Christ is risen! Alleluia!
God rested on the seventh day. So ended the first week of Creation. The evening came, and the morning. So began the second week of Creation.
Of course, when God rested, He continued sustaining all things by the word of His power. There are echoes of “Let there be…” still floating through the material and spiritual worlds to this day, and that’s why things still exist. God’s rest is not sleeping. It’s a time for Him to take delight in all that He has done.
At Mt. Sinai, when God gave the children of Israel His commandments, He invited them to join in His seventh-day rest. It was a time to stop working and take delight in the works of God. In a similar way, God rescued the children of Israel from their hard labor in Egypt with the promise of a rest-filled life in freedom, where the land flows with milk and honey. Instead of serving the Egyptians, the Israelites would be free to delight in the works of God.
We live thousands of years later. Despite having machines that do much of our household work, we still yearn for times of rest. When we get time off, we sometimes return from our vacations more tired than when we left. True rest eludes us.
But this feast is different. Our Gospel begins with the words, “When the Sabbath was past.” That was the seventh day of the week, when Jesus’ body rested in its chilly tomb, the disciples gathered together in their misery, and the high priests ordered an armed guard to be set to prevent the disciples from stealing His body. It was the Sabbath of a great feast. Jews honored God’s law by refraining from work, spending time talking and thinking about the works of God.
But today’s message opens when the Sabbath was past. In other words, the sun had just gone down. We’d still call it Saturday, but in ancient reckoning, a new day had begun. Little did they know that this new day was truly new. It wasn’t just a new week in Creation, like in the Beginning. It was the opening of a new Creation, the day of the firstborn from the dead. The earthly Sabbath was past, but the heavenly, eternal rest was beginning.
Christ is risen! Alleluia! Let us rise, then, and sing our exordium hymn, number 348, He Is Arisen! Glorious Word!
When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” 4 And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. 5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. 6 And he said to them, “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. 7 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.” 8 And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
This is God’s Word. Sanctify us through the truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth. Amen.
These three women who had followed and even supported Jesus financially, they prepared to do one last service, one last act of care for the body of their Lord. In the swiftly-fading light, some shops had opened for those in need, and they needed spices for anointing a dead body.
Knowing what they will find in the morning might make you wonder about the things you need. Have you done things assuming that God is not truly Lord and Master of all Creation? Have you left room in your plans for Him to act? Room in your expectations?
Christians have always had to struggle against themselves to embrace faith totally, to trust in God to the ultimate degree and in every way. It’s not so hard to do in one way, or maybe two. The hard thing is to go all in.
Perhaps you know people who consider themselves to be good-enough Christians, who only find the time occasionally to darken the door of a church. I can’t read anyone’s heart. Perhaps those individuals do trust in Jesus. God alone knows for certain. Is the logic justified that a person who doesn’t seem to care about attending church probably isn’t a Christian? It seems so.
Then we should support one another, right? Like Hebrews says, “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another” (10:25). That’s not all.
The women buying the spices were either forgetting what Jesus told His disciples about rising, or they never heard it, or they assumed He was wrong. Those are the logical possibilities. But people like us are notoriously illogical much of the time. Here’s my theory. The women were like us: not thinking so deeply about the meaning of what happened, and not paying so much attention to what Jesus said. Well, He had now died. They saw it happen. Experience shows that dead people don’t raise themselves from death. Therefore, Jesus’ body would need some spices.
What about the spices? Do you suppose that buying them turned out to be a waste of time? We can be so afraid of wasting time!
That might be one of the reasons someone doesn’t usually attend church. Or if he does, why he does it under protest. It might be a reason you or I wouldn’t mind missing the chance to assemble for church or household devotions. We don’t want to waste our time. What would we rather be doing? Maybe earning a living; getting some of that important work done for the boss; keeping the company afloat. Maybe sleeping in after a challenging week. Maybe just playing or relaxing. Psychologists tell us we need our rest. And if there’s no other chance, then why not skip church? God forgives. The boss doesn’t.
So these women bought the spices, and you know they didn’t need to. Do you think it bothered them 24 hours later? Do you think they considered it a waste after seeing Jesus alive? Why not?
Because Christ is risen. That fact is more important than keeping a job. It’s more important than, well, anything on Earth. It means there will be a true rest for the weary, and there is worthy work to be done now. But the thought of going all in on this, and letting faith prioritize all our time and resources makes us afraid. To let faith govern not only your mind, or your heart, but your time and your hour-to-hour decisions. That’s hard. Jesus called even the 12, “ye of little faith.”
If you noticeably serve Christ at work, will you lose your income and end up without physical support? That seems more possible when Christians are being penalized for living by their faith. Will you wear yourself out by not having enough relaxation or enjoyment? Will you be giving up a chance to succeed? Will you be unpopular among your friends, as Jesus was ridiculed on the cross? We worry about such things whenever we consider letting faith determine everything we do.
Christians have told me they envied me as a pastor, because I could spend a lot more time than they studying God’s Word. On one level, sure. But don’t we all have decisions to make about our time? Pastors aren’t the only ones who have a responsibility to study the Word and give our time to divine service. Is it so radical to think that lay people might be compelled by their faith to do whatever it takes to grow as Christians? To glorify God with their lives every day? To show His love to their neighbors?
It is hard to do this all the time, to go all in. It’s also hard for pastors. But think of these three women looking for the body of an executed man.
Who would roll the stone? They didn’t know. They also didn’t know that a squad of military guards had been assigned to keep them out. But even with spices they wouldn’t need, a stone they couldn’t budge, and armed enemies bent on stopping them, God took care of everything. We can see by their actions that Jesus (even dead) was still their Lord. God’s angel rolled the stone so they could look into that doorway. It was exactly what they needed.
His body wasn’t there. This was not what they expected. They expected Jesus’ dead body and the opportunity to bury Him properly. Without His body, their plans were ruined.
But the angel knew them, spoke to them. He confirmed that the body had been there. He directed their eyes to the very place, but said that Jesus was risen. These women became witnesses — the first human witnesses of the resurrection, of the new Creation dawning in our midst.
The way Mark describes them leaving in fear and astonishment shows deep shock. We shouldn’t pass this by unnoticed. Isn’t their shock reasonable? Isn’t their surprise warranted? This news changes everything, beginning with their plans for the day. It shifts paradigms. It shakes the world. It creates a faith that can’t be kept in your heart or in your head. It must grow to occupy your whole life.
That’s why tyrants in history have hated the Christian Church. With Jesus risen, we have nothing left to fear. Jesus takes care of us, and death is now a blessing. And worse yet for totalitarians: our faith cannot be contained.
Or can it? You’ve got friends and acquaintances: neighbors who are not Christians. You get along. You respect each other. We live in a civil society where now over half of people polled say they don’t attend church!
On one side: Christ is risen! Alleluia! Truly.
On the other side: here we live. And what will they say if they see me prioritize my faith?
I’d like to tell you that you won’t lose friends, anger neighbors; that you won’t be mocked. But I don’t know this, and it’s also not what Jesus says. He has a lot to say about this. “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” If your friends mock your faith for its priorities, its morality, its credence of God’s Word, then they show themselves as something other than friends. It’s grievous. It hurts. Jesus knows.
But no matter what anyone says, the fact is a matter of historical truth: Christ is risen, and He promised to bring you where He is. You have His forgiveness right now, and you can rely on His love in your daily battles. He also has your back eternally. Death is broken.
We can’t help the fear, but Jesus washes away the shame. His forgiveness is new every morning. He stands by you with His promises, so that you may stand by Him in your faith. That’s never a waste of time, because one day your grave will be empty, too. You also will enter His rest.
Christ is risen! Alleluia!
Soli Deo Gloria!