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“The End of the Road?”
Mark 16:1-8


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Easter Sunday—April 8, 2012

Christ has risen from the dead! God the Father has crowned him with glory and honor! Alleluia!

The Gospel of Mark reports that as Jesus hung dying on the cross, “Some women were there watching from a distance.  .  .  In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs.  .  .  [they] had come up with him to Jerusalem.” For three years these women had been on the road with Jesus and his Apostles, hearing him preach, seeing his miracles, caring for his needs.  But, on Easter Sunday morning as they walk to Jesus’ tomb they think they have come to the end of the road.

“When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body.  Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?’”

Just a week before, on Palm Sunday, Jesus had ridden triumphantly into Jerusalem, amid huge crowds, shouts of joy, and waving palm branches.  But, the week which followed hadn’t gone the way the cheering crowds expected, or the women who came to Jerusalem with Jesus had hoped.  They expected and hoped that he would be welcomed into the capital city by the leaders of their people and received as the long-awaited Messiah.  But, instead of being welcomed by the leaders, immediately Jesus came into sharp conflict with them when he confronted their corruption and threw the moneychangers out of the Temple.  The tension grew as he taught against them in the Temple courts, and a growing cloud of doom hung over Jerusalem as the leaders conspired against Jesus and plotted to kill him.

On Maundy Thursday, he celebrated the Passover with his disciples.  But, it was not the usual joyous occasion.  For, Jesus solemnly told them that this would be their Last Supper together: “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.  For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”

Later that night, betrayed by one of his own Apostles, he was arrested and brought before the high priest and other leaders.  Early on Good Friday, they handed him over to the governor Pontius Pilate to be executed.  He was forced to carry his own cross to Calvary, the place of execution, and at noon he was nailed to the cross.  The earth was enshrouded in darkness for three hours as he hung dying.  The faithful women watched their beloved Jesus moan and gasp for each breath until finally he breathed his last.  After his death a secret admirer named Joseph of Arimathea wrapped his lifeless body in a shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, a cave recently carved out in a nearby garden.  Finally, a massive stone was rolled into place over the entrance to the tomb.

Luke’s Gospel says, “The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it.  Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes.  .  .  On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.”  For three years these women had been on the road with Jesus and his Apostles, hearing him preach, seeing his miracles, caring for his needs.  But, when he cried out from the cross of “It is finished!” it seemed their journey with Jesus was over.  They were now on their way to the tomb to perform for him one last loving act, to anoint his dead body with spices and perfume.  And that would be the end of the road.

“Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?’” They had watched as Jesus’ body was placed in the tomb and the stone rolled into place.  So, they were sure that when they arrived they would find his body still in the tomb, and the massive stone blocking their way at the end of the road.

“But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled away.”  There, at the end of the road, was not the expected roadblock, but an open tomb!  “As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.” They had expected to find Jesus’ lifeless body.  Instead, they saw an angel.  The road had suddenly taken a strange and unexpected turn.

“But [the angel] said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed.  You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He is risen! He is not here.  See the place where they laid him.”  They thought they had followed Jesus to the end of the road.  They had seen him crucified.  They had seen him die.  They had seen him placed in the tomb.  They thought it was all over—until they heard the amazing words of the angel, “He is risen! He is not here.” 

For all of us, death and the grave certainly seem like the end of the road.  But, with those amazing words, “He is risen! He is not here,” God declares that death and the grave are not the end of the road—not for Jesus, and not for you.  For, God’s own Son died as the final, perfect sacrifice for the sin of the world, and by his resurrection he defeated death and the grave.

“Because I live,” Jesus promised, “you also shall live.”  You need no longer fear that deadly duo, death and the grave.  As the ancient prayer for Easter says, “You have overcome death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life.”  For you and all who trust in Jesus, death and the grave are no longer the end of the road.  The stone blocking your way to heaven has already been rolled away.  For, by his resurrection, Jesus opened the gate to heaven, and extended the road for you, through the grave to eternal life.

“They asked each other, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?’  But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled away.”   What is the meaning of Easter?  Why are we gathered to celebrate this day?  Because Jesus’ resurrection from the dead means that your road through life doesn’t end at the grave.  The stone of death no longer blocks the way.  For you and all who trust in Jesus your life goes on, past the stone, through the grave, all the way to your heavenly home.

Amen.

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