A homily by Pastor Robert Schaefer
First & Spring Creek Lutheran Churches
The Resurrection of Our Lord – April 16, 2006
Text: Psalm 118:20
Friends in Christ, grace to you and peace in the name of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Sunday morning. It was dark out – though the birds were already singing, the first sapphire glaze of dawn was only now beginning just to color the cloudless sky. Ten or twelve minutes ago, the two men were lying in their beds, tossing in a troubled sleep that was their only respite from the grief of these three days. Now, shivering a bit from the cool of the morning, they pulled their robes tighter around themselves and gazed into the thick darkness of the tomb, its entrance yawning unceremoniously open but not yet allowing any light to penetrate to its far back to reveal what was – or was not – to be seen there.
Simon Peter, still puffing from the long run here, sucked in his breath as he stared through the stone door, squinting his eyes to make out what was back there. Mary had called them, had told them in a tumble of words how she’d found the tomb wide open, how she feared someone – grave robbers, soldiers, the temple guard – someone had stolen his body away. One final insult, Peter thought bitterly. It wasn’t enough that he should come to lie here forever, to make his last home with the quietly vanishing bodies of generations past; no, his enemies couldn’t allow him even that last meager dignity. He’d better go in, he supposed. Better walk through the gate for the dead that arced above his head and be done with it. The sky was getting lighter – they’d stood here long enough. Peter needed to know.
As his foot crossed the threshold, no one could blame Simon Peter if the words of the 118th psalm weren’t foremost in his thoughts. Maybe he hadn’t learned that one yet. Perhaps he didn’t care much for it. More likely, his mind was too full of the reeling events of that last week to remember the psalmist’s words: “This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it.”
Even if he had thought of the psalm, I doubt he would have seen any connection. The gate of the Lord – heaven’s gate – was tall and strong, beautiful and jeweled and sparkling in the radiance of God’s glory. Peter was passing through a rough-edged hole carved in the stone of a tomb, with shadows outside and inky blackness within. The farthest thing in the world from the gates of God.
Yet as his left foot followed his right into the stillness of that tomb, without knowing it, Peter did walk through the gate of the Lord – the most improbable, unexpected gate you could imagine.
For the gate to heaven, the way to God, was not through any gleaming, golden door, as Peter had suspected – the way to God is through the tomb-door of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ death is the gate of the Lord, and only Jesus the Righteous One could pass through that gate unhindered. No one can stand before the throne of God without first standing at the door of the tomb.
Peter, and John, and Mary Magdalene walked through that door on Sunday morning, and saw the empty grave. It is an experience you and I cannot share with them. That gate is lost to us – we cannot find the Lord that way, as they would. But it is still Jesus’ death that is the gate for us to God the Father. We must pass through that gate with him in order to find life and light.
We can’t step into the tomb, but we don’t need to. For in baptism, God joins us to Jesus in the strangest way. When the water is poured and the words are spoken, the death Jesus died, we die with him. And when the flood is past and the silence is upon us, the life Jesus has, we will have with him.
“Do you not know,” Paul once asked, “that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore,” he says, “we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
This is the gate of the Lord. And in Jesus Christ you are made righteous. Let us no longer tremble at the gate – don’t you think it’s time to step inside?