Text: Matthew 28:1-7
Date: Easter Vigil + 4/8/07
To the women who went to the tomb of Jesus “after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week,” the angel said, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.” The angel invited them to check it out for themselves, saying, “Come, see the place where he lay.” When they did they saw that the place where he lay was empty, vacant. How long would the women have stayed there wondering and looking, looking and wondering? But they were not to linger there. For the angel commanded them and immediately sent them with the task, “go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead.”
Saint Peter wrote of you who call yourselves Christians, “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [Christ’s] own possession, for the purpose that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Like those women that first Easter morning, like all the apostles, and like all who have believed and followed the risen Christ Jesus to this day, the first impact of the Gospel, the Good News of the resurrection, is personal faith and a change in status. “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:10). But then, immediately, you are called upon to “go quickly and tell,” to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light,” to witness, to bear testimony, to preach Jesus Christ to the world.
This morning you have literally come out of darkness as we followed the Light of Christ into this place. The ancient acts of creation and the deliverance of God’s people through the Exodus and the sea brought us to the waters of Holy Baptism. And now amid the eternal songs of the angels, “Glory be to God on high,” “Then the holy holy holy Celebration jubilee” [LSB 680:5] we have come to this moment when the angel invites us, saying, “Do not be afraid, come, see the place where he lay,” and “go quickly and tell.”
Your new status and standing with God is not your own doing. It is the gift of God, not of works, so that there should be no boasting going on around here. No boasting, only believing and praising, telling and proclaiming. For Christ was crucified, not just for an inner group or a privileged class, but for all. And his resurrection is the eternal testimony that God, indeed, has loved the whole world, “manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10).
Now when the women went quickly and told the others that Christ had risen from the dead they were met with some skepticism, even some doubt and unbelief. It is and will be the same for us. For the power for faith is not in our “witness” or telling but solely in the News itself, the Word, “He is risen.” That power for faith to be born and believed in anyone comes through the preaching and teaching of the Word, the “all things I have commanded you” the risen Christ has commissioned His Church to teach to all nations. The women did not return to the disciples and say, merely, “I believe the Lord is risen.” Maybe even they were still disbelieving for joy (cf. Luke 24:41). Rather, they returned and just reported the fact: the Lord is risen. So we are commanded to proclaim the fact and rely solely on the power of the Word preached and taught.
As the Easter story unfolds in the appearances of the risen Lord to his disciples over the next forty days, you should notice the continuing doubt, the reluctance, the inability to understand what has happened on the part of the disciples. It was only as, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Jesus] interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” that their eyes and minds were opened to understand the Scriptures, that is, to believe (Luke 24:27, 31, 45). In other words the witness or testimony of the Church and of individual Christians is, after all, only the beginning, only the invitation. Faith happens only as a person is taught the Gospel and drawn to the enlightenment of the sacraments of Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution and Holy Communion.
The Gospel is itself “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16) because “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). And we proclaim this Gospel in order that people’s “faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:5), that is “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24).
So let us rejoice this day for the gift of new life from our risen Lord. Let us continue to invite all people to this new life with the goal of teaching the Word of God that our risen and living Lord may open many minds and hearts to the truth of the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ, our Lord.