It’s Easter Sunday!
He is risen! The tomb is empty! Jesus is alive!
There was a special energy in our sanctuary this morning. I could see it in the maximum capacity crowd, dressed to the nine’s in their Easter best. I could hear it when we sang “Christ the Lord is risen today!” and it was so loud, it overtook the thunderous organ. I could feel it in the love in the room, I could smell it in the Easter lilies… I could even taste it in the candy I ate before breakfast! (Did I mention that I fasted from sweets during Lent?)
It’s Easter Sunday! He is risen! This is amazing!
And here is how today’s gospel tells us we should feel on this very special day:
“Do not be amazed.”
Mark tells us that Mary and Mary Magdalene and Salome are first to the tomb. They go intending to anoint Jesus’ dead body, a sad but important job. It would have been done on Friday, when Jesus died, except for the Sabbath laws that came into effect at sunset. So here they are, faced with the task of opening the tomb and dealing with the dead body of their son, their friend, their Messiah.
Opening the tomb is most definitely a task. They aren’t even quite sure how they’ll manage it – the stone is really big. But – lo and behold – when they get there, they find the stone rolled aside. The tomb is already open and waiting for them. How strange.
The women look in. Instead of a dead body they find a young man, just sitting there in his pristine white robes.
The women were amazed.
And what does the young man say? “Don’t be amazed.”
What? How could they not be amazed? How could we not be amazed? It’s Easter Sunday! The tomb is empty! Jesus was dead, but has risen!
Maybe we misunderstand. “To be amazed” is just one way to translate the verb in Mark 16:6. The Greek word ekthambeo can also refer to “fear.” Maybe what this angelic young man meant was, “Don’t be afraid.”
There would be reason to be afraid, after all.
Dead people don’t just get up and walk out of their graves. If I went up to Valleytown Cemetery and I found a grave dug out with the coffin turned back open and a young man dressed in white just hanging out on the edge of the hole…. Well, “afraid” would be an understatement of how I’d feel. I bet Mary and Mary Magdalene and Salome felt a healthy dose of fear.
And shouldn’t we be afraid? Not just when we stand before an empty tomb… but when we stand before God. God who has done everything for us. God humbled himself to live as one of us. God submitted himself to die as one of us. God walked out of that empty tomb to give us eternal life. As Paul said it, God did this while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8).
God did all that for us… and we are sinners, still.
God gave us 10 fairly simple commandments… and we break them. Jesus simplified those 10 to a most-important 2: love God with all we’ve got, and love our neighbor as ourselves. We break those, too. We love money and reputation and ourselves with all we’ve got. We love our neighbors… when they’re lovable. We have sinned and we keep sinning. God did all this for us and we can’t get it straight.
But hear the young angel: “Don’t be afraid.”
Don’t be afraid of the empty tomb or of God’s love for you. Remember how Romans 5:8 ends: “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us; that proves God’s love for us.”
And hear the young angel again: “Don’t be amazed.”
Don’t be so amazed that you can’t believe it to be true; don’t be so amazed that it keeps you at a distance from God. God really does forgive your sins. There is nothing standing between you and God. Nothing.
Don’t be afraid. Don’t be amazed.
Instead, believe – believe the news that is so good, it’s almost unbelievable. Through Christ’s death, your sins are forgiven. Through Christ’s resurrection, you are offered eternal life.
Be God’s Easter people.