Sermon audio here.
Everyone loves a happy ending. In the end, we want all the loose ends tied up, the bad guys to lose, and for everyone to live happily ever after.
The Church has the best ending of all. Christ sets right what Adam messed up. Death loses. Christ rescues His Bride from hell and promises you eternal life with Him in a place where sin and sorrow will be no more.
But that’s not the ending St. Mark gives us. He doesn’t deny any of this, to be sure, but he certainly doesn’t give us a nice and neat “happily ever after”, either.[i]
The women surely felt less like Disney Princesses and more like they were in an episode of The Twilight Zone. There they were, walking around a tomb looking for a corpse. But God had other plans. He thought this sepulcher would make a nice Sanctuary. So instead of finding a corpse, the women heard a sermon.
And so the first proclamation of the risen Christ takes place inside of a tomb. It was a beautiful sermon, but at the time, it was the most terrifying thing these women had ever heard in their lives. There was no “Amen” when it was over, and they weren’t about to stay for communion. They couldn’t get out of that tomb fast enough.
And that’s it. Panicked women fleeing from a tomb, so terrified that they couldn’t even speak. That’s how St. Mark ends his Easter story. They didn’t see the risen Jesus—or a dead one, for that matter. Just a young man waiting for them in a tomb. What happened would be sort of like if you went to a wake, but when they open the coffin a complete stranger climbs out and starts talking to you.
It might seem like a really odd way for St. Mark to end his Gospel, but this is, in fact, a most appropriate ending. Life is messy. Holy Scripture proclaims the risen Lord, but it can’t give us happily ever after because we’re not there yet. The final prayer in Revelation is a desperate plea for Christ to return and take us away from this valley of sorrow.
The Church never sugar-coats the reality of life in this world, not even on Easter. And this is good, because there’s something terribly wrong with the world, and even with you. Unless Christ returns during your lifetime, you will die. And if you don’t repent and believe the Gospel, death will be the least of your worries. Unless you know how sick you are, you will never look to Christ for the cure.
Psalm 23 is so beloved because it doesn’t avoid the diagnosis, but confronts it head on and provides the needed medicine. We walk through the valley of the death shadow, but we do not do so alone. You walk with the One who has put an end to death by dying, who is now not only Himself immune to death, but Who shares that immunity with you.
Life in this fallen world more closely resembles the way Mark ends his Gospel than the fairy tales. Those are nice stories, but once they’re over, it’s back to reality. Our lives are filled with anxiety and confusion. So it was for the women on that first Easter Sunday.
We can relate. And they weren’t the only ones who were afraid and lacking faith. You remember Peter, denying his Lord; the disciples locked behind closed doors for fear of the Jews; Thomas, insisting that he would never believe unless he saw.
But we don’t need to see Him. Faith comes by hearing. Peace, comfort, assurance, godliness—it all comes by hearing. The man in the tomb preaches the risen Christ, but the risen Christ makes no appearance. As our Lord told Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
You might think that seeing miracles would strengthen faith, but in fact some of the greatest displays of unbelief have taken place right after witnessing the miraculous. The Israelites built the golden calf after seeing the plagues in Egypt and the parting of the sea. Judas and Peter saw God in the flesh perform great miracles, but when push came to shove, they chose financial and physical security over Jesus.
Their sight was a hindrance to them, and yours is to you, too. Quit worrying about what you have or don’t have. You have Christ, and He’s all you’ve ever needed.
God provided exactly what the women needed: He didn’t give them a corpse or the risen Christ, He gave them a strange man who preached a really odd sermon to them. “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; He is not here.”
Probably you didn’t come here this morning expecting a corpse the way those women did. But how many of you came with the expectation of meeting the Risen Lord? But that’s why Christ has called you here, to meet Him. What you need is exactly what the women needed: to have a strange man preach Christ’s strange Gospel to you, so that you might continue to hear His voice.
The Innocent One willingly died for those who killed Him and has overcome death by dying. You are made holy by believing you are a sinner for whom Christ died. Repent and believe the Gospel; only your unbelief can rob you of Christ’s peace.
Though the risen Christ doesn’t show up in St. Mark’s Gospel, He shows up here. This is no tomb, but none other than the house of God and the very gate of heaven. The risen Christ meets you at His altar, where He gives you His true body and blood with every heavenly blessing. You are sick, and this is the medicine you need, and you need it more desperately than anything else in the world.
You can go without food, clothing, shelter, and even health. Christ did, Lazarus did, as have innumerable saints. Whatever you lose in this life, Christ will restore to you double in the next. What you can’t go without is Christ. He clothes the naked with His righteousness, feeds the hungry with His grace, brings healing to the sick, and shelters exiles like you with His presence as you make your way to the Promised Land.
The reason you have lacked peace is because whenever some sin or trouble comes your way, it becomes greater in your eyes than twenty Christs.[ii] You have acted as if the women, when they got to the tomb, had found a corpse. You’ve lost sight of Christ. Repent. Return to the Lord your God. Come to His house. Come into His presence. Receive the good things He would give you here, and make them your highest good. Christ will never fail you, and His blessings are greater than anything this world can offer.
We don’t sing, “I need Thy presence once or twice a year” or “once or twice a month” or even “once per week.” We sing, “I need Thy presence every passing hour.” When Christ is with you, no matter what happens to be going on in your life or in the world around you, you can sing with the Psalmist, “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” You may walk through the valley of the death shadow, but that’s okay, because Jesus is right there with you. Christ is risen!
Soli Deo Gloria
[i] While canonical, Mark 16:9–20 is a later addition.
[ii] Luther, Complete Sermons (vol. 6; 16).