A Change in Plans
"There's been a change in plans." People say this to announce changes from the most casual to the most caustic. "There's been a change in plans: - we're not going to the beach; you're not playing baseball; I can't give you a raise." "There's been a change in plans: she's not strong enough for this procedure; I’m not going to try to work things out; he won't be going home." You rarely hear, "There's been a change in plans", and something good follows.
That certainly was true for the 3 women in our text. Instead of celebrating the Passover they ended up confronted by the Lord’s Passion. On the very night of Passover, after they had gone to bed. They’d been awakened with news that Jesus had been arrested in Gethsemane. You know what followed. What a change in plans! From Galilee they had come with Jesus for Passover, but they ended up on Golgotha watching Him being tortured to death. Then they returned to where they were staying, kept the Sabbath, and now instead of heading home to Galilee, there had been a change in plans. They’re going to a tomb to properly bury Jesus.
We all will face changes like this. They're particularly hard to take on holidays; when we're away from home; when we're talking about losing the loved one we looked to for comfort, strength, direction. But there had been a change in plans. Instead of heading home to Galilee, the women are heading toward a tomb. The gloom of death, the grief of loss, the bleakness of despair hang heavy in the air. The women don't come joyfully to the Easter tomb like millions of Christians have sense. They come woefully hoping that the dead Jesus hasn't decayed too badly to be properly buried. But there’ another change in plans. They "looked up" says the text; they looked up because their heads were hung low by sadness. And they can't believe their eyes; even from a distance they can see the huge stone sealing the tomb has been rolled away! There has been a change in plans. But don't kid yourself; it wasn’t a change for the good to these women. How would you feel if you went to the cemetery to do one last act of kindness for your loved one and found the grave open? You wouldn't think resurrection! victory! You’d think robbery! vandals! You would think what they did, "Isn't He safe even in death? They won’t leave Him alone even now!"
The women enter the tomb. They expect what you and I would: the smell of damp rock, and decay; death and darkness. But there has been a change in plans. They find "a young man dressed in a white robe." We know from the other Gospels that the young man is an angel and that his garments dazzled like lightening. But what struck the women at first is his age and type of clothing. Where they expected to find an old, dead Jesus, they found literally "youth." Where they expected to find a dead Jesus wrapped in a cocoon of burial cloths, they found a youth dressed in the festal robes of priests and nobles. Picture it. These women from Galilee, not expecting to be a burial detail, had only brought festival clothes. So the change in plans meant they were at the tomb dressed in "party" clothes feeling out of place. However, when they entered the tomb of death and grief, what do they find? A young man dressed in splendid party clothes.
All the women can do at this point is come unglued. They are literally “struck like a blow by terror.” They don't know that Jesus has succeeded paying for sins, thereby overcoming Death and Devil too. They don't know that the Resurrection of Christ has changed graveyards from places of death to sites of resurrection. They can't imagine Christians painting pictures of an empty tomb; having celebrations because of it; being so overjoyed at the empty tomb that they even embrace the gore of the cross.
There's been a change in plans, but maybe this hasn't reached you either. You think you know what the graveyards you’re heading toward hold; you think you know who rules this fallen world. You think that you and your world are at the mercy of Sin, Death, and Devil. You think no sinner ever changes, no dead man ever rises, and no devil ever loses. So all you expect in graveyards is death, all you expect from people is sin, and all you expect from Satan is gloating. Think again; there has been a change in plans. Since the resurrection of Jesus, things are different. But the women in our text, don't know this yet. The Easter Gospel hasn't been preached to them either. Notice the way the angel proclaims it to them - in short phrases starting with who Jesus is, and what happened to Him. He's trying to connect with these shocked women. He says literally, "Jesus you seek, the Nazarene, the One who has been crucified."
Understand this; there has been a big change in plans since the women left Galilee with Jesus weeks ago heading to Jerusalem for Passover. And the women are in that tomb because the change is more than they can take. They've given up on Jesus. They've no hope that He will save or even help them or anybody else. They've no faith that He will rise from the dead. They only have love for a dead Jesus; they had seen Him crucified and in their mind He is still stone cold dead. They don't believe Jesus can do anything more for them; all that is left is what they have to do for Jesus.
Has there been a change in plans for you too? As a kid when the Sunday School teacher told you about Jesus, you hoped He would do great things for you. You trusted Jesus to save and help you. But then came changes in plans. You grew up and saw the vileness of sin, both yours and others. You saw the finality of death, how it tore people out of life and life out of people. You saw the devil pile up victories. You came to expect little from Jesus. He is someone you do things for not One who does things for you.
Today there's a change in plans. "He has risen! He's not here! Go, tell His disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.'" There is wonderful Gospel in these short simple sentences. Jesus didn't lose; He won. Jesus isn't among the dead but lives. Jesus isn’t risen in wrath but mercy. Jesus isn’t a promise breaker but a promise keeper. See how radically things have changed for us too. Death lost to Jesus, so death is no longer final. The tomb is not the end for Jesus or those in Jesus. The grave is not the end of the story. Jesus is going on with His plans. He told them all along: that He would be offered up as a sacrifice for the sins of the world; that He would be crucified to overcome Satan; that He would rise in 3 days; and that they should go to Galilee where He would meet them.
But they thought that there had been a change in plans: that the cross did away with Jesus; that the sins of the world were too much for Him to bear; that death and the devil defeated Him ending His plans. What unbelievers they were! And what unbelievers we are! We haven’t seen a mocked, tormented, crucified, dead Jesus, yet we give up on Him doing things for us. We conclude that He can't change anything. That sins are too heavy; death too final, and the devil too powerful for Him. We conclude that He needs our help more than we do His. We don't expect help from a Jesus who looks like He's losing. We distance ourselves from a Jesus who isn't popular. We want to hold a crucified Jesus at arms length. And for that we deserve to be punished, abandoned, and damned. But there's been a change in plans. The risen Jesus is a forgiving Jesus. He sends the women to tell His disciples; imagine that; He calls them disciples not cowards. not deserters as they really were. He even sends them to tell the Gospel to that spineless denier Peter.
Praise be to God for this change in plans. If Jesus speaks His Gospel to women who consider Him dead, then He'll speak it to me too. If the cowardly 10 and the denying Peter can still be called disciples, then I can be too. If Jesus wants such sinners to be told of His victory over sin, death and the devil, then He wants me to be told too. If Jesus didn't give up on them even when they gave up on Him, then Jesus doesn't give up on me either. What glorious, gospel news! So the women rush out of the tomb and tell the disciples and the world of Jesus' Easter victory! Not hardly. There's been a change in plans. The women are suppose to be witnesses of the most important event in history but they become wimps instead. The text says, “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”
Can you relate? The women were more comfortable with mourning over a dead Jesus than spreading the Word about a living Jesus. They could handle the change from life to death; they could handle their hopes being dashed, but not the resurrection of Jesus and their hopes. That was too good to be true. They could do things for Jesus but they couldn't spread the Word about what Jesus had done for them. So I guess Jesus' Church will never get built; I guess Jesus' Gospel will never be spread. I guess there has been a change in plans.
Not for Jesus. Eventually, the women do see Jesus and spread the news, but note: Even with an empty tomb, messages from angels, and eyewitness accounts, no one made a move towards Galilee. Not the disciples, not the women, nobody. So on Easter evening Jesus appeared to the disciples, and a week later He returned to bring Thomas to faith. It's only after all of this that the disciples finally go to Galilee like they were told to do long before Good Friday. Do you see how time and again nothing worked out like God's people expected? When they thought they would be celebrating they found themselves crying; when they went to find a dead body, they found a living angel; when they thought Jesus had broken every promise to them, they found out that He had kept them all; when the Easter Gospel was put in their mouths, they found themselves too scared to speak; and when no one would believe it and go to Galilee, Jesus came on the scene working everything out.
We all face changes in plans. The Easter Gospel teaches us: that God brings blessing into our life through the worst changes; that we can be the Lord's disciples even if a change drives us to doubts; that even when the outcome of a change seems to be in our hands never does the Lord leave it there. He’s hands-on with nail-pierced hands to bring about what He wants. And those changes are always to His glory and His children’s good. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Resurrection of our Lord (20230409); Mark 16:1-8