With varying degrees of pomp and ceremony, countries all over the world observe the ancient tradition known as the changing of the guard. Often it is done simply for tourists, but sometimes it is done to mark something very important to the heart of that nation and people. Consider this tradition in the USA. A permanent guard is mounted at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA. This duty is performed by a single member of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, day or night, rain or shine – even when the cemetery is closed to visitors. A guard has been on duty at the site continuously, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, since July 2, 1937.
Can you imagine the long cold nights? The rain and the snow, the driving winds, or the blistering heat of the noon-day sun? What do you think goes through the mind of the guard at such times? Do you think they ever grow frustrated, or impatient? Do they wonder what it is all for? Just what are they guarding anyway? It’s not like this unknown soldier is going to get up and get out of his grave, is it? Do you think they’re ever tempted to just quit and go home?
What about the soldiers who stood watch over the tomb of Jesus through the long cold night between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. What went through their minds? Do you think that they even want to be there? Probably not. It was only at the urging of the Pharisees that a guard was stationed there in the first place.
(Matthew 27:62-66) …the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, After three days I will rise. Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, He has risen from the dead, and the last fraud will be worse than the first. Pilate said to them, You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can. So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.
And so it was that these unknown soldiers stood guard there through the long cold night. Guarding the sealed tomb. Guarding the dead. Guarding the old ways, the status quo, the honour of the chief priest and Pharisees who would not bow to Jesus no matter what. They were the last of the old guard set there by selfish and self-serving hearts to watch over the old ways of sin and death. Guarding all that was done by secret deeds, back room deals, and self-serving agendas. It makes for a dark picture indeed.
But then comes the dawning light, and the changing of the guard! Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!) (2-6) And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.
With the dawning of this morning’s light the old ways are done, the old guard is removed. Like dead men, these guardians of greed and sin and death fall to the ground. A new guardian has come, from heaven no less. An angel of the Lord come to guard the now open tomb! A sentinel guarding the scene of the resurrection, guarding the new message, and the new life. A glorious and radiant watchman to guard all that God has done – openly, publicly, for one and all to see, just as God said it would be! Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!) An end to sin and the ways of death. A new beginning for all who honour the risen Christ.
Not to open the grave for Christ did this angel come, but to show the empty grave to the whole world, to give absolute and undeniable evidence of the fact that the resurrection had taken place in spite of stone and seal and watch. When God wants to carry out His will with regard to the salvation of mankind, no sinful man, no enemy, may resist Him. For the message of Easter is radiant and bright, like lightening, and before it the old ways of sin, and suffering and grief, trembles and falls like the dead. The resurrection of Jesus was the seal – the final proof of the full atonement gained for the whole world … Proof that all the efforts of the this world and of satan to hinder it, and drag us down to despair with them, were unavailing. There has been a glorious changing of the guard this blessed Easter morning for Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!)
And yet, that is still only part of the story. For all brothers and sisters in the risen Christ are a part of the Lord’s new guard. Consider the faithful women who came upon this Easter changing of the guard that gloriously fateful morning. Consider the task given them by the angel at the tomb. (7-10) Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you. So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, Greetings! And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.
They started out their journey that day in the dark, but with the dawning light before them. And as they reached the tomb and witness soldiers replaced by angels, death replaced by life, grief consumed by joy, they are made guardians too. They are sent to guard the Gospel message entrusted them by the angel. Do not be afraid, suffering, sin and death are still real, but they can no longer win. Jesus is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Jesus has risen from the dead, he is going before you and you will see him. They are sent forth to guard the meaning of the open tomb and the resurrection life. To guard the message of our new hope, our everlasting comfort, and the new life for all who belong to Jesus. Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!)
And just as those women were made guardians of this Easter joy, so too are we. Guard it well, proclaim it loudly! Let it ever be in your hearts, and upon your lips – Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!) Jesus was crucified so that we should no longer fear! No fear of what others might do to us. No fear of what may yet befall us. No fear of suffering, sickness, or even death itself. For Jesus has met them and He has removed their dread sting! There has been a glorious changing of the guard, and life – your life – will never be the same again! Jesus has risen from the dead, he is going before you and you will see him. Jesus is risen from the dead and this gives us great joy! Joy in our suffering, joy in our grief, and even joy in the hour of our own death, for Jesus has overcome death and opened the gate to everlasting life where He himself stands guard, waiting for us. Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!)