Sermon: “Oh, To Have Been There!”
Lectionary Series C; Easter Festival Service
Sunday, April 21, 2019
Gospel Reading: Luke 24:1-12
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Oh, to have been there! What would it have been like? How awesome would it have been to make our way with the women who first arrived at the empty tomb! Oh, to have been there!
When we last gathered on Friday, we considered what it must have been like to have been there at the cross. On that night, we joined with those who witnessed the death of Jesus.
It was on that dark and sacred night, that we sang the first three verses of the hymn, “Were You There”. We sang, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree? Were you there when they laid Him in the tomb? And with each verse we sang, it caused us to tremble, tremble, tremble. Tremble at the very thought of having been there.
Oh, to have been there. On that night that we call ‘good’, however, we were left hanging. The story did not end with Jesus being laid in the tomb. There is one more verse that needed to be sung. Here on Easter morning, we just sang: “Were you there when God raised Him from the tomb?” As we consider those who were there on that first Easter morning when God raised Jesus from the tomb, it causes us to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Oh, to have been there! What would it have been like? How awesome would it have been? To have made that journey to the tomb with a skip in our step as we looked forward to what we would behold with our very own eyes. To get there, and see that the stone had been rolled away. To have seen angels and to have heard them speak of the resurrection. To have looked into the empty tomb. The joy would have been too much to contain. Oh, to have been there!
But unfortunately, that’s not exactly how it went. For those that were there, that’s not the way that it was on that morning that God raised Jesus from the tomb. Far from it, really. In fact, we may tremble at the thought of what did take place that first Easter morning.
Oh, to have been there. The women who made their way to the tomb with spices early Sunday morning in no way expected that Jesus was going to be raised from the dead. Otherwise, they would not have gone with the spices. They went there totally expecting to wrap a dead body. What they thought was going to be a good work done for their Lord, was actually only a reflection of their lack of belief.
They should have believed though, and so should the disciples as well. But when they heard the news of the empty tomb from the women, even they thought the news was nonsense. But they should have believed nonetheless. They had been told otherwise.
Jesus had told them before that He would rise from the dead on more than one occasion. He did not keep it a secret why He had come, and how He was going to accomplish His mission in life. But it didn’t seem to matter how many times He told them, they still did not believe.
Oh, to have been there. Then again, in some regard, we have been there. No doubt each of us have been in the valley of the shadow of death. We have gathered near the graves of those we love who have died. We have stared in the eyes of someone we love as they near their last breath. We have said far too many goodbyes. And when we face the reality of death, believing the words of Jesus seems impossible.
Believing the words of Jesus is so hard when everything appears like we have been let down. When death takes hold of a loved one lost to cancer…A battle is lost with heart disease…A tragic accident occurs...A life is cut far too short. The wage of death stings us to the very core. Death is devastating.
Sitting in those hospital rooms, living rooms, funeral planning rooms, we just can’t believe this has happened. Even though the wage of sin is death, we can’t believe it has come to this. And we can’t seem to believe there is any hope moving forward after this.
So it so often goes while walking in the valley of the shadow of death. Not only can’t we seem to believe our loved one is dead, but we also can’t seem to believe there will be a resurrection either.
Like those who gathered by the tomb, we forget the promises of Jesus. Our judgment is clouded by the darkness of death. So, we turn inward, rather than upward to try and make it through. We try and justify death as something that is natural when that is so far from the truth. We occupy ourselves with distractions, and we try and do anything that will keep us busy in an effort to cope.
But where is God’s Word in all of our sadness and sorrow? What place does it have as we grieve and mourn?
Just like those who were there that first Easter, it is vital for us to listen to the voices of those angels who spoke from that empty tomb. Because those words are just as much for us, as it was for them.
“While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise. And they remembered his words.”
Oh, to have been there! To have heard those angels proclaim that the resurrection was for real! He was not dead! He was alive!
Those women, just like us, needed to be reminded of the promises of God. While living in this valley of the shadow of death, we need to hear God’s Word again and again. It’s what draws us out of our sorrow and sadness to see what the empty tomb really means.
It means there is hope. A sure and certain hope. A hope that does not disappoint. We may grieve, but we do not grieve as those who have no hope. We grieve in the hope of the resurrection of Jesus.
The resurrection of Jesus changes everything! It means that our sinful debt has been paid in full! It means the sting of death has been removed. It means that death is swallowed up in victory. It means that every time we stand in that valley of the shadow of death…be it of our loved one...or the day we face our own death, we do not need to fear. For all those who die believing in the Lord Jesus as Savior, we will rise as well. That is what the empty tomb proclaims. Jesus’ victory is our victory!
We may have trembled at His death on Good Friday, but that trembling has been exchanged for the trembling of rejoicing and celebrating.
And I know, there are certainly times when it is hard to believe it. There are certainly times when our words would echo that father who cried out to Jesus when he desired his son to be healed of an evil spirit, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!” But even as we make that cry, our gracious God is there to help us.
Our God knows that we are helpless to believe in Him and His resurrection on our own. He knows that we simply cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ our Lord or come to Him.
But that’s why He called each of us by name to faith in Him in our baptism. And that’s why again and again, He calls us into His house to be reminded of His words, and the truth those angels proclaimed.
He knows that we need to be called by the Gospel. And the Gospel proclamation that we gather in celebration of today is the same those women heard at the empty tomb. “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen!”
Oh, to have been there! What would it have been like? How awesome would it have been! To have looked into that empty tomb! To know that all that He said He was going to do, He did! He died our death. He forgave all of our sins…all the times we failed to believe in Him, all of the times we failed to fear, love, and trust in Him above all things. And then He did what was thought to be unbelievable as He rose from the dead…Just like He said.
Oh, to have been there! And in fact, we are invited there today! We are joined with Mary Magdalene, Peter, John and all those who witnessed the resurrection at that empty tomb. Just think of it! All the generations of Christians for all times will join with us in a matter of moments. In, with, and under bread and wine, the resurrected Jesus will come to us. Countless Christians, as far as the eye can see, as many as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore will join us in a foretaste of the feast to come in just a few moments. If that doesn’t cause us to tremble, what will?
Here together, we will feast on forgiveness. We will be lavished with life. We will be saturated with salvation. We will gather together with all the saints and archangels to proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes again.
The empty tomb proclaims today, that death does not get the final say! There is a resurrection to come!
And oh, how we can’t wait to be there when that day comes! To know that the last enemy of death has been defeated once and for all. And on that day, there won’t be just one empty tomb. All the tombs will be opened. All will be raised, as we tremble with excitement at the sound of trumpets and the voice of an archangel.
Oh, to be there! … When we will join together in a new heavens and a new earth and the former things will not be remembered. There will be no more weeping or cries of distress. And there in the center of it all, we will see Jesus! The One we’ve been waiting for. The One we’ve been longing to see. The One we just can’t wait to thank again and again for all that He has done for us.
Oh, to be there! …In the presence of our resurrected Savior Jesus for all eternity! “Alleluia! Christ is Risen!” “He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!” Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.