Here we wait in faith, in the dark of night, waiting for morning's appearance, watching for the women at the tomb. We know the story, as they did not; we await the discovery that the stone has been rolled away, while they came upon it in surprise and trepidation. The apparition of the angels shocked them, while we listen for their appearance and their message in joyful anticipation. The wonder and amazement with which they received that message has, for us, been turned into rejoicing, but better still, faith: faith in Jesus, through belief in the resurrection, which is the key to the kingdom into which we have been brought.
It is impossible to overstate the importance of this testimony, and scripture itself emphasizes this. It scandalizes some people that the gospels, especially John, are not in complete harmony, and do not record all the same events, the same teachings and parables, and the same miracles as one another; often it is held that those passages where they are in agreement, they are said to have copied from a common text, rather than admit that they are all based in common memory. It seems to me that too much is made of this by those looking for reasons to disbelieve what the church has taught over the centuries, but in any case, when it comes to the events following the last supper, the four gospels converge on a single narrative, to which they devote more space than any other single story. They all agree that Jesus took the disciples with him when he went to pray at Gethsemane, and that there he was arrested by guards from the temple, led by Judas; they all recount the same story of interrogation by Caiaphas and the chief priests, during which Peter made the three prophesied denials of his master; they all tell how Jesus was taken to Pilate, who condemned Jesus in spite of his obvious innocence, releasing Barabbas instead, as a sop to the crowds. They all describe how Jesus was mocked, and how he was crucified with two others, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James looking on, but the disciples dispersed. and how his clothing was divided among the soldiers; and they all state that Joseph of Aramathea came and, with Pilate's permission, took the body away and laid it in the stone tomb, wrapped in a shroud, before the day was out.
But that is not the end of it, by no means. All of them go on to relate the same tale of Sunday morning: that at daybreak Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and found it opened, and that Jesus' body was not there; they all say that she and those with her encountered angels who asked her why she wept, and who told her that Jesus was not there, and that he was risen from the dead. Here, then, is the heart of the gospel message: Christ crucified, but also, Christ risen. Nothing is more important to the faith than this—nothing! Only the incarnation, as doctrine, approaches it. It is because of the testimony of these women and that of the disciples after them, in their encounters with the empty tomb and the risen Jesus, that we have a religion to preach. It was this that Peter taught in his address to the crowd on the day of Pentecost, and which teaching put him and the other disciples in front of the Sanhedrin.
Paul likewise makes Christ crucified and risen again the center of his teaching, and so must we also bear witness, for if Christ were not arisen, what would the point be? It is the testimony of that Friday, and that Sunday morning, that gives meaning and justification to our gathering here, to remember again the glorious grace which we have received. Were Jesus not arisen, well, we have many moral teachers from around the world; what is one more? Were Jesus not arisen, what hope would there be in our faith? Were Jesus not arisen, why should the world heed our message?
But the tomb is empty, as the women related; Christ is arisen, and death's power is thus broken, to be utterly wiped away on the last day, when the old passes away and all is made new forever. It is these moments in history, in which salvation is realized, that are the foundation of our message to the world. The brokenness of humanity is something that anyone can see; human sinfulness is the one doctrine which can be empirically observed. But salvation is hidden from such inquiry; it can be found only in the church, not because the church owns it, but because it is the testimony of the the church, the memory of those sacred days, that brings the message of salvation to the world. Without us as its messengers, who would hear of Christ? Who would know that salvation is there, and is freely given, and may be taken for no greater price than confession, faith, and baptism? And when we say to others, “you should live as we teach, in the name of Christ,” who should heed us? We know that Jesus is the incarnate Son, and that his teaching is that of God on earth; but we know him first as Jesus crucified, buried, and risen again, and it is this which compels our worship, because it is in this that we see the fulfillment of the LORD God's saving purpose. And if it is how we see what is revealed, it is thus how we must show others the same divine revelation.
Christ is risen from the dead: that is our first message; come and be baptized: that is our second; and live together in the kingdom as Jesus taught, doing his work as we await the last days in faith, love, and hope: that is our third. One follows the other; they are not separate. So here we are, and what work must we do? Well, to live as Christ taught, of course, dead to sin in the sacrifice of his crucifixion, as Paul explained. But it is not simply a matter of living an upright and godly life in charity and purity of heart. No, to the best of our ability, and in the grace of the Spirit, we must carry out the will of the Father not only in abjuring sin, but in showing the Son to the world. Those outside the church need to see a reason for coming in, not just through our superior life (for at this we fail over and over), but through our superior knowledge: we know the story of salvation, and the world does not. The world chases after false gods: not only failing to see the LORD God as He is, and worshiping others in His place, but elevating human lusts and greed and impulses above all other principles, to the end that any kind of life together becomes predatory and abusive. We must offer them, instead, the one True God, incarnate in Jesus the only Christ, fully real and truly man, crucified at one place and time in Judaea while Pilate was procurator under the Emperor Tiberius, and risen again from the tomb in Jerusalem, and from thence returned to the heaven which is beyond our mortal and physical knowledge. As they are taught, and are baptized, and partake of the sacraments, then shall they know the Word Incarnate, and shall see the Godhead, and with us they may join in the work of the kingdom. And then with us they shall proclaim the mystery of faith:
Christ is risen!
Christ will come again!