlimactic ending to the Gospel reading for the greatest occasion of the Christian calendar. Perhaps the Holy Spirit needs to take a remedial class in writing or hire a better editor. That is not the proper way to end a story. The original Greek appears to be even worse, employing a triple negative, which is also a big no-no in English writing: “And they didn’t say nothing to nobody, for they were afraid.”
What is is that so terrified these Christian women? I should point out that as fearful as they were, the women at least ventured out of hiding to try to anoint the body of Jesus. The Apostles were too terrified even for that. They had been sequestered in their homes since they first deserted Jesus three days earlier. But why were they all so afraid? The Bible says that the whole world is subject to lifelong slavery through the fear of death (Heb 2:15). Looming behind every other fear is our terror of death.
Why do we fear death? For several reasons. Perhaps a good part of it is our fear of the unknown. We like to plan. We like to know what’s next. We like to draw from previous experience. And in that sense we will never know what comes after death, so it terrifies us. Our fear is also motivated by self-preservation. The fight or flight instinct is part of nature in our post-Eden world. But I think the fear of death goes deeper than that. Some broken remnant of the lost image of God deep within us recoils in abject horror at the violent rending apart of spirit and body, recognizing death as the ultimate expression of evil in this world. And it is an evil of our own making. We caused this, with Satan’s assistance, of course. We were not meant to die. It should never have been this way, and yet, as sinners, die we must. This is the deeply-rooted source of all terror. Though the fear of the death the whole world is enslaved.
Consider the paranoia that has gripped the world in this last year. An silent, invisible, faceless threat has kept grandparents from seeing or hugging their grandchildren. Kindergartners are learning to view any interaction with their schoolmates as a potential danger. Adolescents, already addicted to their mobile devices, are being forced to live some of their most formative years almost entirely online. Worse yet, many Christians have abandoned the house of God, fearful to drink from our Lord’s Chalice or eat the Bread of Immortality.
All of this stems from the fear of death. And if you have been caught up in the paranoia this last year, you may find some comfort in this: you’re actually in good company. The women who came to anoint Jesus were afraid. The apostles who were Jesus’ traveling companions for three years were afraid. All the people who had heard the Gospel directly from the mouth of Jesus were afraid. And what Gospel had he told them? “The Son of Man will be crucified, but on the third day he will rise again.” In fact, they had heard this Easter message again, and again, and again. Even so, on the third day, where were the faithful believers? Hiding in fear. A few women ventured out, but having encountered the angel, immediately scurried back to shelter and didn’t say nothing to nobody.
They had heard the good news of the resurrection many times before. But they were still afraid. So, what did they need to hear on Easter morning? The same thing you need to hear this morning. Once again, sounding in our ears as though for the first time, comes the only message that can deliver you from the grip of fear, “Go tell the disciples: Jesus is risen, and He goes before you, just as he said!”
The whole world is in bondage through the fear of a foe that has already been vanquished. Our Lord, the one who calls himself our Brother, did battle against our deadly foe and emerged victorious. What is left to fear? “Well, I may lose my possessions.” The Lord has promised to provide for all your needs. “But what if lose my health?” God will give you a new body! “But what if I die?” There’s no what if about it. You will die. And the same Jesus who rose from the dead will also raise you up. Do not fear! Alleluia! Christ is risen!
They say that the only way to conquer your fears is to face them. But who could face death and live to tell the story? No one, that is no child of Adam. Only the One born of a virgin, who is at the same time both God and Man. Jesu did what we could not do. He faced what you could not face. It was a strange and dreadful strife When life and death contended; The victory remained with life, The reign of death was ended. Holy Scripture plainly saith That death is swallowed up by death, Its sting is lost forever. Alleluia!
And so, dear Christians, what cause have you to fear? What threat does Satan hold over you? Can he blackmail you with your sins? What sins? They were carried by Christ to his cross, buried with him in his tomb, paid in full and removed from you as far as the east is from the west? Can Satan rob you of your possessions? Your Heavenly Father has promised that you will lack no good thing. Can the devil take away your life? Ah, but it is not your to lose. You are the property of Jesus. He purchased your life with his poured-out blood. You are his. How can you be enslaved through the fear of death any longer when you have a new Lord and master.
There’s a reason that every time an angel appears with a message from God, he begins by announcing, “Fear not.” This is the message to you to you. Ever since the fall into sin, God’s people have been hiding in fear, terrified at the approach of God, because he said, “The day you eat this, you shall surely die.” But on this day, it is death itself that died. Our Lord comes near, but there is no cause for fear. He has died the death we deserved, and having risen victorious, he comes to us, his trembling disciples, saying, “Fear not. Death, your old enemy which kept you in fear all your lives, lies conquered. The lying head of the serpent has been crushed. Do not fear, you shall not die, but you shall live, as surely as I live. I am risen, and I go before you, leading the way into eternal life. Amen.