The Best Kind of Tomb There Is: A Sermon for the Resurrection of Our Lord on St. Mark 16:1–8

Easter IconSermon audio here.

If you’re going to make up a story about how somebody rose from the dead at least try to make the story believable. Apparently the Holy Evangelists never took storytelling 101. Their first mistake was to talk about a physical resurrection. Say Jesus ascended spiritually. Say He appeared in visions.

Be like Joseph Smith. He said an angel helped him find some golden plates that were buried near his farm in New York. He claimed these plates had the book of Mormon written on them in “reformed Egyptian”, a language for which there is no archeological or linguistic evidence. Smith was very secretive about letting anyone see these plates and conveniently gave them back to the angel when he was done translating, so there’s no way to examine them today. It’s a good story and the lack of evidence for any of it makes it nearly impossible to disprove.

Too bad Joseph Smith wasn’t around in the first century to help the Christians make up a better story. They made the mistake of saying Jesus rose bodily, and worse, that He appeared to Peter and the Twelve, to over 500 people at once, to James and to all the apostles, and to Paul on the Damascus road (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:4–8).

This would have been easy enough to check out and prove false. It wasn’t like it was a one-time deal but you missed it so too bad kind of thing. Scripture tells us that Jesus hung around for 40 days after His death and resurrection. All you had to do if you wanted evidence was to go and check it out for yourself! A story like this would have been easy to prove false—unless it actually happened. Then you can be bold to say whatever you want without fear: because it’s the truth. Christ is risen!

Easter Sunday is absolutely the most wonderful day in human history, but the women were having a bad day. Things weren’t going according to plan. Here they had gotten up really early in the morning to do something nice for Jesus. They got their finest spices together and they were going to go and anoint his dead body.

The pagan Greeks & Romans treated the body like garbage in death, rejoicing that the “prison of the body” was no longer needed. But these women treated the body with respect because they regarded it a gift of God, and you don’t just throw God’s gifts in the trash.[1] Even though Jesus was dead (or so they thought), His body was still worth anointing.

Now if your Lord had just been brutally executed and you thought He was still dead, you’d think that might be a topic of conversation on the way to the tomb. At least the disciples on the road to Emmaus were talking about how they had hoped Jesus was the One to redeem Israel (St. Luke 24:21). But those women, it seems, had a bigger problem on their hands than their faith being in vain.

All they could talk about on their way to the tomb was “who’s going to move that exceedingly large stone from the entrance to the tomb when we get there?” (St. Mark 16:3). St. Mark uses the imperfect tense here, which indicates continual or repeated action. All they could talk about was this massive stone. Now granted that was a problem, but had Jesus still been dead, that would have been a much bigger problem.

And what was their plan for that rock anyway had it still been blocking the entrance to the tomb when they got there? This is a classic case of worrying about something you can’t do a thing about. You know how that prayer goes: the one about how you’re supposed to accept the things you can’t change, have the courage to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference?

Well these women lacked that wisdom. But don’t worry, we’re not just picking on the women, the men who were closest to Jesus fared no better—but we’ll get to them next Sunday. So the women showed up and lo and behold, the rock had been moved. Imagine the relief those women must have felt! Never mind the Savior’s corpse they expected to find in there, the main thing was that they got in.

So they got into the tomb, but they didn’t find what they were looking for. They heard the Gospel, but that wasn’t what they wanted to hear. The angel said,

“Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; He is not here. See the place where they laid Him,” (St. Mark 16:6).

The women didn’t want to hear that—they wanted a dead body to anoint! So what did they do? The ran out of the tomb in terror and said nothing to anybody (St. Mark 16:8). The shepherds were no better. When the angel of the Lord appeared to them to announce the birth of Jesus, they were filled with fear (St. Luke 2:9).

Here’s the thing: when all you know is darkness, the light comes as a threat. Like Adam, like the women, and like the shepherds, we choose death over life every time. We get so wrapped up in everything else that the Gospel ends up getting blocked out.

Life rarely goes according to plan. It certainly didn’t go according to God’s original plan for creation. He intended humanity to live with Him in paradise. He never wanted you to experience stress or worry, the bitter pains of labor and childbirth, marital discord, or death. God never wanted you to doubt His love or presence. So He did something about it: He gave children to the barren one, freedom to His enslaved children, manna in the desert wilderness, and even His only begotten Son into the bitter pains of death. But still you doubt, still you worry, still you sin.

Thus says the Lord: What have I done to you, O My people, and wherein have I offended you? Answer Me. What more could have been done for My vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad? My people, is this how you thank your God? O My people.

Like the women, you stand on holy ground, hear the Word of God, and even receive the physical Body and Blood of Christ in the Sacrament, but then leave and go back to your life as if nothing happened. Some of you may not come back until next Easter. Others will continue to be burdened by the same old worries or fall into the same old patterns of sinful behavior. This all amounts to a lack of faith.

Faith doesn’t mean “trust God and it will work out the way you want it to”, it means “trust God because it will work out the way He wants it to, and His will is always best.” To live by faith means living as if Jesus actually were your Lord, which means avoiding sin and confessing it when you fall.

Like the women, you have failed to heed the greatest good news this world has ever heard and take it to heart. You’ve allowed far too many things to take priority over your Lord’s Church. Jesus is living, but all too often that goes in one ear and out the other. Or you’ve heard it but then act as if that meant nothing for daily life. Easter service will end and then it’s back to sinful business as usual.

Isn’t Christ your Lord? Don’t you know the tomb was empty? Don’t you know that you are your Lord’s number one priority? Those women didn’t find what they were looking for, but they found something better (even though they didn’t realize it right away). They found the best kind of tomb there is: an empty one! And that’s the same sort of tomb you, I, and all your loved ones who fall asleep in Jesus will have: an empty one. We mourn at funerals, but the story does not end with weeping.

You may not have seen the resurrected Christ in person, but you have seen the resurrected Christ at work in the lives of the saints who have gone before you. They may not be sitting with you in their regular pew this year or at their usual spot at the dinner table, but they are still worshipping Christ and feasting with Him at an even better Easter banquet.[2]

Jesus is not in the tomb. He’s risen and here in this sanctuary, physically present in Body and Blood. So we can say with St. Job, I know that my Redeemer lives (Job 19:25). And what’s more, He’s here today along with His usual crew: angels, archangels, and the whole company of heaven: a company that includes your loved ones who have preceded you in the faith.[3] Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Soli Deo Gloria

[1] Beane, Sermon: Easter Festival (2009).

[2] Kelly, Easter 2015.

[3] Beane, 2009.

+Rev. Eric Andersen
St. Mark 16:1–8: The Best Kind of Tomb There Is
The Resurrection of Our Lord, 2015
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