Mark 16:1-8 I have been by the bedside of many people who have died and I have never gotten used to it. There is nothing quite so final seeming as seeing that the chest rise and fall for the last time—the breath to be breathed out and not another taken in—to see the spirit leave the body behind. We know nothing more clearly in that moment than this is not the way it is supposed to be.
But there is not much time to linger on those thoughts. There is much to do when a loved one dies—and that helps us in our grief—it keeps us busy and distracted from the pain of our loss.
A grave must be purchased and a casket. A time of service has to be arranged and guests have to be fed. Clothes for the deceased have to be chosen.
And over the next two or three days, the pain of our loss is kept just a bit at arm’s length and even the worship and the meal with the family help in this regard. But at the grave, when the last words are said, the last hugs and promises of prayer are made—there is nothing left to do but leave our loved one in the grave.
That is where we were left on Friday evening. The faithful women heard Jesus commend himself into the hands of his Father, they watched Jesus breathe his last, the saw him give up his Spirit and die—just like all the others who had come before him.
They took his body from the cross, did what they are were able to do, covered him in a burial shroud and watched as he was placed in a tomb. They heard an enormous stone being rolled in front of it. They saw a seal placed on it, and guards posted so that no one could steal his body and say that he had been raised from the dead as he promised.
With those sights and sounds, there was nothing left to do—not one thing that they could change—and they left their loved one in the grave and returned to their homes to observe the Sabbath. The Bible says that:
When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.
Until our Lord Jesus Christ returns the story of these faithful women will be told and well it should.
These women were his faithful disciples. They had supported him throughout his earthly ministry. They were witnesses of his miracles. And unlike the twelve disciples, they did not flee from his side when he needed them the most, but remained with him every moment as he suffered and died on the cross.
That we know what those terrible hours were like for our Lord, that we know the words he spoke there at the cross, is because of these faithful women who heard and saw it all. And now, very early in the morning on the first day of the week, as soon as they woke from sleep and before the sun came, their only thought was to finish doing what was a necessary for a decent burial in that day and time.
And yet, for all their faithfulness, they were just like the disciples and everyone else in Jerusalem—they had NO expectation that they would be dealing with anything else other than a corpse. None.
This, despite the fact that Jesus had told them and the disciples and anyone who would listen, just exactly what would happen—that he would go to Jerusalem, be abandoned by his friends, rejected by his people, put to death on the cross by his enemies and rise again three days later.
He said that, just as it was for Jonah in the belly of the whale for three days, so it would be for him and that this was the only sign that mattered. He stood by the graveside of Lazarus, proclaimed himself the resurrection and the life and showed what that meant by raising him from the dead. Suffering, betrayal, rejection, death and resurrection was what he preached again and again, they heard it again and again—they saw it all play out just as he said in the week preceding week and yet early in the morning, on the first day of the week, the third day they traveled to a tomb expecting a corpse.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, there is a lesson for us in this. Jesus is the God of kept promises. He is the way and the truth of the life. He does not lie and we must not let our many religious duties keep us from the one thing needful and that is actually believing what Jesus says and believing that Jesus has the power to fulfill his promises. The Bible says that:
They were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?”
If there was anything that that these faithful women had come to know over the course of the days leading up to this moment was their helplessness in the face of forces greater and more powerful than themselves.
There was nothing they could do to change the minds of those who rejected Jesus. There was nothing they could do to make the disciples the men they should have been. There was nothing they could do to make Herod and Pilate give Jesus justice. There was nothing they could do to stop the soldiers from driving nails into Jesus feet and hands and putting a crown on his head and stabbing him with a spear.
All of that helplessness came to a head as they traveled to Jesus’ tomb early that morning on the first day of the week, only to be reminded somewhere along the way that an enormous stone had been rolled into a carved groove in front of the tomb and there was no way that group of women could roll it out of the way.
We can only imagine how they must have felt—their frailty and powerlessness exposed one last time. But if they had only reflected just a bit they would have remembered other times when the weakness of people was no impediment to the power of Jesus.
When he was surrounded by 5000 hungry people, the disciples could not imagine how to feed so many and yet in the hands of Jesus a few fish and a few loaves were more than enough. When he was out with his disciples on a stormy sea and they thought they would all drown Jesus spoke a single word and the seas were calm and they were saved. Blind eyes and deaf ears and lame legs and flows of blood and a crooked back all gave way to the power of Jesus.
And here at the tomb, the faithful women were about to learn that lesson one more time:
And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. 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.” 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.
One of the questions in the Catechism is this: What is the basis of our faith and life in Christ? In other words, what is the foundation of our faith? What is necessary for Christianity to be true? People always want to say: the crucifixion—and God be praised that the preaching of the cross is so central in our church. But that is not the answer.
Many thousands of people were crucified by the Romans. In fact, not just Jesus but two others with him were crucified on Good Friday. But only one of them and only one of those thousands was raised from the dead and that is Jesus.
Paul says that if Christ was not raised we Christians are the worst kind of fools. He says that he delivered to the church that which is of first importance that Christ was raised form the dead.
We do not worship and serve a good man or wise teacher or worthy example. We worship and serve a living Lord who has powerfully conquered death and the grave—not just for himself—but for us too.
That is why the resurrection of Jesus matters so much! It is the fullness of his saving work and it is the Father’s stamp of approval on all it and it is why our Lord will, beyond any shadow of a doubt keep his promise to us that because he lives we also shall live.
The words and promises of our Lord Jesus Christ are faithful and true. He did go to Jerusalem to suffer and die just like he said that we would but he also rose from the grave just as he said and it is this fulfillment of all his saving work that is our guarantee that we can take him at his word and build our life upon it.
The tomb was opened that morning, not so that Jesus could get out—but so that the faithful women (and we through their eyes) could look inside and know that Jesus has been raised.
They saw a grave where Jesus had been placed now empty. The place in the rock where he had been laid on Friday, abandoned. They saw the cloths that they had used to wrap his body left behind. They saw the burial shroud placed over him no longer needed.
That is what was objectively true about Jesus’ grave early that morning on the first day of the week. That is what people just like us saw and reported. And that is what, by faith, the Holy Spirit wants us to see as we reflect on our own passing.
There is no one who has ever lost a loved one who does not, at least at some point, consider their own mortality. We know that the care and concern we have extended to a departed loved one will also one day be extended to us by those we love when we pass from their presence on this earth.
But the angel’s testimony will also be spoken of us on the last day: they are not here for they have been raised! That is the Good News that we are to take to the world just like the faithful women that first Easter morning. Amen.