The Universal Problem Solved
Text: Matthew 28:1-10
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
It has often been said that death is the great equalizer. It’s the one thing that all humans have in common. No matter how rich, no matter how poor, man or woman, wise or fool, first century Palestinian peasant or twenty-first century suburbanite, death is encountered by all. And because it is universally recognized, because it’s the one thing looming for every person, culture, and nation, we humans have sought an answer for this universal, cosmic problem. These answers have run the gamut. Some say death is just a part of life, that it’s natural. Of course that solution does little for us when we feel the deep ache of grief and realize there is something wrong about it. It does even less for us when we have to consider our own lives ending. Others go even further and say that death is not only natural, but that it’s good—it’s an escape, or it moves evolution forward, or it gives meaning to the things we do while we’re alive. But that also rings a bit hollow when it’s our own lives ending we’re talking about. After all, it’s not often said where someone is escaping to. And it’s no comfort at all when we’re the ones about to become fossil fuel to move the evolutionary engine forward. Still others say that death is only an illusion. Cynics will say that death is as meaningless and random as life. Some will say that we simply need to change our perspective about death. But we know, deep down in our heart of hearts, that these don’t offer much. A changed perspective doesn’t actually change the thing that we’re worried about, the thing that’s causing us sorrow and hurt. Pretending something is meaningless or an illusion, when it causes such real pain and fear offers nothing to calm our hearts or fix our problems.
But our Lord has dealt with this problem of death. That’s what today is all about. This is why we celebrate Easter as the highest and greatest of days, the queen of seasons. Our universe-sized problem has been met with a God-sized solution. And how is it that our Lord has dealt with it? Not by redefining death. Not by getting us to change our perception or opinion of it. Not by compromising and negotiating with it. And certainly not by pretending it’s good or not there at all. No, He deals with death by defeating it, by demolishing it, by destroying it.
Just look at what’s presented to us at the empty tomb. Just as the sun breaks over the horizon, starting a day newer and brighter than any other day before, an earthquake shakes this old creation down to its foundation, rocking everything we know and understand right down to the bedrock. An angel of the Lord, a shining messenger of God, whose voice broke through the dark night and announced to shepherds in a field that the Savior had arrived—an angel descends from heaven, effortlessly rolls the massive stone away from the mouth of Jesus’ tomb, and then sits on it. It’s conquered. It’s nothing more than a resting place now—just like death is nothing more than a resting place for us now because of what’s happened there that morning.
Now the women who had gone to the tomb to deal with death the only way they knew how—by acknowledging it, going through their funeral rituals of aloes and myrrh—they had their own answer to death: just deal with it, and move on as best they could until it eventually took them too. But their solution wasn’t enough either. “Do not be afraid,” the bright angel said to them, “for I know that you seek Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here, for He has risen. You thought you knew how death worked. You thought that death would hold Him down, as it has every other mortal. That’s why you came here. But come, see the place where He lay. He’s risen, as He said He would.” Alleluia! Christ is risen!
When death thought to take Jesus as its prey, it got more than it bargained for. Yes, this was a man, as its prey had been in the past, beginning with poor Abel and then moving through the sorry lineage of Adam and Eve. And yes, this man Jesus had been condemned, sentenced by the Law, wearing the accusations of sin from the evil one, stains that He gladly and willingly claimed as His own as He took them off every one of these children of man. And yes, He had suffered extravagantly, more than any other son of man had suffered, dying in excruciation. So Jesus looked like an easy kill. The unholy alliance of death, sin, and the devil would win this battle easier than they had planned. Or so they thought.
But this was no mere mortal man. This was also the Son of God, very God of very God, begotten of His Father from eternity. This Light of light could not be swallowed up by a mere shadow like death, an aberration and unnatural addition to God’s glorious creation. This prey would be too much for death, and there, in the tomb, the battle turned. Jesus destroyed death from the inside. Death had opened its hellish gates to pull Him in, but when it did, that’s when Jesus turned the tables and tore death down. And now without his most terrifying weapon, the devil would have no ammunition. No accusations could stick because Jesus had drowned them all in His crucifixion. No sins were left to point out because they all had been paid for in His sacrifice. When the smoke cleared, there was only Jesus, risen from the dead, with that age-old enemy of death broken under His nail-pierced feet.
This was too good of a treasure to not share with His people. So the angel continued speaking to the women, those first witnesses of the resurrection, “Go quickly and tell his disciples that He has risen from the dead, and behold, He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see Him.” This victory is meant for His disciples too—for those who lived under the fear of death after Jesus’ own death; for the women who feared this was just another casualty in a never-ending line; for you, who gather here today, knowing full well that death is a problem, that you’ve felt its icy blade before, that you know it’s going to set its sights on you someday. Jesus sends word to you that He is risen. Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The women ran, a mix of fear and great joy—fear that it’s too good to be true, and joy that it was, in fact, true. That’s when they saw Him: the resurrected, eternally living Jesus. “Do not be afraid;” He told them, “go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
“Go and tell my brothers.” His disciples, those who have put their faith in Him—as wavering as it sometimes was, but there nonetheless—His disciples are now His brothers. That means that you, you who have put your faith in Jesus, you who have stood at the foot of His cross this last week, you who have prayed to Him through tears and clenched teeth, you who know your troubles and worries and fears, you who have trusted Him to carry you through it all—even if your joy is mixed with fear—you are Jesus’ brother. You are His sister. You share in everything that’s His. His inheritance is yours. His life is yours. Do not be afraid. You will see Him.
You have seen Him. You see Him here, although not with your physical eyes. The women that first Easter took hold of Him and worshiped Him. This is where you have seen Him and taken hold of Him—in your worship. In your prayers spoken throughout the day or whispered on sleepless nights, in your devotions, in those favorite Easter hymns that will be rolling around in your head for the rest of the day. You see Him there, through the eyes of faith. Through faith you know He’s risen. And through faith you will take hold of Him here in worship. You’ll hold His true body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. You’ll taste the eternal life He’s won for you this day. You’ll receive forgiveness and peace and restoration—all that you’ve had taken away, given back because now you have Jesus. Now you have heaven. Now you have resurrection. You are no prey for death. It’s already defeated. Jesus is your answer. Jesus is your life. So do not be afraid. Go forward in confidence and joy, knowing that you have seen Him, that you will see Him again, and that you will live forever. Alleluia! Christ is risen! In the name of Jesus, the Living One. Amen.