John 20:1-18 and Psalm 118:15-29
Gaven M. Mize
A reading from St. John Chrysostom’s Paschal Homily, “O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.”
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Psalm writer records for us this day, “This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it.” What then is the gate? Where is this gate from which the righteous shall enter and do we have the hope? We certainly can say that we have been righteous and that by no means do we have the right to enter through the gate of the Lord. Why then have we gathered today? What did we come to hear and to see? If every footstep we take sinks us deeper into the grave, how can we ever walk through the gate of our Lord. The wages of sin is death and we admire our own ability to dig our own graves through that sin. What then shall we say for ourselves? What words can leave our lips that would be a the confession of a righteous man? St. John answers this for us as he echoes St. Paul, “O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns.” And so we join our voices to this same confession, “Christ is Risen, He is risen indeed.”
When Advent comes around we enjoy putting up our nativity images. We place outside the church here the scene where Jesus, Mary, and Joseph confess to the community that we have reason to celebrate here at Augustana. And we make sure that the shepherds are just in the right place and the angels are flying overhead to proclaim that God has done the most marvelous thing; He has become man. And we love those angels. Because those angels are a symbol of hope and a promise not yet fulfilled, from God. And today we see those angels once more. This time they are not bringing the good news of great joy that Christ has been born into the flesh, but rather that He is the first born from the grave. There the angels sit, two of them, where Jesus is supposed to be. The angels sit where Christ’s body once laid; where we should be laying. But, there is no body here. There is no cute baby in a manger. There also, is no destroyed body that we cleaved by the cross. There is simply no one there. Then those same Angels, sitting at what men thought would be the final resting place of Jesus, ask, “Why are you crying?” But, the one who would answer her next hangs our entire salvation, Christ, alive; death, crippled; Hell, overthrown. “Who is it that you are looking for?” Christ asks. Who, indeed?
What Mary heard next was the confirmation of all of it. The law and the prophets. The tree of death in the Garden of Eden has been replaced with the tree of life. Mary hears her name. And we, who fight so hard by our own sin against God, what do we hear? What can we expect for all of our hurting and begrudging against God and one another? We are not righteous to step foot toward the gate of the Lord. And we certainly should not be standing here looking at the Angels in the tomb that holds no blessed body. For this tomb is holy ground sanctified by the body of our Lord and our feet are filthy. But our Psalmist also reminds us that God has become our salvation. There we stand with nothing to offer God except for an empty tomb. And that is the point. We have nothing to offer; but Christ has offered it all. The cross was filled with the body of our Lord, so that the tomb would be left clean. And the death that the tomb was mean to hold now holds nothing but the proclamation that the Lord has risen for you. Your feet are dirty and your hearts are full of sin, also the price has been paid. The righteousness of God has been placed upon you passively and the body that meant to hold nothing but death, now proclaims the same Easter proclamation as the angels. “He is not here; but He is in the font.”
Too often here in this area of the country we are asked, “If you died today where would you go and what would you say?” It is rather simple for us to answer. As washed and renewed Christians we simply point to the tomb and answer, “He is not here. He is risen. But through my baptism, I have been forever connected to the merits of my Lord Jesus Christ. I have died the death of Jesus, but I have also been united in His resurrection. So, for me, as I go to the Altar of the Lord and I call upon the name of the Lord, I will claim nothing except what has been given to me, the righteousness of God Himself. And the righteous shall enter through the gate of the Lord.”
St, John Chrysostom has perfectly pointed out to us all through the Lenten season that Christ is our advocate and our champion over the grave. Even as we have been contemplative and repentant during our forty day journey our contemplation and repentance has held fast the promise kept by Christ that we have been forgiven. Dear Christians, know that you have been redeemed. You have been washed in the waters of Holy Baptism and have been given over to the grace of our Lord. May the words of St. John become our words on this Easter morning, “Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being raised from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages.” Amen.
In that name of + Jesus. Amen.
Father Mize serves Augustana Lutheran Church in Hickory, North Carolina.