Throughout this Lenten season we have been looking at some of the symbols of Lent, those images or items that remind us of the Lenten season and those symbols or items which help us to prepare our hearts and minds both for Good Friday and for this morning, Easter morning and our Easter, resurrection celebration. Our symbol, or icon for this morning is the image of the Open Grave and indeed, the empty tomb, the image that reminds us that we worship, not a dead god but a living God, a risen Lord and Savior.
But, let us go back a bit. On Thursday, this past Thursday, the day we call Maundy Thursday we followed along with Jesus as He gathered with His disciples, even the twelve apostles, those twelve men set apart by Jesus to be the one’s to carry their eyewitness account of the events that were about to take place to the rest of the world. On Maundy Thursday Jesus, the good Jew He was, gathered His disciples to celebrate the Passover Seder, that same celebration that the children of Israel had been celebrating for almost fifteen hundred years. The only difference is that Jesus took the original Passover Celebration and made it something new for us His New Testament church. He took the middle matzah, gave thanks, broke it and gave it to the disciples with the words that they were eating His true body, which He would be giving as He allowed Himself to be sacrificed on the altar of the cross for the forgiveness of sins. And then He took the third cup of wine, the cup of Redemption, blessed it and gave it to His disciples telling them to drink His true blood, again, offered on the altar of the cross for their forgiveness. In this manner of eating and drinking they would be participating in His life, death and resurrection.
Following this meal, Jesus went with His disciples to the garden of Gethsemane, a spot He often liked to take His disciples in order to spend time in pray. Three times He prayed that God would remove the cup of suffering which was before Him, dying on the cross. Three times He prayed, God’s will be done. Finally, being strengthened by the Father and by angels, He was ready to face what lay ahead.
Judas brought temple guards to arrest Jesus, the one he betrayed with a kiss of friendship and peace. The motley crew arrested Jesus and took Him to the chief priest and the Sanhedrin to stand trial.
All day Friday, and actually from Thursday night on, Jesus faced trials. They were not fair, just trials, but rigged trials, trials intended to reach a verdict of guilty and a penalty of the death sentence. All the trials were shams and outright fraud, but again justice was not what was being sought.
Jesus was put on trial and in between the mocking trials He was beaten and mocked by the soldiers. The religious trials were set to convict Jesus of blasphemy, punishable by death, but because the religious conviction would not stand in a civil case a civil convection had to be made as well. The charge was treason and the verdict, reluctantly given by Pilate, was guilty as well. The punishment, death.
The sentence of death was to be carried out immediately and it was to be carried out by crucifixion. As a warning to others, Jesus was paraded through town carrying His own cross and then taken out of town to a hill called Golgotha, the place of the skull and the place where many had been crucified, and there He was crucified between two known, convicted criminals.
On Saturday, we waited, much like Jesus disciples, family and friends. Saturday was the day of rest and so nothing could be done on that day. Everyone was eagerly waiting for Sunday morning in order to complete what had not been done so hastily on Friday, the preparation of Jesus body for a proper burial.
Sunday was the big day, the day that the women went to prepare the body, but the day they did not find a body, rather they found an empty tomb and an angel proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus had descended from heaven, taken on human flesh and blood, suffered and died and now the news is that He has risen from the dead.
Jesus had risen from the dead, at least that is what was being said. That is what the angels said. That is actually what Jesus said would happen before He died. That is what the guards said, the soldiers who were guarding the tomb. The news is that Jesus is alive.
Yes, Jesus is alive and He showed Himself alive many times. For forty days He showed Himself to many people that He was not dead, but that He had risen from the dead and is alive.
What does this mean? If you study other religions one thing you can find, that is you can find the grave of their founder. The founder, the person who began all the other idolatress religions of the world have a person, a founder, who is dead. You can go and see their grave.
This is not the case with the Christian faith. The Christian faith is faith in a living, risen God so there is no grave. The tomb is empty. Thus the open grave is the image which reminds us that Jesus has risen from the dead.
There is no grave, no tomb and an open grave because there is no body. Even Jesus enemies, even the Jewish religion admits that there is no body. The false religions attribute the lack of a body to the disciples stealing the body, but we know that is not the case. And again, the fact is they admit an empty tomb and no body to be found. There is no body because Jesus rose from the dead.
Jesus is arisen. Jesus is alive. We worship a living God who did it all for us. God’s demand is perfection, “be perfect as God is perfect.” We cannot be perfect. We are conceived and born in sin. Every inclination of our hearts is evil all the time. Our will has been tainted by sin so that we have no free will, only the will to refuse and reject God and any and all of His good gifts and blessings. So, God sent His Son, Jesus for us. Jesus was perfect. Jesus is God, living in heaven, yet He gave up heaven and all the glory that was His in heaven in order to become human. At conception, by the power of the Holy Spirit, God took on human form in the person of Jesus being born of a woman, Mary, injecting Himself into human history.
Jesus lived perfectly, obeying all God’s laws and commands perfectly, for us, because we cannot. Jesus fulfilled all the promises concerning God’s promise to send a Messiah, a Savior. Jesus was perfection for us.
And then, of His own free will, Jesus took our sin upon Himself. Jesus took all our sins and the sins of all people since the beginning of creation and all people as yet to be conceived until the day of judgement. Jesus took all sin, of all people, of all places, of all times upon Himself. He who was without sin, He who knew no sin became sin for us.
And then, Jesus suffered and died, paying the price for sin, eternal spiritual death. The price for sin was set in the beginning. The price for sin was and is death, physical death and eternal spiritual death, hell. Because of His perfection, because of His innocence, Jesus was able and of His own free will suffered the price, paid the price for our sin for us in our place.
But death and the grave had no hold over Him. On the third day Jesus rose from the dead, defeating sin, death and the devil. What Jesus did He did not as an example for us to follow, because we would never be able to follow His example, because of our imperfection. We can never reach up to God, that is why He came down to us. Jesus came down to us to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Jesus did what He did because of His great love for us, because He created us to love us.
And when our last hour arrives, either when the Lord returns or when we pass on from this world and go to Him, at that very moment, Jesus will give us His white robes of righteousness, and perfection. We will be given, not what we deserve, but what He earned and paid for us, eternal life in heaven.
This morning we rejoice and sing. The open grave and the empty tomb remind us that our future is bright, our future is set. Heaven is our home. We worship a living God.
He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! Amen.