Holy Saturday/Easter Vigil
Text: Mark 16:1-8 (Series B)
Our Savior Lutheran Church, Raleigh
April 3, 2021
In the name of the Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world. Amen.
Hmm…there’s something not quite right here tonight. You all are happy and smiling and singing… It’s like your joyful that the tomb is empty! Here you are, celebrating the resurrection, while the women at the tomb are shaking at the sight! Why aren’t you trembling? Why aren’t you astonished? Why haven’t you fled?
This is a tricky thing. Mark’s gospel makes it sound like joy is not how we should respond to the resurrection. We find the women at the tomb dumbfounded and terrified at the news that Jesus has risen from the dead. And they don’t go traipsing down the street greeting everyone with “Christ is risen!” and spreading the happy news. Instead, they run away from the empty tomb in fear and trembling.
“Well, they just don’t understand what ‘Christ is risen’ actually means yet,” we tell ourselves. “They just need Jesus to appear to them, like he did for the disciples on the Road to Emmaus. Once they see him, then they’ll know for sure that Jesus is actually alive and that it’s the greatest thing the world’s ever seen!” A fair theory. But what if the women at the tomb have it right? What if fear and trembling are the right response to resurrection? We might be frightened by death, but what if the chance at life after death is even more terrifying?
Our readings this evening, these redemption stories of the Bible, subtly hide this truth that a second chance at life is a scary thing. Think about it for a moment. Even though their lives were preserved from the flood, Noah and his family had to face the fearful task of rebuilding civilization from scratch. Israel was delivered from death at the Red Sea, but then they had to begin their frightening pilgrimage in the unknown desert. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were kept alive in the fiery furnace, but then they had to continue living under persecution in Babylon. All of these second chances at life were followed up by more trouble, more pain, more chances for death. Resurrection, it turns out, is a very frightening prospect.
So the women at the tomb do seem to have the right reaction to Jesus being raised. They themselves knew that life after death wasn’t an easy thing. Lazarus had showed them that. Ever since Jesus raised him from the dead, he’d had a target on his back, and the Pharisees were taking aim. To rise from the dead was truly astonishing, but its consequences left the women trembling.
So why do we meet resurrection with joy and celebration? Why aren’t we shaking in our boots right now as we contemplate Christ’s resurrection? Maybe a little holy fear should color our Easter celebrations. Because if Jesus is truly God, as he says he is, and not just some moral exemplar or deified revolutionary, then his resurrection is a very serious matter—more serious than death, I think! If he is “true God and true man” as we confess, then resurrection is not simply some warm and fuzzy spiritual ascent to heaven; it won’t be sweetness and light, Easter eggs and family brunch.
No, resurrection for us will mean being raised in our bodies and then entering the very presence of Almighty God—and you know that very few people have stood in the presence of God and lived! Christ has gone before us to the right hand of the Father, and when we rise we will see him, just as he told us. But he is no tame lion. To stand in the presence of God will be terrific, awe-inspiring, and downright scary, because he will see the wretched state of our hearts, and we will face his judgement.
“Well gee, Vicar. Way to kick off a real rowdy Easter party! Alleluia to you, too.” I get it. But I think a little dose of fear drives home just how profound, how dramatic, how real our own resurrection will be. Because on that day, as you cower in fear and trembling before the throne, Christ will stand and say to you, “Do not be alarmed. You have sought me, and I have made you my own. You have faced the floods, the fires, the crucible that is that life below. But I have paid the price; you are reconciled with God. Come, enter into his gates with thanksgiving and receive eternal life and that peace which surpasses all understanding.”
In the holy name of Jesus. Amen.