HE IS RISEN; HE IS NOT HERE
So they entered the tomb and there they saw a Young Man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were amazed. And he said to them: do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. He has risen, He is not here, see the place where they laid Him. Mark 16:5-6
WHEN the women arrived at the tomb that morning they did not find what they expected. Instead of a dead man dressed in grave clothes, they found a young man dressed in dazzling clothes, hardly what one would imagine. St. Mark tells us that they were amazed but what they were about to hear would leave them even more astonished because they were about to hear the first Easter sermon ever preached.
First the Easter angel refers to the Lord as “Jesus of Nazareth.” He uses the Lord’s legal earthly name, the one that was inscribed on His writ of execution, and attached to His cross. This should remind us that in the fullness of time God sent forth His Son to be born of a woman, to be born under the law in order to redeem those who were under the law. We are those people!
It is also significant that Mark speaks in the active, not the passive voice like the other gospels do. He writes, “He has risen” rather than “He is risen.” This reminds us of the Lord’s own words, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Jesus can do this because He is not only man but God as well. He laid down His life for our sins and took it back again in order to give us victory over the grave.
Perhaps the happiest phrase of this first Easter sermon are the words, “He is not here!” Three days earlier Jesus had been brutally put to death. His blood was spilled, He breathed His last and He was certified to be dead by the Roman authorities. Shortly thereafter Joseph and Nicodemus wrapped His lifeless body with burial spices and grave clothes. Then Joseph covered the tomb with a large stone and the Roman military sealed it shut. It did not get any more final than that. The Lord’s enemies had done their best to do their worst, but even in the tomb, Jesus was at work to save us. He fulfilled the Sabbath day rest for us. He descended into hell as we confess in our Creed, not to suffer any further for our sins, but to proclaim the victory He won for us to the denizens of hell. And then at an unspecified hour, early on the morning of the first day, our Lord reclaimed His life and left the tomb, never to die again! so the angel can say with all candor and joy, He is not here!
We too need to hear these words, because Jesus is not a dead Savior but a living one. After His resurrection Scripture records that He appeared to the Eleven so that they might be eyewitnesses to His victory over death. He then ascended to the right hand of the Father from where He directs all earthly circumstances for the good of His people and the good His church. Please know dear Christians that our lives are not controlled by fate, or luck, or the will of men, or the stars, but by Him who is the Bright Morning Star, even Jesus our resurrected and ascended Lord.
He is not here, says the Easter angel, but then where is He? Scripture gives us the answer. It teaches us that Jesus lives in our hearts by faith. A heart without Christ is an empty one, dead to God and devoid of the courage needed to face the problems of life with patience, the future with hope, death with poise, and “the life of the world to come” with fervent longing.
He is also found in Holy Scripture which is the “verbal icon of Christ.” When we hear Scripture we are hearing the voice of Jesus who imparts the wisdom of the ages to us, and gives us the eternal perspective of life, so that nothing in this world can overwhelm us.
We also encounter Him in the sacraments, which are known as “the visible word.” Baptism is the church’s primary Sacrament. It is the Word of God “in and with the water,” and Jesus is there. A Christian must never say, “I was baptized” but rather “I am baptized,” because the benefits of this sacrament never cease. It continually provides us with the ongoing cleansing that we need, and a new lease on life every morning.
The same can be said about the blessed sacrament of holy communion. There is no closer fellowship that a person can have with the risen Christ than to take the Lord’s risen flesh and blood into his own and by it obtain the remission of sins, life and salvation.
Our risen Lord is also found in the sacrament of absolution which He formally instituted on the evening of the first Easter. Jesus first granted it to His simpering disciples who had sworn allegiance to Him, but when the chips were down all ran away except for faithful St. John. Jesus did not come to them that night to make war but to deliver blood bought peace, to pardon their sins, and to entrust them with the Great Commission: to remit the sins of the penitent and to withhold pardon from all who refuse to forsake their own personal religion.
You have heard before that individual confession and absolution was the practice of the church for centuries and how the devil turned this salutary sacrament into a practice which is despised today by nearly every Christian on earth, including us. Despised though it may be, for most of the church’s existence it was the norm for pastoral care. In it the pastor, who is the visible sign, is the ear of God to hear the sins, and the mouth of God to speak the absolution not to a crowd but to a single repentant person longing to hear God’s love spoken into his ear. May the grace of Easter create a new desire within us; a desire to learn about the unique blessings of this sacrament and to ask for it and practice it so that we may find the consolation of the resurrection in it.
There’s one other important place where Jesus is found: in the face of the helpless and the humble poor, not as our confused culture defines those terms! please! but as reason, informed by Scripture, defines them. Mercy must begin at home but then as opportunity arises it must ripple out to all men, especially to those who are of the household of faith.
“You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified, He has risen, He is not here,” says the Easter angel. Jesus is no longer in the tomb. Don’t look for Him there, but don’t look for him on the internet either because He is not there; or in Hollywood’s representations of religion, He is not there; or in religious bookstores, He is not there; or on religious radio and TV broadcasts (especially Joel Osteen), He is surely not there; but rather, seek Him where He promises to be found, in the church, as we have briefly mentioned above, and like the believers of the ages you will find a Living, Loving Lord, who will never leave you nor forsake you. Amen.
Rev. Dean Kavouras