Text: Mark 16:1-8
This sermon was preached for Easter Vigil.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Dear fellow redeemed, we stand on the brink of the greatest day since the day when God first spoke and said, “Let there be light.” For on that day, light first dawned, fostered by the breath and word of God, nurtured by the Spirit of God hovering over the waters, protective over its shining brood. We stand on the brink of the greatest day since God said, “Let us make man in our own image” and Adam was brought forth as the reflection of God and steward of all creation. We stand on the brink of the greatest day since then, for this—and so much more—is restored to us now.
For those heady days in the beginning were ended with the fall into sin. The tempter muddied the clearest waters, cast shadows and fear into the creation with his lies and half-truths. Death entered and stalked openly, its cold skeletal fingers brushing, then seizing everything that had the breath of life.
Our readings this night have laid that pattern before us. Temptation, sin, disgrace, shame, fear. Enslavement, pain, death, tragedy, grief. The pattern continued. There were rescues, yes. God’s heart is moved by that continuing downward pattern, and so He rescues His creatures from it. So He parts the sea, He leads on dry ground, He restores what is lost, He defends from fire and destruction. Yet even with these temporal rescues, the pattern continues. Sin, sorrow, pain, death, tears. It’s what we’ve come to know and expect in this world.
It’s what the women expected as they came to the empty tomb early that morning, before the sun had risen. They came to fulfill their duties in the face of death and decay: spices, aloes, burial rites, things all orbiting death. The cycle continued as it always had.
Their concerns were mundane, dealing with the everyday patterns of what they knew. Had they packed enough spices for the anointing of the corpse? Who would roll the stone away? The everyday concerns of those who know what it is to live in this world where everything goes on as it always has, everything follows the same old broken pattern.
So when they’re confronted with something different, something that doesn’t fit the pattern, they’re confused, even shocked. Rather than a corpse beginning its predictable decay, rather than a boulder blocking the way, they’re met with a surprise. The large stone is rolled away. A young man in white robes is sitting beside the tomb, as if he were waiting just for them. This was wrong, they thought. Things don’t go this way in the world they know. Their surprise deepened when he spoke, “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. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” And they fled from the tomb, shaking with fear, with shock. Trembling and astonishment had taken hold of them, and they said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
St. Mark leaves the jagged edges of this account, showing the confusion, the rawness of what happened, how the events ricocheted off the minds of those first witnesses of the resurrection because it challenged—it shattered—everything they knew about how the world works. Mark is even able to show the skepticism they had. Notice that he doesn’t say it was an angel sitting by the tomb. He writes down the women’s first impression, calling the angel rather “a young man dressed in a white robe.” He records them running away from the tomb, fear and wonder mingled among the dropped jars of spices and aloes.
It’s not that foreign to us, this shock, this skepticism. We too are caught up in the mundane, for things go on as they always have, don’t they? Two years of a pandemic turned everything into a pattern of disease, demoralization, and death. Yes, we know about heaven. Yes, we confess eternal life. But we have to be realistic, we tell ourselves, don’t we? We have to be practical, focus on the here and now. So we immerse ourselves in the mundane, in the patterns of brokenness. We dive into full schedules of earthly things and worldly concerns: Did I buy enough of whatever to get through the week? Who will roll away the problem du jour, since there seems to be a new one (or an old one) every single day?
But Easter crashes into our old cycles, our old concerns, and it takes no prisoners. It demolishes the old pattern of things as they have been since the fall in Eden. “You seek Jesus of Nazareth,” the angel tells us, “You’re looking for Him in all the old places and patterns, expecting Him to follow those. He’s not there. He’s not in the tomb that you assume is the final destination. He’s not in the stone that blocks your way. See the place where they laid Him, where they tried to keep Him, where they assumed He would stay because that fits the old pattern. But He is not here; He is risen.”
We stand on the brink of the greatest day since the creation of the world. And I’m not talking about a metaphorical day. We’re standing on the brink of it here, on April 16, 2022. For what could ever be the same now that the old pattern has been forever shattered. Everything is different. It’s not just a cycle of pain, tears, sorrow, sin, disease, and death; only interspersed with pleasant moments and reprieves. He is risen. He’s destroyed those things, revealed them for how weak they really are. The world is recreated now. You are recreated, remade in Christ’s image, the image of the Living One who, yes, has been crucified—as you have been in your griefs and struggles, even your death—but who now lives, and lives forever. You’re new. Your pattern and path is new. And He is going before you to lead the way.
You may flee in fear—fear that it’s too good to be true. You may flee in astonishment—your cycles and chains are broken and you’re free from all that strangled you. It’s a lot to process. But nevertheless, Christ is risen and you are resurrected with Him. Eternity is stretched out before you, your domain to roam freely. Your life is untouchable by death. It can threaten and shout, but listen closely—death’s voice is already weak and hoarse, drowned out by the songs of victory sung by the people of God, by angels and archangels and all who have found their rest in Christ.
Come, see the place where they laid Him. See the place He rose from. See the life that has been raised up forever and given to you. See, marvel, rejoice, and sing. In the name of Jesus, who is risen. Amen.