(Mark 16:1-8; 1 Corinthians 5:6-8)
Luther preached on this festival of the resurrection:
“We are not preaching anything new, but always, without ceasing, about the man who is called Jesus Christ, true God and true man, who died for our sins and rose for our justification. Yet even if we were again and again to preach about and dwell upon these events, we could never really exhaust their meaning. We would remain like infants and young children, just learning to speak, scarcely able to form half words, yes, scarcely quarter words.”
The devil is a wily serpent. His venom is deadly, and death is exactly what He wants to bring us. And a serpent slithers through small holes, as you know full well from experience. He doesn’t need much room to finagle a thought into your head, start prying apart a marriage, turn your eyes green with envy, or persuade you that what is not God does indeed appear divine.
This old evil foe, this accursed serpent, had knocked down many a prophet and saint before, and he assumed he would be able to do the same with our Lord Christ. He’d grown overconfident. And at first, it certainly appeared that he’d been right, that he’d won. He sunk his fangs into our Lord and his venom did its work. Christ was true God and true man, and so He wasn’t immune. He was wounded, and wounded deeply. Satan spewed all the venom of hell, tore Christ’s flesh and tormented His soul.
Yet what did He accomplish in the end? We wouldn’t be singing glad hymns today if he’d won. No, all He did was use up his venom in futility. Christ took it all and today He is risen. He lives. He lives and He’s extracted all the venom from Satan’s fangs. He’s smashed them, made him all bark and no bite. Yes, He’s even crushed his head. And He has done all this for us. His wounds, which once brought Him such bitter pain, now are our relief and refuge. His blood, which once poured forth in anguish, now marks the doorposts of our hearts through faith and abounds for our forgiveness in His Holy Supper.
How can we go through Holy Week and not become sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that our God is mercy, that His countenance bears, not a scowl, but a tender and fatherly smile through the gospel and in Christ, crucified and now risen for sinners? We heard the Roman centurion, moved by the events of Good Friday, confess that He is the Son of God. We heard the thief on the cross beg Him for a place in Him kingdom and receive that beautiful answer, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” What a Redeemer we have, who gives paradise to sinners, who forgives even the lifelong sinner in his last hour, unable to live even one day for Him in return, that is, not in this life! And that same Jesus has died and risen for more than the centurion and thief. He has died and risen for you. He is your Redeemer as well, and all the life and hope we hear about in this season is meant for you too.
Imagine being Peter for a moment. He’d denied His Lord, and for all we know, that was the last he’d seen of him. The rooster crowed, he looked into his Master’s sorrowful eyes, and fled, weeping bitterly. Imagine the guilt that weighed him down. And all he could do was wallow in it. Jesus was dead and buried. He couldn’t apologize. He couldn’t look into his Master’s eyes to scour them for a trace of forgiveness. No, all he could do was kick himself, weep, and huddle together with the other apostles, ashamed, confused, depressed.
But what do we hear as the women arrive at the tomb today? The women are told, “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee.” Did you notice it? “And Peter,” the young man adds. “Tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee.” Imagine Peter when the women reported the news. Surely he latched upon those words. Perhaps the women, aware of his grief, emphasized them or repeated them for him. Perhaps they even embraced him, knowing the hope those two words might bring: “And Peter.” Where before it seemed only despair could result, now there was a glimmer of light in the darkness. Peter didn’t know yet what to expect for sure, but he knew he was going to meet his Lord again. “There you will see him, just as he told you,” the women were told.
How appropriate that Mary Magdalene, out of whom the Lord had cast seven demons, who’d stood at the cross with the mother of our Lord and watched Him speak words of mercy and grace even as He languished toward death, should be the one to hear this news and to share it with Peter, sinner to sinner, restored sinner to a repentant sinner desperately yearning for restoration. And that is what the church is about. That is its foundation and calling. Forgiveness, proclaimed sinner to sinner, for Christ’s sake.
On Friday, death swallowed Jesus whole, like the giant fish once swallowed Jonah. But today He’s burst its belly. Death lies in pieces. And that’s why St. Paul can taunt death in 1 Corinthians 15. That’s why we can rejoice in the face of death at funerals and even long for death when our suffering or sickness is great, while never taking it into our hands. Victory is ours. One drop of Christ’s holy blood is greater than all of the devil’s lies. One drop of His holy blood is more powerful than all the world’s sorrows. One drop of His holy blood guarantees more than all the works of men for all of human history. So great is our Lord who died, and now who has risen!
St. Paul writes, “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” My friends, there are two ways to live in this world: in the light of the resurrection or in the darkness of death, which is no life at all. Christ has come, Christ is risen for you to live. So live, because His resurrection is your justification. Live, because your sins have been buried in His tomb.
Christ is risen. He is risen indeed! And He is risen for you. Alleluia and amen!