4/2/2018 12:21:22 PM
Better Than Expected - April 1, 2018
Posted under: Pastor Schroeder Easter
Pastor Eric Schroeder
Text: Mark 16:1-8
On Easter morning, we expect flowers. Today, we are not disappointed; no matter how we picture it in our minds, we walk into church and we are struck by the wild contrast from the way we left church on Friday. Then our crosses were covered in black veils; today they are blooming with colors that represent life instead of death.
On Easter morning, we expect music. Today, we are not disappointed; even if you don’t have a formal education in musical theory, you can just tell the difference between the somber tones of lent over the past six-and-a-half weeks and the far brighter keys of our Easter hymns.
On Easter morning, we expect breakfast. Today, if we came early enough, we were not disappointed; many church members contributed and some came especially early to prepare a hearty breakfast that is fitting for such a day as this.
On Easter morning, we expect nice, warm springtime weather greeting us in the morning…I’m sorry, I can’t really help with this one.
Apart from the Wisconsin weather, Easter is one of those times that generally doesn’t disappoint us. But what about the people who were there on that first Easter morning? Today we see in Mark’s inspired account how that day turned out far better than any of them expected. Let’s look again at the opening verses: When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
What did these women expect that day? In their minds they had one last act of love to perform for their teacher and friend. Once sundown came on Friday, the Sabbath officially began, and they weren’t able to carry out this task. As hard as it would be, they would come back to the tomb Sunday morning, finish their work, and say goodbye to Jesus for the last time. At best, they expected to find some closure in the grieving process. And then someone remembered the stone. Three men--Joseph, Nicodemus, and John--had been there to move it in place, but now who would roll it away? They expected an already difficult job to be nearly impossible unless they had someone to help them.
We read on. 4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. Better than they expected. Not only do they encounter someone far stronger than they could have imagined waiting for them at the tomb, but the stone had already been rolled away. But of course, it gets better still. Instead of completing their burial rituals, they were given the day off.
6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, 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, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ ”
8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
We might be tempted to wonder why the women can’t seem to grasp what is going on, especially after the angel speaks and explains what has happened. But the truth is that I don’t think any of us can imagine going to visit the graveside of a loved one and finding an empty hole and a pile of dirt. We’d be awfully confused, too. The women would find out later what we already know. Life after Easter is better than expected.
We need this reminder, because more often than not, if life doesn’t go as we expect, it turns out worse than we thought it would. I can think of a family friend who planned out a big trip to Disney World with the extended family, and it turned out that they all spent the whole week fighting against a nasty stomach flu that left them spending most of their time in the hotel. I can think of another family that took a vacation to go camping, and then a huge storm came up and blew a big tree over, right on top of their camper (thankfully they had taken shelter in a building so no one was hurt). But we all know it can get worse than that. We can think of everyone we know who has been diagnosed with cancer, or who has had a heart attack, or who has gone through a divorce, or who has lost a loved one far too young in the world’s eyes. Not the way they planned it. Not what they expected.
And the same is true in each one of our lives if we live long enough to experience the worst that this world has to offer. For some of us, it’s a temptation that won’t seem to leave us alone and seems to hold us captive. For others of us, it is a bad choice that we made that has carved out a spot for guilt and shame in our memory bank. For others of us, it is a history of abuse by a loved one that has left deep scars, if not wounds that won’t seem to heal. For others, it is a health condition that leaves us fearful of its threat to alter the rest of our lives or significantly shorten them. And for still others of us, it is the doubt that robs us of comfort and confidence in God’s Word, because there are days when we aren’t sure if any of it is true.
If any of those sound like where you have been, or even where you are today, then you know exactly what it was like to make your way to the tomb on that first Easter morning, with expectations filled with burdens, fears, worries and doubts. Listen again to what God’s personal messenger told the women, and then we’ll apply it to our lives. 6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, 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, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ ”
Yes, life in this sin-corrupted world can weigh on all of us. Sometimes we might feel like our best option is to admit defeat, lower our expectations for the future and carry on. But here is where Easter changes everything, especially our expectations for the future.
- Easter replaces emptiness with fullness. The women came expecting closure, but they found an open grave and an empty tomb. Jesus was not a corpse; instead his resurrection proved his identity as Christ. Soon they would see him again with their own eyes, hear his voice with their own ears, and embrace him with their own arms.
What about us? Where sin, guilt, and loneliness leave us empty and ashamed, Jesus fills us with his forgiveness and assures us that for his sake, we have been declared righteous before our God and Judge. If Good Friday was the payment, Easter is the receipt that makes it plain to the world that the Father accepted his once-for-all sacrifice in place of us all. Jesus had been humbled to live under the law that condemned us, now his perfection covers every spot, wrinkle, and stain of our sin. We are free from guilt and punishment, because he paid it all.
- Easter replaces doubt with confidence. The women came with what had to be questions about the promises Jesus had made. What now? With him gone, what good was the faith they had placed in him? Now the angel reminded the women that his greatest claim had come to fulfillment. His enemies had done their worst and destroyed his temple, but he had raised it up on the third day. They would see him again, just as he told them.
This same confidence is now ours. The one who says he will be with us always, to the very end of the age, can be trusted. The peace he promises (better than the world can give) is ours. For all who are weary and burdened, he promises rest, and he means it. He has gone to his Father’s house to prepare a room for us, and we can be sure that he will come back to take us to be with him. We can trust every Word of God, because the greatest promise has been kept. He has risen, just like he said he would.
- Easter turns mourners into messengers. The women had come with a purpose in mind. They knew what they planned to do, but God had other plans for them. They would be the ones to tell the frightened disciples the good news.
We get to do the same thing. No matter what you always wanted to do, God has called us to be his own, and has made us witnesses of the single greatest truth to ever reach human ears. It is our greatest purpose to spread the Word that Jesus lives as the Savior of everyone we will ever meet, and the one who will one day return in glory to judge the living and the dead. Through the message of Christ crucified and risen, sins are forgiven, enemies of God are brought into his family, and the spiritually dead are raised. Which brings us to our last point, perhaps the greatest of all…
- Easter turns death into life. The last time the women had seen Jesus, the color was fading from his skin and his body had turned cold. The next time they would see him, it would take some time to recognize him because he would appear more glorious, more alive than ever.
In Christ we have the same hope for our brothers and sisters in the faith who have gone on before us. The next time we see them, it might take some time to recognize them, because they will be glorified as Jesus is, no longer old, or frail, or sick, or swollen. No more hospital beds, wheelchairs, canes or walkers. No more weakness, or confusion, or arthritis ever again. And what is true for our Christian loved ones is also true of us, as Jesus assures us that when our resurrection comes, all wounds—physical, spiritual, and emotional—will be left in the past.
Today is even better than we expected. We came expecting to hear that he is risen, but the message of Easter is even more than that. Jesus has replaced our emptiness with the fullness of his living presence. He replaces our doubts with confidence that all his words are true. He has given us purpose as his messengers to tell the world he lives, and because he lives, we will, too. May this Easter joy fill our hearts until we see him face to face, and then continue as we live with him for all eternity. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.