No Longer Waiting
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!
Mary Magdalene didn’t know what she was waiting for as she stood weeping outside the tomb of Jesus. Maybe Peter and John would come back with the other disciples and they would start looking for Jesus’ body. Or maybe they wouldn’t. Maybe those angels inside the tomb would come back and explain what exactly they meant. Maybe something else would happen that would make it all make sense. Because as things were now, as she stood still outside the tomb, none of it did. Her Lord was dead—or maybe not?—but with Peter and John and the women that had come down to the tomb with her, and the angels, all coming and going and running all over Jerusalem, it was just confusion.
Mary Magdalene was waiting. She was stuck. Stuck between fear and hope. Stuck between heartbreak and, well, something else; something she couldn’t even bring herself to dare to hope to believe. What the angels had told her was too good to be true. People didn’t come back from the dead. Well, some of them did, like Lazarus, but that was only because Jesus was around to raise them. But now Jesus was dead, and there was no one living who would be able to raise Him.
We know what she was going through. We’ve been waiting, hoping for something to happen, some good news, even though we’re all too often afraid to believe it could be true. We’ve been waiting—waiting for winter to finally be over, waiting for Lent to reach its pinnacle and glorious conclusion. We’ve been waiting for life to return back to normal, the way we were meant to live it as humans. We’ve been waiting to come back to church, or enjoy more parts of God’s good creation than just our yards, or waiting to feast. It’s hard to believe that we haven’t had an Easter service together in two years. It seems like this was the longest season of waiting, the longest Lent, we’ve ever had. Instead of 6 weeks, it’s been 12 months. And I suspect many of us have felt stuck, like Mary Magdalene standing still outside the tomb. Any good news we receive might seem too good to be true. We’re more likely to believe the words of the Sanhedrin, reports dripping with death and doubt, than to believe the announcement of the angels, a radiant light of life breaking the gloom of the grave.
We’ve been in a joyless season. And no, I’m not talking about Lent. For all of our recognition of sin and our great need to be saved that stands front and center during Lent, the season of Lent isn’t joyless. It has those hot embers of gladness over our salvation banked deep within, still burning. No, I’m talking about the season of joylessness that seems to have pervaded us as a whole. Experts are reporting that we’re facing a mental health crisis, politely swept under the rug, because it’s not comfortable or expedient to talk about such things. We’re also facing a spiritual crisis, almost completely unspoken of, as the number of people who are refreshed by God’s Word and Sacrament has plummeted. Even those regular church attenders from before have admitted to polls and studies that at home, they only watch online services about one a month. Stress is through the roof as everyone has gone through a decade’s worth of dramatic change crammed into a few months. People are more divided than ever: politically, culturally, economically, and over what they deem to be proper protocol in times like this. And it’s not getting any better. No messiahs have arisen from the realm of politics or culture. No saviors have shown themselves from the masses or the elite. It’s that feeling of being stuck, of waiting, of tears and frustrations, either worn on our sleeves like Mary Magdalene; or hidden like the eleven Apostles, hiding in their locked room.
But now something has changed. As we stand waiting, Someone comes to us. “Why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking? What are you waiting for?” We might know exactly who we’re seeking, what we’re waiting for. Or we might not. But this One—He knows. And just as gently as He called Mary by name and her eyes were opened, her joy and hope was ignited; so now He calls to you. He’s called you by name already. In your Baptism, He used the pastor’s voice, but it was Him calling you, by name—that’s why it’s part of our liturgy whenever someone is baptized to use their name. And He calls you again. Your time of waiting is over. Hope is rekindled. Joy blazes forth with songs of alleluia. Rest and peace are yours again.
It’s been a long season of waiting, but we’re finally here. We waited for our sanctuary to be finished, and now it is. We waited to have services again, and now we’ve been gathering, as the Scriptures encourage us to do. And those who were waiting to get back into our building due to physical condition or accessibility issues and join us in Jesus’ presence in the service can finally get back in—and we’re so happy to see you all with us again. Those who have been waiting to come back to church for any other reason are here now too, and our joy is even fuller for having all you back. Even outside, it would seem that winter is gone, or has at least stepped away for today, and I don’t think we could have asked for a more beautiful day to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection and life.
Because that’s really the point of all this. We can celebrate the flower bulbs springing up and the robins singing. We can give thanks to God for the completion of our construction project. We can certainly be grateful for those things that are helping us get back to church, like vaccines and treatments and the care of our friends and family. But today all of those things are reflections. They’re tokens of the thing that gives us joy and hope. Because all of those good gifts spring out of this one: Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia.
What Jesus has accomplished in His sacrificial death and life-restoring resurrection is the source of everything good we have. When He died for the sins of the world, He removed anything that could possibly stand between us and our heavenly Father. Because all of God’s wrath over sin has been poured out fully on Jesus as He was crucified, that means that the only thing left for us is God’s good grace. He cannot be any more pleased with you than He already is because Jesus has given you an absolutely perfect record with Him. That means that even death can’t stand in the way. When Christ died, He went down into the depths of death, and death was all too eager to try to claim the Son of God as its prize. But death got more than it bargained for. Jesus was too strong for it, and descending down into death, He destroyed it, from the inside out, so now death is powerless. It can still yell and whisper. It can still threaten. But its threats are empty. Anyone who death tries to drag down will slide right through its powerless hands. Jesus took away all of its strength, so that even if anyone who believes in Him should die, yet shall they live. And those who live and believe in Him will never truly die.
And that changes everything for us. No longer are we left standing, waiting, weeping. Death has no more dominion over us. Because we have Jesus’ resurrection today, that means that we have our own resurrection coming. So we don’t obsess over death. We don’t stand paralyzed in fear, stuck, waiting. No, we move forward in Christ, from victory to victory, from one degree of glory to another. And when those things do come along that cause us to struggle, when it feels like we’re losing, when we’re afraid or sad or anxious or depressed; when we’re threatened by danger; when we feel guilt over what we’ve done or shame over what has been done to us; we still have the resurrection of Jesus. When we do have to wait for problems to pass, when we have to wait to see loved ones again, or for pain and sorrow to end, we know that these things will. We still have these reflections of that victory in all these little things that surround us that will help carry us through until our own great victory. We still have Jesus, who now calls us brothers, who says that He is ascending to His Father, who is now our Father; to His God, who is now our God, and there He will continue to defeat all that threatens us. You have eternal life, right now, right here. So sing, remember, laugh, feast, pray, smile, rejoice. Jesus is risen, and you are too. Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia! In the name of Jesus, the Risen One. Amen.