Editor’s note: Today’s devotion is slightly adapted from the packet of sermon outlines that accompanies CTA’s Easter theme, A Love That Never Dies. You can use this sermon on Easter Sunday or in the church services, Bible studies, or the mid-week classes leading up to Resurrection Sunday. Visit CTA’s Resource & Idea Center to download the entire packet of sermon outlines and the corresponding discussion guides.
Read Matthew 28:1–10.
It was with stark realism and grim resignation that two of the Marys and the other women came to Jesus’ tomb early on the Sunday morning after his death. In doing so, they demonstrated the same grit that they had shown as they dared to stand near the foot of the cross on the day Jesus died. Calvary had been more than a mere nightmare, after all. Much more. It had been real, horribly and tragically real. But now it was over. It may have taken two sleepless nights before they had been able to acknowledge that reality, but acknowledge it they had.
Despite this acknowledgement, they had not had a chance to say a proper good-bye to Jesus, to go through the not-always-sensible but often therapeutic rituals people go through when someone they love dies. The women’s agenda was simple: Open the tomb. Prepare the body properly for burial. Say a final farewell and extend a final touch. All of that would help, they reasoned, to express their inexpressible sense of loss and grief.
But there, at the burial cave that belonged to the kind and courageous Joseph of Arimathea, the women did not find what they had anticipated. The guards they expected to find were gone, terrified by an early morning earthquake and the arrival of one of heaven’s holy angels. The guards had left behind an open, empty tomb—and the angel, dressed in dazzling apparel, seated upon the stone he had rolled away from in front of the burial chamber.
All this unnerved the women. Matthew tells us they were terrified and afraid. And who could blame them?!
Luke tells us the angel addressed the women, asking a question and making a comment that crisply sums up the entire Easter message:
Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. (Luke 24:5–6 ESV)
As we read the Easter accounts found in all four Gospels, we sense the first responses of Jesus’ friends. Fear. Hope. Great joy. Then back to fear again, followed by deepening hope and daring joy. But joy mingled with fear. All these emotions and more must have swirled in each heart on that first Resurrection Sunday and in the days and weeks that followed. (See Matthew 28:16–18.)
What did the disciples fear? Death at the hands of those who had killed their Lord? Perhaps. To a greater or lesser degree, most of us fear death or, at least, the dying process. And even if we have resigned ourselves to the reality of it all, it is still a bitter pill for us to swallow. Most of us struggle to keep thoughts of death at arm’s length for as long as possible. Death stands at the top of our “Don’t Talk about It” lists, until it invades our friendships, our families, or our own personal lives.
Ask anyone who has confronted a life-threatening illness or surgery or accident. Those who have walked through the valley of the shadow—yes, even Christian people—will tell you about the gamut of emotions that raced through their minds and hearts as they confronted the prospect of dying: fear, sadness, anger, . . . and, finally, the peace that sets into the heart.
As Christians, we believe in the reality of resurrection, not only our Lord’s resurrection, but our own resurrection as well. That promise of life, of eternal life, sustains us as we face the prospect of dying. That promise also puts into perspective all of our present griefs and sorrows and pain.
As the apostle Paul penned his great Resurrection Chapter—1 Corinthians 15—he commented:
If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:19 ESV)
If Jesus’ resurrection is a lie, if our last breath here on earth marks the end of our existence, Christianity is useless. We Christians are to be pitied as fools. How empty and void our faith would be! How meaningless and empty of purpose our lives would be!
But, in truth, Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
Perhaps Jesus’ friends feared death. Or, perhaps, they were afraid of life, of Easter life. That life is as much mystery as it is miracle—for them and for us. They had hoped in Jesus once, and they had seen those hopes dashed. Did they dare to risk hoping again? Did they dare take upon themselves the cloak of discipleship for a second time, given that they had walked away from the cross and had begun to resign themselves to a return to their former vocations, their former routines, their former way of life? The time they had spent following Jesus had been exciting. It had been a tremendous learning experience. But after the sun had set on Calvary that Good Friday evening, they had supposed it was time to move on with their lives.
It is not difficult to put ourselves in the disciples’ sandals. Are you one of many who resist hoping, who are comfortable with their routine, who warn others not to get their hopes up, who want to just get on with life day by day?
The day of Easter is not about a return to routines. It’s not about getting on with life. Easter is about celebration, about mystery and marvel and miracle. It’s about Easter life, new life, eternal life! There is no limit to what God can do in us and through us. Easter demonstrates that. There is no limit to the power of God at work within us, changing us forevermore. There is no limit to the ways our Lord can use us, making our lives a bold, unabashed proclamation to the grace and glory of Jesus Christ. As Paul writes:
To this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. (1 Timothy 4:10 ESV)
We cannot return from Easter worship unchanged. We cannot go back to our homes, families, jobs, and relationships as if nothing has happened. God did not bring us into this world to die, but to live Easter lives of hope and joy and witness. Easter is that event that changed history, the event that changes all of our personal history. Easter is that historic event upon which we are willing, in faith, to stake our entire lives and our eternal lives. Easter stretches our faith and our proclamation beyond all reasonable and realistic expectations. Easter seals for us forever the promise of our God:
I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. (Jeremiah 31:3 ESV)
Because Jesus lives, we are not afraid to die. Nor are we afraid to live, to live in the mystery and miracle of Easter. That’s why we celebrate our Savior’s life, his death, his resurrection. We celebrate a love that never dies!
Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed! Amen.
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