This morning we celebrate, with great joy, not one but two miracles.
The first miracle is the central claim of our faith, the event around which everything else revolves: the resurrection of our Lord.
Jesus of Nazareth was brutally executed by an unholy alliance of political and religious authority. Humanly speaking, that is where Jesus’ story should have ended.
But we are here today because God did not allow Jesus’ story to end there, because death could not hold Jesus, because the tomb was empty, because Christ is risen, because Christ is alive.
Christians celebrate the good news of Christ’s resurrection every Sunday. But we celebrate the good news of resurrection with particular joy today as we remember that first Easter morning nearly two thousand years ago.
We just heard Mark’s account of that morning. Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome went to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body. They weren’t sure they would be able to do even that, given the big stone blocking the entrance to the tomb. But they went because they loved Jesus and because they had to express their grief somehow.
Instead of a dead body, they found an empty tomb, and a young man dressed in white. And they heard the incredible news that Jesus was raised, and that Jesus was going ahead of them to Galilee, where he wanted them to join him.
That is the great Easter miracle. With the empty tomb, everything changes.
The women were not yet prepared to understand the full significance of what they were hearing. Who would be? Even today we can’t understand its full significance.
But this much we do know. In that moment, Christ defeated death itself. In that moment, Christ overcame injustice, violence, oppression, and hatred. In that moment, God’s life and God’s love was revealed as the deepest truth of our world, despite all appearances to the contrary. That moment was God’s victory and the pledge of God’s coming kingdom.
The empty tomb meant all of that and more. And that is what we mean when we say Christ is risen. And that is why we say, “Alleluia!”
Christ’s resurrection is, of course, the big news, the good news, the good news of great joy, that we celebrate this morning.
But we celebrate a second miracle as well, one that is almost as important and almost as relevant for us. That is the miracle of what happens in the minds and the hearts of Christ’s followers when they hear the good news of resurrection.
To appreciate this second miracle, we need to remember the disciples’ state of mind immediately before they received the good news of resurrection.
Despite the fact that Jesus had repeatedly warned them what was going to happen, his arrest clearly shocked and terrified his disciples. They all fled. As Jesus was taken away, Peter had enough courage to follow at a distance. But when people asked Peter if he knew Jesus, he denied it with an oath (Mark 14:71). At that point, the male disciples went into hiding. With only one exception, they did not venture out even to see Jesus die.
The women did a little better. They stood at the foot of the cross. And, as we heard in our reading for this morning, they went to Jesus’ tomb. But not even the women believed Jesus would actually rise from the dead.
All of the disciples, male and female, were shocked, frightened, and grieving. They had no idea what to do, or where to go, or how to make sense of the terrible events of the last few days. They were, quite literally, lost because, as best they could tell, evil and death had won. In that state, the disciples were not prepared for good news of any sort, much less The Good News, the good news of resurrection.
We see that in the response of the women to the good news when they hear it. “They went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them.” Their first reaction was to say “nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
That’s not exactly the reaction we would expect! Once again, the story seems to have come to a tragic conclusion. Even if Jesus has risen, his followers seem to be so broken by his death that they cannot carry on. To drive home the danger, that is where the earliest version of the Gospel of Mark ends.
But Marks knows, and we know, that the story does not end there.
Jesus appears to his demoralized followers. Jesus blesses them. Jesus tells them not to be afraid. Jesus breathes his Spirit into them.
And the second miracle happens. Those terrified, broken men and women experience the gift of new hope and new life in Christ. Jesus’ followers taste resurrection for themselves. And it changes them forever.
We, too, can experience the second resurrection miracle.
As Christians, we look forward to eternal life with God. But we don’t have to wait until we die to taste resurrection. We can know Jesus Christ right now. We can experience the miracle of Christ’s resurrection right now.
We get a little taste of resurrection every time we gather to hear God’s holy Word, every time we share in the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood. We get a little taste of resurrection as we ourselves become part of Christ’s body and share in Christ’s mission to a hurting world.
So we come together this morning to celebrate the miracle of Christ’s resurrection nearly two thousand years ago.
And we come together because we are hungry for a taste of resurrection in our own lives. We come together to celebrate and to open ourselves up to the second resurrection miracle, the one that happens in us when we encounter our resurrected Lord, just as it happened to Christ’s disciples two thousand years ago when they encountered their resurrected Lord.
We come together because we are hungry for true joy and true life even now. We come together because we long for Christ to heal our brokenness, to shine a light in our darkness, to help us to know, to really know, God.
Back on Ash Wednesday, at the beginning of Lent seven long weeks ago, many of us were anointed with ashes, and we heard the grim words, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you will return.” That was a reminder that we will all die.
But on this day, we say that death does not have the last word, that Christ defeated death, that Christ died and rose again so that we, too, might live.
And so today, immediately following communion, I invite you to linger for a moment at the altar rail so that I can anoint you with holy oil and bless you with the good news of this morning: “God’s love is stronger than death, and to God’s love you are returning.”
That blessing is a reminder of Jesus’ miraculous resurrection. And it is an invitation to experience with a new power the second miracle, the miracle of resurrection in your own life.
And that is my prayer for all of us: that we may know for ourselves the power of Christ’s resurrection. In the name of Jesus Christ, who died and rose for us. Amen. Alleluia!