“Death’s A Gardener At Best”
Jesus speaking of his resurrection before his crucifixion said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” The disciples at first thought he must have been speaking figuratively. No one expected him to rise from the dead.
The women in our gospel lesson this morning were coming to anoint a dead body. It did not occur to a single one of them to remark, “Say, remember how Jesus said multiple times that he would be tried and crucified and on the third day rise from the dead? Say, it’s the third day right now, let’s go check it out. It can’t hurt.”
Not a single one of them, not the women nor the disciples, thought he would rise. There goes the argument of the moderns who say ancient cultures were easily duped or would believe any foolish thing. They knew death was the end. Even the Jews who believed in a resurrection didn’t believe that just one man would rise by himself. They were waiting for a last day when all would rise, not just a risen Messiah.
Skeptics will look past the resurrection as some superstition of archaic people. The women and the disciples and many of the ancients did what many modern skeptics will not do. They looked at the evidence that was beyond their reason or understanding and were intellectually honest enough to be challenged by it. They let the evidence bring them to the conclusion that Jesus rose even when the evidence was scrutinized. The skeptics of our day and days past come up with all kinds of theories, but not one of them stands up to biblical and historical scrutiny. Some claim that Mark and the other gospel writers knew they were writing a myth, but all the evidence says otherwise. Mark in our gospel lesson for example made sure to name the eyewitnesses—three women. It’s even more interesting that Mark would not have chosen women if he had really wanted to convince people since in ancient cultures the testimony of women was not accepted as reliable. Yet, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John ignore the biases of their world and report that three women were the first eyewitnesses and why? Because, that was the truth.
That’s enough about skepticism. Look at the women at the tomb today. They go mourning to anoint Jesus’ body. They expect a heavy stone, a smelly tomb and a frozen corpse. Instead they find an open grave, empty tomb, and an angel with a divine message: “You seek Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here…But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee.” Then Mark’s gospel ends in an unexpected way. He says they were trembling, astonished, and afraid. This experience was so strange it scared the wits out of them.
Fear is the last emotion we think of on Easter, but maybe we should from time to time. If Jesus is risen from the dead think of what this means. It means someone has done the impossible, they’ve defeated the one great equalizer—death. It means that everything that he said about himself is true. He is God in the flesh. He is the Lord of heaven and earth. He is the sacrificial victim who received your sin and death and put an end to them both in his body. He will come again just as he said he will! If this is true, and it is true, we should tremble at the thought. The man who died on Good Friday is God. God came down and identified with us and bore what we could not! He has overcome everything that afflicts us day in and day out. Pain, sorrow, death, loss, sin, loneliness, all have been taken into himself as the God-man and overcome by the power of his resurrection.
“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Do you realize what Jesus means here? He’s saying that at one point in time death was an executioner, but now that he is risen from the dead death can only be a gardener. Jesus, the grain of wheat, has fallen into the earth and died and sprouted forth with much fruit. His resurrection bears with it the fruit of all resurrections that will happen on the last day. Your resurrection!
Though this gospel ends with women in fear there is a wonderful word of grace in it. The angel reminds the women that Jesus told them this would happen and that they should go and tell the disciples to go to Galilee. So where’s the grace? Did you notice, that the angel especially makes sure they tell Peter. Peter—the denier of his Lord. Of the eleven disciples left he had screwed up royally. He had sinned terribly. If the women had come back and said the disciples are to go to Galilee Peter would have not gone. He would not think himself a disciple, but Jesus applies his grace to Peter from the message of the angel. “Peter, yes you sinned, yes you failed big, now come to me and be mine again.” Jesus would pour on his grace forgiving Peter three times for his three denials.
That grace is yours too brothers and sisters. The inner skeptic in every human heart that would deny the wonder of this day is invited by Christ’s forgiveness to come and proclaim that He is risen! His forgiveness is there for you and here is the wonder that we have in all this. The greatest sinners, the big screw ups like Peter, become the deepest in repentance and the ones who understand all the more the sweetness of God’s grace and the awesome message of the resurrection. The resurrection means Christ’s paid the penalty for our sin on the cross in full. When a prisoner serves his sentence he leaves the prison a free man. Jesus paid our penalty and we know it was paid in full because he walked from the grave a free man. He gives you the freedom he won for you! He gives you life and forgiveness in his name.
This means anything that life can throw at you cannot be the end of you. Loneliness cannot end you for at the resurrection you have the friendship of all the saints in heaven to look forward to. Sickness cannot end you for you have the promise of a fully restored and resurrected body that will live forever. Death is not your executioner; he’s a gardener at best. You have been planted into the ground with Christ in baptism and you have been raised in Christ’s resurrection—all that you have ahead of you is fruitfulness. For you are the spoils of Christ’s great victory and planting. You are his harvest in the forgiveness of your sins. A blessed and happy Easter to all of you. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
SDG—Rev. Eric M. Estes