Teach us to Pray to the Risen Lord
Today we conclude our Lenten series on the Lord's Prayer, "Teach us to Pray." Our theme is "Teach us to Pray to the Risen Lord." Of course the Lord's Prayer is addressed to God the Father, but who is the One who taught us the Lord's Prayer? The Lord's Prayer would have little value if the One who taught us to pray it lays buried in a grave outside of Jerusalem. If Jesus is not risen, then He is but a memory, and we're left with only the tears, the gloom, the fears that the disciples knew Good Friday till Easter. A dead Jesus does not encourage prayer as we see from Mary in our text.
Our text opens with a living Mary searching for a dead Jesus. She goes to the tomb of Jesus not to rejoice, not to worship, not to pray, but to find a dead Jesus. From St. Luke we know she goes to give Jesus the proper burial that wasn't possible on Friday. When she arrives and finds the stone taken away from the entrance, not just rolled back but taken completely out of its track, her heart doesn't leap for joy thinking, "Jesus has risen!" She didn't run back to the disciples saying, "Christ is risen," and they sure didn't reply, "He is risen indeed." She ran back in a panic saying, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put Him."
It's interesting that Mary still calls Jesus, "Lord," but don't get the idea that she thinks He has risen. Nope, she thinks someone has carried off His body. They had carried off His stiff, dead corpse and dumped it somewhere, and she had no idea where. When she confronts whom she thinks is the gardener, she's still in search of a dead Jesus. She tells Him, "If you have carried Him away, tell me where You have put Him, and I will get Him." Mary thinks this gardener fellow is the one who had taken Jesus' body. If he'll tell her where he has placed the body, she will carry it back.
This shows Mary at her best and her worst. The best part is that she, unlike the disciples, won't give up until she finds the body of Jesus. And if this gardener fellow had moved Him somewhere else, well all he needed to do was tell her, and she would single-handedly pick Him back up. Mary envisions no one helping her. She would go to wherever the body of Jesus was and all by herself lift Him up and carry Him back to His proper grave. Imagine this woman all by herself trying to move the corpse of a full grown man. It's not a problem to her, though it would be all put impossible.
Such determination shows Mary at her best; can you see her at her worst? Jesus is all done doing for her; she must do for Him now. She will see that He is buried right and proper. She will re-inter Him if necessary. Mary must do for Jesus; Jesus can't do for Mary because Mary is alive and Jesus is dead. You don't pray to a dead Jesus. You don't pray in the name of a dead Jesus. He can't do anything for you. You can remember Him. You can be thankful for Him, but you can't expect anything from Him.
Think about it. Do you come here just to remember what Jesus at one time did for you? Do you come here out of a sense of duty to Him, to do something for Him because in the past He did something for you? Must you serve Jesus because He's all done serving you? Are you more alive than Jesus? Mary sure thought she was, but Mary was wrong.
A living Mary went in search of a dead Jesus at the beginning of our text, but it's a risen, very much alive Jesus, who finds a dead Mary. Yes, Mary is for all practical purposes dead. Jesus had cast out 7 devils from her. Jesus had forgiven her sins. Jesus had promised her life everlasting in His Name. Jesus had promised her that prayers in His name would be heard by His Father in heaven, but now Jesus is dead to her, and so were His promises, His forgiveness, and what good would it do to pray in the name of a dead Jesus?
How hot, how bitter the tears that ran down this poor woman's face. This is the only way you can feel if Jesus is dead. Isn't that what Paul says in I Corinthians, "If Jesus be not raised from the dead, then we of all men are the most miserable?" Miserable men find their faces tear streaked and their prayers chocked by bitterness. All really is lost if Jesus is not risen. Sin, death and the devil have won. If Jesus be not raised, then sin is not stopped. It will progress steadily in you until you die and are delivered into eternal death where the devil will never cease tormenting you. Who can pray if this is their future? Never mind the praying; let us eat, drink and be merry if all we're looking at in the future is death and the devil's tormenting.
But Jesus isn't dead at all. Our sins that covered Him on the cross choking His mouth, filling His ears, blinding His eyes were all paid for by Him. The last drop of divine justice was squeezed out of His body. The last drop of God's scalding wrath was swallowed by His holy throat; that's why Jesus cried, "It is finished." And it was. Death could not hold Him because the debt of sin had been paid. With sins paid for and death defeated, what is left to Satan? How can he accuse you of sin if Jesus has paid for them? How can he accuse you of breaking God's Law if Jesus kept it in your place? How can he threaten you with death? Death has lost its stinger; it broke off in Jesus. Without our sins and death to roar with, Satan is like a dead lion. Even a coward isn't afraid of a dead lion.
Jesus is risen! But Mary can't see that. The empty tomb doesn't tell her that. The empty grave clothes which were in the shape of a man, but collapsed because there was no body in them, didn't convince her that Jesus had risen. Angels sitting in the tomb, didn't preach to her of resurrection, of victory over sin, death and the devil. Even seeing Jesus doesn't help her. The text says, "She turned around and saw Jesus standing there." She sees Jesus, but doesn't see Him. He is not risen to her. He is as good as dead to her. That's why instead of saying a prayer to Him Mary tells Him what she will do. Jesus is risen: there is no reason for tears and there is every reason to pray, to ask, to seek, to knock, but all of this is lost on poor Mary.
But not for long. Mary's eyes could not see Jesus because her heart was certain Jesus was dead and gone forever from her life. The text shows Mary briefly turning towards Jesus and then back away probably to hide her tears. Her back is towards Jesus, so she can't see Him when He speaks her name. Hearing her name from Jesus' lips causes her to respond in faith. The Word of the living Jesus finds a Mary dead in her sins, in death, and in the power of the devil and brings her to the life that is in a risen Jesus.
The risen Jesus has found you too. He called your name in Baptism saying that as surely as My Word washes over you in this water, you have put Me on. I cover you like a garment with my holiness, my righteousness, my life. He calls your name in Absolution. Jesus says whoever hears His pastors hears Him. It was Jesus that forgave your sins in the Absolution. It was Jesus that sent them away from you. So too in Communion, it is the voice of Jesus speaking saying, "Take eat, Take drink. This is My Body; this is My Blood given and shed for your sins. You can't tell in modern English but in the 1917 version of our hymnal, Jesus speaks to us individually in the Communion. He distributes His Body and Blood to thee for thy sins.
The risen Jesus has come and found us dead in our sins, in unbelief, and in our fears. With His Word in our ears in Absolution, on our bodies in Baptism, or in our bodies in Communion, Jesus calls us to Himself. All is different with a risen Jesus. Who needs to worry about a defeated devil? Who needs to fear a grave that must spit us back out as surely as it did Jesus? Who need to feel burdened by sins when Jesus carried them away, paid for them, and rose without them?
You haven't really grasped the depth, the length, the breadth of having a risen Jesus, till you listen closely to the first things He says in our text. He tells Mary Magdalene, "Go to My brothers and tell them." He calls them brothers. Men who had abandoned Him in Gethsemane. A man who had denied Him with profane oaths. Men who were too scared to show up at the cross, and who even now trembled behind locked doors. Men who didn't believe He would rise. Such men as these Jesus calls brothers. How total, how complete, how deep, how wide, how long must be the forgiveness Jesus won on the cross if He can call such cowardly, unbelieving, sinful men as these brothers!
Friend, if Jesus can forgive them, I dare say He can forgive you. If He can call these wretched sinners brothers, I know He can call you brothers and sisters regardless of how wretchedly you have sinned against Him. If Jesus doesn't send even one Word of rebuke to them, but only the Good News that He their Brother has risen, rest assured that is what He wants to tell you today as well. Any rebuking you hear in your conscience today doesn't come from lips of Jesus.
You know what it means to have Jesus as your brother? You and your Brother share the same Father. And this gets us back to the Lord's Prayer which Jesus taught us to pray to "Our Father who art in heaven." A risen Lord Jesus guarantees us that we have not an ogre, not a tyrant, not a mean step-father but a loving Father in heaven. Do you see how badly the Lord Jesus wants us to know this? It's the first message He sends to His Church. Because of your sins you think you ought to have a mean, angry, judge in heaven. Who wants to say prayers in that case? What's the use? He wouldn't answer me anyway. Or if He did answer, it wouldn't be anything I would want to hear. How different it is to know you have a Father in heaven for the sake of your risen Brother Jesus. Such a Father must be on my side. He must want to hear from me and to help me.
But what about this strange passage where Jesus says to Mary, "Don't hold on to Me, for I have not yet returned, literally "ascended" to the Father"? Mary thought it would be like before where she could physically hold on to Jesus day in and day out. It wouldn't be like that. It would be different. But telling Mary not to hold on to Him now because He hasn't yet ascended certainly means that after He has ascended she will be able to hold on to Him then.
Think about it. What did Jesus promise us right before He ascended? "Lo, I am with you always." Where is Jesus with us always? In Baptism, we are joined to Him says Romans 6. In the preaching and teaching of the Word we still hear His voice today; we especially hear it in the forgiving Word of Absolution. And in the Communion we don't just get to cling to Him but to eat His Body and drink His blood. That's a lot closer to Him than anyone ever was when He walked this earth visibly.
Being so close to the risen Jesus daily, weekly in Baptism, Absolution, and Communion, gives birth to prayer. The risen Jesus strikes our hearts with forgiveness through Water, Words, Bread and Wine, and that brings forth prayers. The Lord who daily washes, feeds, and forgives us surely wants to hear from us. What could we possibly ask of Him that would be bigger, grander, or greater than what He has already freely given and did for us? If the Father did so much through the life and death of Jesus without our asking, imagine what He will do through the living risen Jesus? Why a whole life time of prayer couldn't possibly ask too much! Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Easter Sunday (3-31-02), John 20:1-18