On Easter Sunday, Dr Gregory Jackson of Ichabod posted an outstanding expository sermon on the resurrection.

Please read it in full. Excerpts follow below.

(Image credit: Padre Steve)

The text is Mark 16:1-8 (KJV):

Mark 16:1 And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. 2 And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun. 3 And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre? 4 And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great. 5 And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. 6 And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him. 7 But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you. 8 And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid.

Emphases in bold mine below, apart from the Scripture verses and title.

The Lesson Where Jesus Is Absent

KJV Mark 16:1 And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. 

This Gospel lesson is so important in considering the meaning of the empty tomb. Instead of featuring Jesus, His works and statements, this lesson emphasizes the absence of Jesus, because the women went to honor His body and He was not there to be honored. This is the only Gospel lesson I can recall where Jesus is absent.

For that reason, we should consider all that we do and think, because we carry so many burdens, like the women carrying their spices. That was a burden, as everyone knows who has trudged along, carrying one thing or another. Yesterday I needed to take a bag of rocks and a large bag of birdseed to the backyard, from the truck of the car. The first thing I thought of was – how can I make this easier? I used the two garbage cans on wheels as my wheelbarrow, and lightened the burden.

Imagine that over a long distance and wondering too, how will I manage to get this burden inside, since the tomb is sealed? And yet all that work, anxiety, and labor, though filled with good intentions, meant nothing.

This lesson teaches us that the Gospel message itself is everything, not our works, merit, not even what our anxieties, concerns, and sins are that we drag along with us

2 And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun.

Their conflict came from the issue of the tomb itself. As most graphics show, the door was not an enormous round boulder, which would be extremely difficult for a group of men to move, but a stone lid that rolled in a groove. The lid could be shoved to the side in that groove, or even flattened to the ground, by several men. Unless the women were EMT bodybuilders, the shoulder strength required was entirely lacking for the very job they came to do. But in faith they busied themselves with the job anyway and arrived early.

So it was that the Jewish traditions and the timing of the crucifixion coincided to make them the first witnesses of the empty tomb, so that nothingness became the most important visible symbol of the resurrection of Christ.

3 And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?

The question they finally asked is one that continues to bedevil our rationalistic society. They assumed Jesus was dead and sealed in His tomb. For many people today, that is their estimation of the Bible and the Christian Faith. That is probably the most significant question to ask an ordained pastor or theologian. “Did Jesus rise bodily from the dead?” One must qualify rise because some would say yes, meaning in a spiritual or mythological sense. I asked a future Unitarian minister that question, plus the Virgin birth, and she said, “Those are not important questions to ask.” The same response came from ELCA seminaries when I wrote to them to ask if anyone on their faculty taught the actual bodily resurrection of Christ and the Virgin Birth. One seminary (out of nine) said that yes, one faculty member published that the resurrection of Christ “probably happened.” That seminary is now merging into a college because of its financial and enrollment problems (Berkeley) … 

It is not surprising that Christians have problems finding a good church. A few of my readers are in that situation. Some like to talk to the clergy before they become members. Dr Jackson’s question is an excellent one for them to ask:

Did Jesus rise bodily from the dead?

The answer could determine whether they join or keep searching for another congregation.

I also liked Dr Jackson’s exploration of burdens, which often overcome us in our daily lives. We can take an example from these women who had sustaining faith. Even faced with the weighty obstacle of moving the stone to the tomb:

in faith they busied themselves with the job anyway

Dr Jackson offers this gem of wisdom:

Luther says in one of his Easter sermons that God salts and stretches our hides so we will pay attention to His Word. Our external and internal sufferings remind us of our need for comfort in the Gospel

A lot of Christians in the West are suffering physically or mentally. It is interesting to note from the blogosphere that, among them, those who read the Bible, pray a lot and worship regularly are coping with their trials better than those who refuse to read the New Testament, also eschewing church and prayer.

How can we have more faith if we do not pray for more grace? How can we find comfort, if we do not read and reread the Gospel message?

Eastertide is a time of renewed hope and new life. May we use this time to increase our faith through divine grace.

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