Easter April 8, 2012
1 Corinthians 15:12-19, 50-58
198, 199, 201, 200
Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they said among themselves, “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away—for it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he 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. But go, tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.”
In the name of our risen Savior, dear fellow-redeemed:
What time did you get up this morning? Some of you, I know, have a bit of a drive to get to church—30 minutes, 45 minutes, even over an hour. That means rising early on Sundays and especially on this Sunday when we hold services earlier than usual. If you have children you also have to factor in extra time to get them dressed, comb hair, brush teeth, find the socks and shoes that have mysteriously disappeared since you last saw them the night before, and get out the door. After all this, perhaps some of us were still blinking our eyes a little as the days activities at church began.
What is it that brings us out an hour sooner on this Sunday? Do we start at 8:00 a.m. today because it makes it easier for us to get to our individual family Easter gatherings later on? Or do we have “sunrise services,” as they are called, because it leaves more time for our congregation’s breakfast afterward? No. Christians have a tradition of celebrating Easter early in the day because the main event of Easter, the resurrection of Christ from the dead, took place early in the morning.
Mention is made in each of the four Gospel accounts that although the sun was barely up, things had already started happening that first Easter. Mark says: “Very early…just after sunrise, they [the women] were on their way to the tomb.” [v.2 NIV] Matthew says, “At dawn” (28:1), Luke says, “very early in the morning” (24:1), while John records that it was “early, while it was still dark” (20:1). This is first-thing-in-the-morning early when the black of night is just starting to turn dark purple.
The women—Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome—had been early risers that day. They were anxious to finish the work they had not been able to finish on Friday night. Evening had come and the Sabbath had begun before they were able to anoint Jesus’ body with spices in the way they had wanted.
We might say these women were eager to rise early and get back to the grave because they loved Jesus so much. We might say that they were very industrious women who wanted to carry out their task as soon as they could. This might call to mind the verse from Proverbs which speaks highly of the woman of the house saying, “She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family” (Proverbs 31:15 NIV).
As the women walked to the tomb they even assumed they were the first ones up that morning, for they began to wonder who would roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb—surely at this hour there would be nobody around to do it for them, they realized.
But early as they were, they had not risen early enough. Someone had gotten up before they did. Before they had quietly gotten out of bed, gathered their spices, grabbed their cloaks against the cool air of the morning, and headed out the door, the Lord Jesus Himself had gotten up.
Even earlier than the “very early” hour in which we find the women making their journey, the breath of life had returned to the Savior’s cold body as it lay in Joseph’s tomb. He got up—not just an awakening from sleep, but He rose from the dead. Not an imaginary, symbolic, or spiritual resurrection, but the One who was crucified, dead, and buried, was living once more. Like the daughter of Jairus who walked and talked again, like the youth at Nain, like Lazarus, “Now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20).
It was an angel messenger who informed the women they had not gotten up early enough—that Jesus was up even before they were. “He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him.” [v.6] “Come look,” the angel invited. “I’m telling you the truth. I know you’re early, but He’s already gone!”
The exact hour and minute Jesus returned to life, we do not know. It had been prophesied repeatedly that He would rise on the third day. The way the Jewish people counted their days, that would mean the resurrection could happen any time between sundown on Saturday night and sundown on Sunday night, but it appears as though Jesus didn’t waste much time. Before the earliest visitors arrived at the grave, He was out of bed.
Now I’ve known early risers. When I was in college some of my professors would get up very early in the morning. By the time classes began they had accomplished as much as some of us would get done all day. I’ve heard of authors who like to rise early and put pen to paper in the peaceful hours of the morning when there are few distractions and disturbances. Former President George W. Bush is well-known for keeping very early hours as are other politicians like the famous British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. But the ultimate early riser can be none other than Jesus Christ.
Thus my Jesus from the grave
and Death’s dismal, dreadful cave
Rose triumphant Easter morning
At the early purple dawning.
Why so early, Jesus? You had all day, after all! The Bible does not give us the answer in so many words, but we know well enough that everything the Lord did was for us and for our salvation. He came, as He said, “not to be served, but to serve” (Matthew 20:28). Wasn’t it He who had washed His disciples’ feet on Maundy Thursday evening saying, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me” (John 13:8)? Everything about Jesus’ life from His birth, through His years of preaching and teaching, and during the week of His Passion, was for our benefit and blessing. In those last hours we saw it especially clearly. He submitted to His captors when He could have called down legions of angels to escape. He accepted the crown of thorns and the purple robe and the mockery. He was obedient unto death, even death on a cross. All of that was for us. The Son of Man had to suffer and die for the sins of the people. He Himself had to be offered—He had to become the sacrifice to God to make up for our wrongdoing. Everything Jesus did was in service to us, was centered on paying for our guilt so we could stand righteous and pure in God’s sight.
Therefore, the timing of His resurrection—His early rising—was the right time for it to happen. It was in the best interests of those whom He had come to serve. That’s why the Lord got up so early.
It was surely good for the women that the Lord had risen earlier than they had. What if He had not? They would have found the stone across the entrance, and they also would have to convince the guards to let them into the tomb. If they had been able to enter the burial chamber at all, they would have seen the body, emptied their spice jars, and cried—sorrowing all the more at the death of their Master, remembering the events of the previous Friday. They would have gone back with little hope in their hearts, having seen no angel to spur them on to remember Jesus’ words that He would rise again the third day. Having seen what they expected, a corpse, would they have gone back later to see if He was alive? It would not have been likely.
But Jesus, the ultimate early riser, had awakened before they did! He rose early enough in the morning to give His people hope! Thanks be to God! After hearing the messenger of God, the ladies left the tomb trembling and bewildered, it is true, but they did not leave downcast. They ran. They ran to tell the news to the disciples. Already the Word was beginning to work in their hearts to comfort and to cheer them: He has risen!
What a morning! What a glorious, early morning! It makes us wish we had been there too. It makes us wish that our early mornings could be full of such stunning, heart-changing, earth-shattering excitement.
What are your early mornings like? Are you a “morning person,” as they say? Do you get up and greet the first streaks of dawn? Do you like the thought of a brand new day just beginning? Sometimes we welcome the break of day, especially if day seems to hold good things in store for us. Other times, however, the early morning can have the opposite effect on our attitude.
The person who must leave for work every day at three in the morning might not think so much of those early hours. To awake early is no great thing either when the day promises to be hard, when you know there is something difficult you must do that you’ve been worrying about; or when you know that upon waking you must face some sadness that was blissfully not part of your consciousness during the hours of sleeping. There are days when we just do not want to see the early dawn come at all, when we click the snooze button and think, “No! It just can’t be morning. I can’t do it!”
But by rising early on Easter morning, Christ has changed our early mornings too! For as we come to the brink of each new day, as we rub the sleep from our eyes in the new light and think, “I can’t face this day,” we can recall those women starting out for the tomb while it was still dark and we can know this: Jesus my Savior is already up! He is risen. He goes with you—even ahead of you—into each day.
“Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,” (Psalm 143:8 NIV), and it does, for He is risen.
“I have swept your sins away like the morning mist” (Isaiah 44:22 NIV), and Jesus has, for He is risen.
“In the morning you hear my voice” (Psalm 5:3 NIV), and He does, for He is risen.
“In the morning I will sing of your love” (Psalm 59:16 NIV), and we do, for He is risen.
“Be our strength every morning” (Isaiah 33:2 NIV), and He is, for He is risen.
Now each of your early mornings can become for you an opportunity to remember the early rising of Jesus, and to remember that no matter the hour or the day, He is already awake—for you.
Welcome happy morning! Praise be to Jesus, the ultimate Early Riser! Amen.
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