*Manuscript from a sermon that I preached on January 4, 2018
When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” 4 And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. 5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. 6 And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
The Sabbath has past. The Sabbath was (and still is in Judaism) a time when everything stops. There’s no buying or selling, no working, no going to anoint the dead. And the three women we encounter in this passage had to wait during that time to buy the spices they needed to go anoint their dead leader in a final act of devotion.
We start this passage on the road with three women– Mary Magdalene, Mary, and Salome. It’s early in the morning, the sun had just risen, and they hurry to Jesus’ tomb.
Two of these women (the Marys) saw Jesus crucified, saw him die, and saw Joseph put Jesus’ dead body in the tomb. They walk along the road, gripped by grief but also devotion. There hope is lost, their messiah is dead.
And maybe you can relate to their pain and grief, to dead hope. Maybe you’ve lost a loved one and wondered when your heart would heal. Or maybe you’ve battled with depression or addiction and feel like the darkness will never lift or that hope is futile because nothing seems to change.
And how much greater is this?! Jesus was supposed to save them, was supposed to be the Messiah, but they saw him die by the hands of the Roman government. It seems that all hope is lost, the one they loved and followed is gone. It seemed that darkness had won, that their hope was distinguished.
And so in their pain, they lament, “What will we do about this stone?” It was too large for them to move. Jesus’ disciples scattered and are hiding so the women can’t reach out to them to help. They walk up to the tomb, hoping that someone, anyone will be there to help so that they can give their last act of devotion to their beloved rabbi.
But then they look up and the stone is already gone! It’s rolled away but, at first, they don’t see anyone there. How could this be? So they walk closer, they enter the tomb, and are greeted by a “young man,” an angel dressed in white. And they are alarmed! None of this is what they expected.
And then, the angel gives them the most exciting news–Jesus from Nazareth, the one they saw die has been raised! Hope is restored! Christ is risen! In a moment, their hope is renewed.
But this good news, this restored hope was not just for them. Jesus’ resurrection gives us an unshakeable hope and promise. Jesus has has emptied death of its power; it is as empty as the tomb in which he lay. He was raised, not to die again. His death and resurrection destroyed the consequences of sin– death, decay, and destruction. Jesus is victorious!
His resurrection is the start of all things new. His death atones for our sins and his resurrection gives us new life.
And isn’t this especially good news in the New Year? New Years is a time when we like to reflect on the past and look towards the future. People love saying, “New year, new you!” We make resolutions that almost none of us will keep and try to make up for our past failures. It’s a time when we feel the pressure to do better, be more, and do more. We try to find hope for the emptiness we feel or the failures we’ve endured through all sorts of things. We look to diets, to new programs and plans, to self-help programs to make us be better versions of ourselves.
We are told and tempted to trust in our own strength and our own weak ability to change ourselves. But when we really reflect, we see that we aren’t really new at all. We fall back into old habits, keep making the same mistakes. On January 1 we may commit to living a healthier life but by January 2nd we may be stuffing our faces with leftover Christmas candy.
When our hope is in ourselves, in others, or in some plan or program, or in some “thing,” we will always be disappointed. Because while they may make us feel better for a while, they will eventually breakdown or fall short.
But when we die to ourselves and trust and hope in Jesus Christ, we actually are made new.
As Paul writes in Romans 6:3-5
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
In order to be made new, we have to give up hoping in ourselves and we have to die to ourselves. We have to trust in Jesus’ death and resurrection for our salvation. When we do, the Holy Spirit unites us to Jesus. His resurrection is not just a past event that we celebrate once a year on Easter but is a present reality. Jesus’ resurrection means that we actually can be made clean, can be forgiven, can be given a new life, given our true identity in him, because he has triumphed over sin, death, and the devil.
And, the resurrection is something we can look towards with hope because Jesus’ resurrection means that we don’t have to fear death because as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:14-56
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
When Christ comes again, he will make all things new, he will raise believers up into bodies that will not decay or die again. When we trust in Jesus and cling to him, we are given new life that we can’t get on our own. We have a hope that is assured. We can look towards our own bodily resurrection when Jesus returns.
But this hope isn’t just for us either. The angel tells the two Marys and Salome to go out and tell the disciples and Peter that Jesus is going before them to Galilee. These women, who in Greco-Roman society may not have been trusted witnesses or sources, are the one God chooses to be the first witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection. And not only that, Jesus is going to meet the same disciples who fled from him and to restore Peter who denied him three times. Although they failed, even though they abandoned him in his hour of greatest need, Jesus still reaches out to them and seeks reconciliation.
But all of this is overwhelming for the three women. This is all so unexpected. Have you ever experienced something so great, so wonderful, that it actually made you afraid? Maybe the birth of your first child, or the moment when you say “I do” on your wedding day? Or the sight of a loved one finally healed?
That is probably only an ounce of what these women felt. The dead body they expected was gone and an angel told them that Jesus was raised from the dead and would be going before them to meet them! If that’s not a little wonderfully terrifying, I don’t know what is.
So Mark writes that they run away from the tomb, seized with fear. And, if we think about it, we may have done the same thing. Yet, God’s plan still prevailed, despite his disciples’ failures. His gospel went out and here we are today, proclaiming his life, death, and resurrection.
He doesn’t need only the seminary educated folks or people wearing collars to proclaim his Gospel. No, he chose these three women that society looked down upon to go out first to share the good news that he had triumphed over sin and death. He calls all of us to proclaim his victory to a weary world.
So when the failures come in our life, when we feel that we may have finally “done it” this time, or that all hope is lost– we, like the disciples and like the women, can know that the resurrection means we can have a new life, it means that God actually wants to have a relationship with us. Our God is ruler over all–even death. He wants to raise us up on the last day so that we can be with him forever.
Because of Christ, we don’t have to look at our past, present, or future with lost hope but will the knowledge that God keeps his promises and that he guarantees us new life through the work of Jesus. Now let us cling to that and go out and tell others that Jesus is risen and new life can be granted through him.