Fulfillment of the Covenant
April 4, 2021 Speaker: Rev. Jack Meehan Series: Midweek Lent 2021: The Passion According to St. Mark
Topic: Biblical Verse: Mark 16:1–16:8
The Resurrection of Our Lord: Easter Sunday
April 4, 2021
“Fulfillment of the Covenant”
Martin Luther, the sixteenth-century reformer from whom our Lutheran Church takes its name, wrote: “Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in the books alone, but in every leaf in springtime.” Those words seem especially appropriate on this Easter Sunday as we gather in the beauty of God’s creation to celebrate the new creation that has come through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In this season when new life is springing up all around us in the natural world, we sing of Easter joy. In the glory of springtime in this outdoor Sanctuary, we give thanks for Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and the grave. For those who belong to Jesus, death is not the final word. For those who belong to Jesus, every Sunday is Easter Sunday in honor of Jesus’ resurrection. Today is the first day of the week. Today is resurrection day, and we say “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!” On this Easter Sunday, the theme for this message is “Fulfillment of the Covenant.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
Week by week through the season of Lent, we have looked at the Old Testament and Gospel lessons for each Sunday through the lens of God’s covenant; that his, his pledge of commitment to be in relationship with his people. We’ve done so under the theme “People of the Covenant.” Today we finish up this series as we look at God’s promise to his people through the prophet Isaiah. Here, in today’s Old Testament lesson (Isaiah 25:6-9), God makes a powerful and amazing covenant promise: “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” To everyone living in darkness and in the shadow of death, the Lord God promised that He himself would take the ultimate “Big Gulp,” not the drink from 7-11, but that the Lord God, the Author and Giver of life, would himself “swallow up death forever.” Today on Easter Sunday, we celebrate God making good on that promise. In Jesus’ resurrection, the power of death and the grave are shattered. Through Jesus who was dead but now lives eternally, death itself must die. That is the glorious, amazing, and life-changing truth of Easter. Today we celebrate the fulfillment of God’s covenant with his people.
The account of Jesus’ resurrection in Mark’s Gospel (Mark 16:1-8) ends very abruptly. There are no appearances of the risen Christ in Mark; no walk on the road to Emmaus; no reassuring words to fearful disciples; no breakfast on the beach – none of this. There’s nothing but this abrupt, stunned, fearful ending. Scholars and theologians have long agreed that the bracketed verses which follow today’s Gospel lesson (Mark 16:9-20) are not original to the Gospel text. The earliest manuscripts do not contain these verses. After Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome found the stone rolled away from the tomb, and heard the message of the angel of God who told them that Jesus was not in the tomb, but had risen from the dead, and that they were to tell the disciples and Peter about all of this, this is how it closes: “And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (Mark 16:8). Huh? That’s it? Where’s the Easter joy and gladness? Where’s the rejoicing and celebrating? Where’s the holy “high 5” and victory dance? This seems pretty flat and anticlimactic. Or does it?
Those women who were the first to go to Jesus’ tomb had witnessed first-hand Jesus’ crucifixion and his burial (Mark 15:40, 47). They had seen all of this with their own eyes. They didn’t go to the tomb on Sunday morning expecting to find it empty. But it was, and that’s the dilemma because an empty tomb could mean lots of different things. A word of revelation was needed to explain all of this. God’s messenger, his angel, was sent to provide that revelation. Mark uses a word that no other New Testament writer uses, and that word “alarmed” (16:5) really doesn’t do the original word justice (έξεθαμβήθησαν). It goes way beyond being alarmed. It means you are so startled and awe-struck that you can’t even talk; you are speechless; sort of frozen in place. In Mark’s Gospel, whenever human beings encounter the all-powerful God in the Person of Jesus Christ, the consistent reaction is always fear (Mark 4:41; 5:15, 33, 36; 6:50; 9:6, 32). When what is finite meets the Infinite, when what is mortal meets the Immortal, when sinful man encounters holy God, is it any wonder that astonishment and fear take over? Despite all our claims of being modern, advanced, enlightened people, we are no different than those women on that first Easter morning. We, too, would be filled with alarm, trembling, and astonishment. And yet, the message of the angel to those women – and to us – is a word of great comfort and peace, just like the message of the angel to the shepherds on that first Christmas: “Fear not.” “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” (Mark 16:6-7). That is the fulfillment of the covenant. That is the good news that makes an eternal difference in our lives.
The risen Lord Jesus is out ahead of us. He’s gone before us to Galilee and to all the other places where we ourselves may go. The risen Lord Jesus will not stay nailed down, sealed shut, all tied up and secure. We like things in life that can be nailed down; all tied up and secure; boxed and packaged for our convenience. Don’t think for a moment that we can do this with Jesus! He’s not in the grave! He is risen from the dead and loose in the world! If the grave could not hold Jesus, neither will our puny plans and designs. He has gone before us! In the midst of so many things in life that we cannot control, let alone understand, the risen Lord Jesus meets us where we are; in all our fear, uncertainty, and need. The risen Lord Jesus meets us where we are to bestow upon us his blessings of forgiveness, peace, and joy through the power of his resurrection. Watchman Nee (Ni Tuosheng or Nee T’o-sheng, 1903-1972) was a twentieth-century Chinese Christian leader who did much to bring the good news of the crucified and risen Christ to the people of China. After the Communist Revolution of the mid to late-1940s, he was persecuted for his faith and spent the last twenty years of his life in prison (watchman nee - Bing). Among his many writings, Watchman Nee wrote this: “Our old history ends with the cross; our new history begins with our resurrection.” Easter Sunday and Jesus’ resurrection from the dead begins our new history. That is what we celebrate today.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.