The Easter Sunday Gospel recounts how Mary Magdalene found the tomb empty. When she told the apostles, Peter and the beloved disciple (John) felt a deep desire to see for themselves what had happened. They ran to the tomb and found the cloth in which Jesus had been buried, nicely folded away to indicate that his body has not been robbed. The beloved disciple believed that was a sign that Jesus is truly risen. The “Beloved” disciple’s journey with Jesus is marked by his deep love for his master and friend. It is this love that helped him to recognize that the body of Jesus had not been taken away, but had risen to a totally new life. Every disciple of Jesus is called to relate to him in a similar way. As long as Jesus remains jus an ideal for the disciples there will be the danger to follow him only in thought and theory. Only when Jesus becomes a loved one, will there be a desire to really act as he would have done. Discipleship of Jesus is more a matter of heart than the head; A matter of Faith, more than of thought.
At the heart of the Church’s annual calendar is the death and resurrection of Jesus that we remember throughout Holy Week and Easter. Holy Week is a time to be renewed in our connection to the benefits of the Cross of Christ.
Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday of the Passion when we recall Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, where he will suffer and die for our salvation.
Thursday of Holy Week commemorates Jesus’ institution of Holy Communion, which offers us forgiveness for our sins. Maundy Thursday is the day Jesus instituted Holy Communion and gave a new command (“Maundy” means command) to love one another. Maundy Thursday worship connects the benefits of the Cross to the forgiveness, love, and hope we receive in Holy Communion.
Friday of Holy Week commemorates Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross, which offers eternal life. Good Friday worship connects us to the benefit of the cross in revealing God, conquering Satan, and bringing salvation to all people.
Saturday of Holy Week commemorates Jesus’ institution of Holy Baptism which offers us the faith we need to trust Jesus for the gift of eternal life. Easter Vigil/Holy Saturday worship renews us in our connection to the benefits of being baptized and “marked with the cross of Christ forever.”
Easter Sunday commemorates when God raised Jesus from death to offer all the baptized eternal salvation.
Christians around the world make every effort to fully participate in all the worship opportunities of Holy Week and Easter. What else could you possibly do to in such a significant way?
Among the four Gospel accounts, Mark's version of Jesus' death is the most grim. Jesus is a victim. Abandoned by his followers, denied by Peter, condemned by the religious and political authorities, he is mocked by everyone, even those executed with him. Utterly alone, his last words are a cry of abandonment even by God. True to form, the crowd misunderstands even these last words: "Listen, he is calling for Elijah" (15:35). On that note, Jesus dies. There is more to the story, of course. The signs at the moment of death signal other realities. Scattered sentences from the psalms direct the sensitive reader to the Scriptures which provide the backdrop for the story. The words and actions of Pilate and the soldiers are ironic: they say more than they know. Yet the tone cannot be sentimentalized. This is where Jesus' offer of life ends. This is what Pilate and the priests do. There is no other way. The message of Passion Sunday is Jesus' death on a cross. Jesus died because God sent him to die. Jesus died for our sake. Hearing that Jesus died for us to make us right with God, we realize that we do not have to try to have a relationship with God by our own efforts. We become nothing with Jesus in his death so that we can become everything to God through Jesus.
The request of "Greeks" (non-Jews) to see Jesus signals that his hour has come, the time of the inevitable confrontation with the religious authorities. Testimony has been offered, and the hour of judgment has arrived. Jesus will be condemned--but in rejecting him, the world and the "ruler of this world" will be judged. There can no longer be illusions about human life. In bondage to sin, people have no alternative but to hang Jesus from the cross. Paradoxically, Jesus refers to this as the time of his "glorification." His death on the cross will mean his "lifting up" to draw all to himself. Jesus will not be spared the pain and humiliation of death on the cross, but we are invited to fix our attention not on the broken figure, but on the effects of that death: it will mean life for the world. The depth of Christ’s suffering is what Luther called the "theology of the cross." The theology of the cross is Luther's great contribution. Others also spoke of salvation by grace and justification by faith. But he, in a very special way, recovered the scriptural emphasis on Christ's suffering. The Scriptures are full of the theology of the cross, especially Mark, John, Peter, and Paul. Paul strikes the keynote when he speaks of the foolishness of the cross over and against the wisdom of the world in 1 Corinthians 1. The theology of the cross is not a single doctrine or a single chapter in a book. It is like an undercurrent which affects all our thinking. It is an emphasis which colors all our theology, liberating us from false assumptions. Especially in a day when we are saturated with the idea of success, we need this emphasis again. But it is very difficult because it is opposed to all of our "natural" ways of thinking.
The word "Believe" sums up everything we are about, and much of this text. There are some who like to divide all people into two groups, the believers and the unbelievers. This is an arbitrary division--there are no people who do not believe. Everybody believes in something or someone. The question is not whether or not we believe; it is about the object of our faith, in whom or in what we believe. Faith is what undergirds one's life. It is our highest loyalty, our ultimate commitment. As we use the word here, faith is a response to what God has done. Sometimes it is incorrectly called a decision. But when we use this word we have to be careful not to give the impression that faith is something we have done. It is a gift of God. We can refuse it, but we cannot of our own power or strength create it. Christian faith is: 1. the inner belief, given to us as a gift of the Holy Spirit, which; 2. Enters our lives through Baptism and allows us to realize the truth about the damning consequences of our sinful nature and our need to be saved, and; 3. Enables us to cling to God's gift of grace in Jesus Christ for salvation. For Christians, faith is centered in God--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In this sense faith is a personal relationship. God is revealed to us in the Bible, but the Bible is not our God. The word of God is in the Bible as the soul is in the body. The Augsburg Confession (Article IV) reminds us that Christians "…are freely justified for Christ's sake through faith when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven on account of Christ, who by his death made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in his sight." When God saves us, he doesn't wait for us to do something for him to prove that we are saved. He goes to work in us to give us the faith and the good works that go with it. Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit. So is obedience. It is not salvation by works but salvation by grace. Whatever good works we do, are good works "which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." When John says that everyone who believes in Jesus may have eternal life he does not mean that believing is something we have to do by our effort or strength. Rather, God's love for us is so great and deep that he sends his Spirit to help us believe. Whatever faith we have and whatever works we do are done by the Holy Spirit in us.