Easter Sunday – 2021 LSB #’s 457, 490, 461
Text – Mark 16:8
And they went out & fled from the tomb, for trembling & astonishment had seized them, & they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
LOVE THAT ENDS OUR FEARS
Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!
The Gospel reading announces to us that Jesus is risen from the dead; perhaps the most joyous & hope-filled statement in the whole Bible. Yet, the reading ends with the women running away from the tomb, astonished & afraid. What is going on? I thought this was Easter.
The women in Mark’s resurrection account are afraid, at least at first, because they are living in the real Easter. The Easter that surrounds us in our culture & in the stores this time of year could not possibly make someone afraid. A cuddly bunny rabbit. A fuzzy little chick. Bright spring flowers & butterflies. Colored eggs. I hope I’m not scaring any of you.
The commercialized Easter of the United States has to be the most unscary holiday the world has ever seen. But in Mark’s Gospel, there is fear, there is bewilderment, because these women are not standing in a Hallmark store. They were standing in a tomb for the dead. The women in Mark’s resurrection Gospel are living in the real Easter.
They have known & have followed, the real flesh-and-blood Son of God, Jesus Christ. Their lives are full of real struggles, real worries, real disappointments, painful failings & guilt, real heartaches, & real dangers. In Jesus Christ, they found hope in the face of it all. Or, perhaps, they had found hope in the face of it all.
Jesus had claimed to be the Son of God & the Savior of the world. They had believed Him. Yet they also saw Him arrested & tried, tortured & crucified. No bunnies or fuzzy chicks appearing. It is a dangerous tale, a passionate & heroic tale of suffering, sacrifice, blood & tears; tears of life & tears of death. What was going on in the tomb of Jesus? These women were standing at the intersection between life & death, between heaven & earth, between hope & despair. Everything hung in the balance. Everything depended on this tomb being empty.
Dear friends, how many movies have you seen where the fate of the whole world depends on whether the main characters can overcome? That’s Hollywood, but the women in Mark’s Gospel, they are standing in that grave for real. Everything for them & for the whole world depends on this place, this tomb, & the man who, the last time they saw Him, was dead.
And now . . . the stone rolled away . . . the man dressed in white . . . these overwhelming words: “You seek Jesus of Nazareth. He has risen. He is not here!” It’s not a stretch to believe that the women left the tomb astonished & yes – afraid.
Wouldn’t it be fascinating if we could talk to these women? Some day we will. We could hear in their own words of that fateful morning. We could ask: Mary, Salome & Mary, why were you so afraid that you did not speak a word? You didn’t even obey the command of God’s angel to go & tell the disciples! What changed things? What took your fear away?
In Mark’s Gospel you are trembling with fear. Later on, you & the disciples become bold witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus.
If we could ask them, & if they could answer us, we’d probably find there were all kinds of fears churning within them that morning. Some were beyond our experience like standing in the grave of a man who was dead & is alive again, or like being spoken to by an angel. But I’m sure that some of their fears were much like the things you & I have come to fear.
They worried that their lives & their struggles had no real meaning. If such a beautiful life as Jesus’ could end in rejection & shame & death; if all of their hopes & their own labors could so quickly be overturned, ruined, snuffed out . . . was there really any point to any of it? Was there any true & lasting meaning in life? They had set their hearts on Jesus’ promise of a coming kingdom, on the beautiful calling of denying themselves to love others. Jesus’ love for them had filled their lives with meaning, but now, everything they’d been so sure of had seemed to collapse before their eyes . . . & they were afraid.
They worried that they were not good enough. Actually, they knew they were not good enough. They knew their weakness, their sinfulness, their failures. They were afraid of being rejected by others, & they were afraid of being condemned by God.
Jesus had welcomed them; shown them such mercy & love. Jesus had pronounced their sins forgiven, & now they wondered if it was too good to be true . . . & they were afraid. Like us, the women worried about all the things they had lost – & might still lose. Perhaps they had donated large amounts of money to the support of Jesus & His disciples. Now, it was gone.
They had given up months, maybe years, of their lives following Jesus. Was that wasted? Perhaps they feared what life would take from them in the years to come: their husbands, their children, their health, their sight, their savings, their friends?
Life is full of losses. Jesus had assured them that one day, all good things would be restored. God would gather His children at His great banquet table forever. They would receive from the Great I Am an eternal inheritance. Jesus had promised them:
“Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne... everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold & will inherit eternal life.” (Matthew 19:28–29) The promises of Jesus had replaced their fears with hope & peace & joy.
But with the events of the last days, everything had been thrown into confusion . . . & they were afraid again. Yes, the women’s hearts must have been whirling with all kinds of fears that 1st Easter morning. Those fears were about to be changed. The empty tomb, for a moment, was shocking & unsettling. It stirred up all kinds of fears, but Jesus was alive again. Jesus had risen from the dead.
Just as we begin to wonder why there should be fear & trembling on the joyous occasion of Easter, the risen Jesus begins His marvelous work of appearing to the disciples & the women to transform their fear into joy & faith. With the same enormous love that led Him to the cross, the risen Savior now lovingly begins His work of changing their fears into hope & joy forever.
What was Mark thinking as he ended his account of this scene with the statement, “for they were afraid”? Why does Mark stress the women’s fear in his Gospel? Because he wants you to reflect on the way in which the living Jesus is able to transform that fear.
In the Gospel reading, the women have an empty tomb, an angel, & a promise. But this will not be the end of the story. Jesus did come back to life. He has risen from death. Soon after this account, Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene to transform her fears & her tears into joy. She exclaims, “My Teacher!”
Jesus will appear to Peter, to the other disciples, to two men from Emmaus, to Thomas, & at one point to more than 500 believers at the same time! Fear will give way to joy. Fear will give way to hope. Fear will be replaced with boldness & purpose & meaning.
Jesus stands alive again forever & ever, triumphant over sin & death. He has opened to you the way to eternal life; He has burst open before you the gates of paradise. The one who looks upon you with such enormous love, who loved you even to death on the cross, He is alive forever, to continue caring for you with His enormous, perfect love.
St. John wrote, “…perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18) Jesus does not leave us trapped & alone in our fears. Jesus is risen! Truly, He is alive forever. Still today, our risen Lord comes to us as His people. In His Word, He shows Himself to us. “My brothers, my sisters: Behold! I am alive. I loved you to the cross. I loved you to the tomb, & now I love you in the resurrection. I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Today, throughout the world, to people weighed down by fear, the risen Jesus comes in His body & His blood. Take heart, He encourages us. I love to be with you, & you will be with me forever. Take heart, there is purpose to your life – my purpose. Take heart, Messiah assures us, your sins are forgiven in my blood, you are accepted by my Father.
Take heart, He promises you, though your life be full of grief & loss, I will restore all things in the life which is to come. Jesus is risen from the dead & the age of resurrection has begun. The day when Jesus will raise all the dead, giving eternal life & joy to all believers – that day is close at hand.
As we await that day, our Savior’s enormous love provides us with some of the greatest gifts that we could receive: true love, lasting purpose in life, relief from all our fears. Today, let the songs of Christ’s resurrection fill the world.
There are many fears in human hearts, even in the hearts of Christians. But there is a living Savior who transforms our fear. One day, He will cast out all fear forever so there will be nothing but joy & love & endless praise. To this Savior, who was slain for our sins, & raised again in triumph & majesty, to Him be honor, glory, & praise, today & forever. Amen.
Jesus lives! The victory’s won! Death no longer can appall me; Jesus lives! Death’s reign is done! From the grave will Christ recall me. Brighter scenes will then commence; this shall be my confidence. Jesus lives! And now is death but the gate of life immortal; this shall calm my trembling breath when I pass its gloomy portal. Faith shall cry, as fails each sense; Jesus is my confidence! Amen. LSB 490:1, 5.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet