Alleluia! The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26 ESV). Paul really sums up so much of life under the cross with those words. So much of our lives are really about cheating death. Makeup, diets, slimming clothes, bigger or better muscles. We have medicines to make us happy, to mask pain and hurts, or to numb everything. Our daughters put on makeup at younger and younger ages, and we put makeup on those who have passed away, to keep them looking good as long as possible. We have cars to make us feel younger, gadgets to keep us on top of the latest trends, and memories to keep the dreams alive. We long for the so-called glory days which pass us by all too quickly, as Springsteen once sang.*
But death is no dream. It is very, very real. And while we relish the release of pain and suffering, death itself is still the last, great enemy. A family struggles with the question: when do you “pull the plug,” as some say so crassly. It is so hard to let go, and it seems wrong not to do everything in your power to keep the one you love alive. Where is the line between letting someone die and killing them? What is right? How do I know? You feel guilty whether you zig or zag. The pain and sorrow and grief are no less with all of our science and medical technology. In some ways, it is worse. We live longer than our parents and grandparents, but that doesn’t mean we live better. So when do you say goodbye, and how do you know? How many times can you say goodbye? I’m sure some of you have struggled with those heart wrenching moments. Maybe you are struggling with it now.
The women knew this grief and sorrow, as they came to anoint their dead Lord and found Him gone. Talk about insult added to injury! You don’t mess with a grave. Never. It is just not done. But there it is. He is gone. Not just dead. Gone. Peter sees, rushes in, saw the empty tomb and the linens folded up all nice in the corner, and went off.
Mary Magdalene is left to mourn, alone. Two angels come to comfort her. They ask why she is weeping. Why am I weeping, she in effect says to them. I’m weeping because Jesus is dead and now they’ve stolen Him from me! There is no body. Everything is gone. I have no place to mourn. Even the place of my grief has been taken away! Suddenly the gardener appears, or is it Jesus? He, too, wanted to know why she wept so. She replies, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away” (John 20:15 ESV).
All she wanted was to mourn in peace. The thought that things were better than they ever imagined, well, it never even occurred to her. Grief has that way about it. It sucks us in, as Satan tries to pry our faith from us. But life interrupts death. Jesus is alive, and says her name, Mary. In the blink of an eye, everything, everything is different. Now, the mourning doesn’t seem to fit quite the same. Now, Mary can see that when Jesus raised her brother, Lazarus, from the dead, that was just the beginning. When Life conquered Death in that strange and dreadful strife, everything that we thought we understood about the world was turned upside down and inside out.
Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the story of our lives, that we forget we know the ending. It reminds me of one of my favorite movie scenes is from the cult classic, The Princess Bride. In the movie a grandfather reads a story to his sick grandson. The son reluctantly agrees. As the story of death and mayhem and romance goes on, the young boy gets further and further engrossed into the movie. At one point the grandfather has to stop the story and remind the boy “she doesn’t get eaten by the eels at this time.”
I know, it sounds silly. But it is important as we journey in joy and sorrows and romance and grief to remember that we don’t get eaten by the eels, so to speak.
In the world, death is the end. There is no more story. We either seek to defeat death by taking life on our own terms (e.g. Euthanasia, abortion, suicide, and the like), OR we try to defeat it at all costs by covering it up, extending life no matter what, and masking its reality. But Jesus’ resurrection means that death is not in charge. St. Paul wrote, “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him” (Romans 6:9 ESV). Death is not your master. Our living Lord, Jesus Christ, has died and risen again, so that your dying will always mean life in the end. St. Paul wrote again, “For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:8 ESV).
For thousands of years Christians have faced death with a remarkable grace and confidence. That doesn’t mean we aren’t afraid to die. Of course, death is still scary, and none of us long for the unknown like that. But at the same time, because of that empty tomb and living Lord, you are free to live or die. It is all the same. Eternal life is your inheritance. Jesus has conquered it all.
Easter morning, Christ is risen. Come behold the empty grave.
We deserved the fiery prison. Hear the pardon which He gave.
Be refreshed, renewed my people, Stooped and beaten since the Fall
You, in Him are more than conquerers: Cruel Death is killed for all.*
Be at peace, dear children of God. Christ has done it! You know the end of the story. Sing with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven! Nothing can defeat you in Him. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. Everything else, even death itself, pales by comparison. Rejoice, Oh Redeemed, for your Redeemer bids you feast on Him and live forever.
Alleluia! The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! In the strong name of Jesus. Amen.