April 20, 2014: The Garden of Glory

Let us pray: Dear Savior, on this day we rejoice with all the saints and angels in heaven over Your victory over death. Through it we have been set free from our greatest enemy. Through it we know exactly where we’re going when we leave this valley of tears. Through it we are given confidence and boldness to face whatever adversity life throws our way. Today we give You our most heartfelt praise by giving You our hearts. Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE GLORIOUS RISEN SAVIOR!

TEXT: Matthew 28: 1-10

He is Risen! He is Risen, indeed! We’ve had a tough winter. Will Spring ever come? How often have we said that over the past few weeks? Yet, the crocus’ are up, the daffodils are green, and soon the azaleas will bloom. Even my apple trees are preparing to please the eye with blossom. It makes you wonder what it looked like in Eden before Adam and Eve messed everything up.

Spring gives beauty to the eye and calms the soul. With winter, we’ve seen how sin mars such beauty. But, we also are given a glimpse of just how glorious the garden of heaven is, the garden that awaits. An even better view is provided us by God in THE GARDEN OF GLORY, the garden where Christ’s body had been placed. It was here that the women journeyed to on that first Easter morn. They were anxious to finish giving Christ a proper burial, but in reality all their concern and fretting would prove totally unnecessary.

I

An earthquake accompanied their arrival at the tomb. What an amazing display of God’s power! It seems it was simultaneous with the advent of the angel into our world. He was a mighty prince of heaven, so powerful he simply tossed the stone aside like a toy. Even those battle-hardened soldiers quaked and ran away from him in fright.

But he was only a minion, a servant of Someone with much greater power. Angels don’t have the power to defeat death—but Christ did! That’s the angel’s message, too. “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

Jesus didn’t just cheat death, He met it head-on and conquered it! His body was lifeless, cold and empty when they put Him there 3 days before. But then it warmed, it came to life, His soul re-entered His body and He shed that linen shroud. He defeated death, not just for Himself, but for all of us. He arose for the entire human race. His lungs filled with earthly air. He walked and talked and later ate—all on terra firma. As St. Paul later says: Christ swallowed up death in His Easter victory! And now this same Christ says: “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.” Christ’s glory is the glory of power!

On the cross, Jesus set aside the full use of His power. He wanted to suffer and die for us. He wanted to feel our pain—in every way. Yes, God felt the pain of death. But then He took His life back, making full use of His power. This is called: His state of exaltation. In this state He passed right through the rock walls of the tomb with His glorious body. He was no longer confined to the laws of physics. The Bible says: “God appointed him to be head over everything,” and that “he fills everything in every way.” The angel didn’t remove the stone to let Christ out. No, he opened the tomb so that the women and others could see that Jesus had truly arisen from the dead.

II

When we plant a garden we expect something to spring up. Those who planted Jesus’ dead body in that garden didn’t expect that at all. And yet, our Savior springs back to life, doesn’t He? Where does that leave us? He’s in glory and we’re still on this earth. Are we left to fend for ourselves and make it through death on our own? NO! The glory that radiates from that garden is not just the glory of power, it is also a glory of grace.

Death is frightening. What will happen to our children when we die? What about the pain, the medical costs, the huge hole we’ll leave in so many hearts? We fear the moment of crossing into death itself. We look back on our lives and tally them up. Did we live to our fullest? Could we have been better? Did we leave a tangle of weeds and destruction behind? What will the Divine Judge think of us? How will He judge us since He sees everything? How many people journey into death wracked by such guilt or by doubt?

Yet, the glory from the garden of the empty tomb is a glory of grace. Consider the pains the angel took to alleviate the women’s fears. He cared nothing for the quaking soldiers. But he reached out to the women in the gentlest and friendliest manner and told them, “Do not be afraid.” He reminded them of Jesus’ own words. He showed them the empty tomb. He underlined this news by asking them to take it to the disciples. Such a glory of grace!

But, it doesn’t end there. As the women leave to carry out the angel’s command, Jesus meets them. He’s the opposite of threatening. He comes in His old familiar, friendly way. They can even run up and embrace Him. Listen again to our lesson: “So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. ‘Greetings,’ he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.'”

Did you catch it? Jesus calls His disciples His brothers. Even after entering His state of exaltation Jesus hasn’t forgotten about them, or us. He hasn’t forgotten why He came and that He’s one of us. He came to make us right with God. He came to pay to God Almighty the penalty for all our sins. He came to triumph over our greatest enemy and our greatest fear: death. His resurrection is proof that He succeeded. And to all who put their confidence and trust in Jesus there is only friendliness, love, goodness, grace, kindness and generosity from God. Past sins are forgotten and never dredged up again. All is forgiven. Even death is no longer a punishment for sin but simply a doorway into greater glory.

After His exaltation and later on His ascension into heaven, our Lord still does not leave us alone to fend for ourselves. He still comes in familiar ways—His voice through the Pastor absolving us of our sins, the gentle splash of water in our baptism, and the tangible evidence of His body and blood under the mask of bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper. The women clung to Christ on that first Easter. It comforted them. We cling to the same Christ today when He comforts us in His Word and Sacraments. And all that is meant to convey one singular truth: that we will never, ever, have to die alone.

That Garden of Glory was just that: a glorious place. It was a forerunner of an even more glorious garden that awaits each of us through faith in Jesus—the garden of heaven. And all this goes to show how infinitely greater Christianity is than all those other fake religions in this world. For in Christianity God does 100% of the giving and we do 100% of the receiving. Yes, He graciously leaves nothing to chance when it comes to saving our souls and comforting us eternally. The resurrection clearly proves this. He is Risen! He is risen, indeed! Amen