The Empty Tomb

Easter Sunday April 4, 2010 John 20:1-18                the Empty Tomb!

Good morning!

For those of you who weren’t here (and for those of you who were)—we had a Maundy Thursday service this past Thursday night.  We started at 6:00 with a meal of soup and bread, and then around 7:00 we had a formal service of shadows to remember the night that Jesus was betrayed.

Well, during the meal, I took the chance to talk to the others who had gathered at the table.  We talked about gardening, and facebook.  We talked about the beautiful weather and recent ailments.

And as the meal came to a close, I noticed that my mind was anywhere but in church on this evening.  Even though Christine had planned the whole thing from beginning to end and all I had to do was show up, I still found myself thinking “Are there enough candles?” “Do I have the notes that I need?” “Will there be enough seating with the way we arranged the chairs?”

It’s not uncommon for last minute details like these to flood my mind before a special service, no matter how much or how little I was involved in the planning.

So I finished my soup, then went to the kitchen to fill the little communion cups with the cool little juice funnel we have for the job.

Just 5 minutes, alone with the blood of Christ.

The noise around me diminished.  All the voices and chatter in the other room went away and I was left with nothing but purple blood running down the funnel, filling the void in each little cup.  Those final, pregnant drips dangle from the end of the funnel for just a moment before joining the rest, mingled together in the fullness of time that is communion.

I had never actually done that part of the preparation before.  It was a sobering thing to do.  As the symbolic blood filled each little cup on that tray, I couldn’t help but draw the symbolism in my mind.  As I stood in the kitchen, each little cup became an empty vessel of life, waiting to be filled with Christ, drop by drop!

Christ has risen!  (He is risen indeed!).

This is Easter morning!  What started on Thursday is finished today!  What a Great hope we have!  What a Fantastic Reality!  That death has been conquered, that we have New Life in the Resurrected Christ!  That God cloaked Himself with human flesh and dwelt among us for such a time!

What a Radical Hope!  What a Radical Hope.

This Radical Hope that Jesus gave the world… over time, as the original witnesses died, that Radical Hope (which is something you experience), it became a Radical Story—which is something you hear about.

It became more of a belief than a lifestyle.

And at times in our Christian story, this belief has been forced on people instead of chosen by people.  It became a kind of tool, and faith became a head-game.

And once something becomes a head-game, it’s never long until it becomes all about us!

So, not long after faith became a head-game, Jesus became a personal buddy, kind of like a mascot.

And so, over the centuries the Radical Hope that Jesus lived and died and came back from the grave to proclaim—it started to look like a benevolent bunny that gives away candy in the spring.

It’s cute and cuddly and hard to take seriously.

Well, this morning I’d like to suggest that a story about people coming back from the dead is anything but cute and cuddly.

See, it was early on the first day of the week…it was still dark…when Mary went to the tomb.  It was cold, it was dark, and it was lonely.  There were no Easter Bunnies, there was no chocolate, and she didn’t have a ham waiting for her in the oven at home.

And as I thought about her experience this week, I couldn’t help but think if I was in her shoes, it would have felt a lot more like Halloween than it would have felt like Easter.

Walking in the dark, cold hours before the sunrise and finding an empty tomb that you expected to be full…that sounds like Halloween to me.

And I’m not superstitious, but I think I’d be pretty creeped out if it would have been me.

So she runs to get some backup, and that’s where this story gets a little bit wild.

Mary’s fear drives her back to find her friends, who frankly don’t do a lot to comfort her.  They run to the tomb and then they go back home, leaving her there to fend for herself.

They leave her there, at the empty tomb and all it represents.

They leave her there, in the Halloween of her fear and uncertainty.

Where is your Halloween Tomb?  Are you in it?

The setting in this story happens to be a tomb near Jerusalem, early in the morning.  One of the main characters is a lonely woman who can’t find Jesus.

But today the setting could be any one of our homes, at any time of day, anytime we stumble around, blind to the living Christ who’s just a turn of the head away.

See, the empty tomb means that Sin and Death and Fear have lost their power!

The empty tomb means that we can be reconciled to God and to each other!

The empty tomb means we can take our place at God’s banqueting table…

The empty tomb means that the power of God—the power that created and sustains the Heavens and the Earth—this resurrection power can and does continue to work in our lives to free us every day from our own dark, dusty tombs.

The empty tomb means that our tombs today have lost their power too!

Our tombs—the full ones, you know?

The tombs where we live and work and play.  Tombs of lust and arrogance.  Tombs of hatred and debt.  Tombs of self-loathing and greed and complacency.

Jesus rolled the stone away from those tombs too!

It wasn’t just his own death that Jesus conquered.

It was death itself that lost its sting!

Paul says “Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.

This ain’t no head-game!

If it was just his own death that Jesus conquered, there would be no difference between Easter and Halloween!

But he lived and died and rose again so that we, like Mary, might have Easter hope in the place of Halloween fear.

Mary found Jesus at the empty tomb.  She didn’t recognize him at first, but when he called her name she knew it was him.

I was talking with someone last week…we were talking about the beautiful weather we’ve been having, and what a joy it’s been to be outside and enjoy the sunshine.

I commented that I don’t really know how much I’ve missed feeling the warmth of the Sun until it comes like it has recently.  I get bogged down under the clouds and the winter weather, and I don’t really notice how much I miss the Sun until it comes out and clears the sky.  Winter surrounds me like a tomb, and I don’t even know it until the Sun comes back.

In the same way, Mary was in her own tomb of grief and fear.

And it wasn’t until the sun poked out from the clouds and He spoke her name that she could recognize Jesus for who he was.

…I’d like to suggest this morning that each of us have a tomb we’re in, no matter how many Easter Sundays come and go.

Maybe yours is a tomb of needing to see the next step before you take it.

Maybe your tomb is looking to your spouse, your children, or your job to give you meaning—these things will always let you down at some point.

Maybe you’re tomb is a fear of failure…or maybe a fear of success—I don’t know what your tomb is.  But Easter morning means you can walk out from it.  Jesus has robbed the grave of its power.  And it wasn’t just a one-time event that happened 2,000 years ago.

This emptying of the grave, it still happens today!

It’s kind of like something I heard when I was in elementary school.

I’ve never seen this done, and I hesitate to even talk about it for fear someone might try it, but they say that if you put a frog into a pot of water, and then gradually heat the water up to boiling, just a few degrees at a time, the frog will die before it realizes it should jump out of the pan.

However, they say that if the pot is already boiling and you try to put the frog in, it will jump out and save itself as soon as it touches the hot water.

That’s the condition we’re in.  We get used to the tomb we live in, sometimes to the point that we can’t even see that it’s a tomb!  Gradually the walls of this tomb close in, inch by inch until it’s too late to get out.

We easily recognize the ‘bigger’ sins—the ones that will obviously hurt us or the ones we love.  Things like murder and adultery and blatantly lying…things like cursing God or bringing shame to the family.  These are the things that are easy to avoid.

But what about the things like envy… or lust… or greed?  These are the heart conditions that are easier to hide.

Cynicism, holding on to grudges, needing to have the future nailed down and certain—these are the tombs that look like houses.  These are the traps we live in and make our peace with.

All the frog had to do was jump.

And all we have to do is walk past the stone that Jesus has already rolled away!

Step out of the tomb and into freedom, the freedom for which Christ has set us free!

We are not doomed!  By the body and the blood of the risen Christ, we are saved!

Amen.

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