Sunday, March 27, 2016

The tomb is empty! Now what?!

Acts 10:34-43; John 20:1-18

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. I love to play around with images, and discover what they tell me. For this message, I spent some time looking at images that told the story of this day. So, here is what I saw.

Outside the tomb, looking at the rolling stone, one understands that the tomb was dark. It was probably damp and unpleasant, even if Jesus’ body was the first to lie there. I also notice that the stone was huge. It would take a number of people to roll the stone away, or a divine push.

 Inside the tomb, we see the linen cloths left behind. Someone was buried here. But now, they are just a heap of empty cloths.

Inside the tomb, looking outside, we see the future, the glory of the resurrection. We experience joy that the tomb is empty because of God’s power. We know that the tomb is empty for us, too. Our bodies will die, but we will live on with Jesus.
But to many people today, just as to the disciples 2,000 years ago, to the non-believers of 2,000 years ago, the resurrection seems like an idle tale, a story people made up to help themselves feel better. But, there are witnesses to the resurrection! They prove the story that seems impossible is really true!
There is Mary Magdalene, the first witness. She goes to the garden to weep, and finds the tomb empty, so she runs to tell the disciples. Then she returns, and encounters a gardener, who turns out to be Jesus. From such depths of sadness to such wonder and amazement.  
Then there is Simon Peter and the Beloved Disciple. Peter and the Beloved run to the tomb. They wonder as they run, can it be? Is it possible that the impossible has happened? Can he be alive again as he promised us? Should we have believed him, when we thought he was telling  us tales?

And then there were many more witnesses. After the resurrection, the disciples lay low for a while, hiding in the upper room, the guest room. But then Jesus appears to them as he had appeared to Mary in the morning, and the world has changed for them all.

They are witnesses, Mary Magdalene and Peter and James and John and the rest of the disciples and the rest of the followers, and the women: Joanna and Mary the Mother of Jesus and Mary the Mother of James. They are witnesses and they can’t stop telling the story.

They tell of the sad days of the arrest and trial and crucifixion. They tell of the devastating moments when Jesus’ lifeless body is placed in the tomb and the tomb is closed. And they tell of the dreadful morning when Mary went to weep at the tomb, in the same way that you and I weep at the burial place of our loved ones.

And they begin to tell the story to others, speaking in small groups at first, with people whom they trusted.
And, then, after Pentecost, they speak in public places to crowds of people. Many of these listeners believe the witness of the disciples and become believers in Jesus, believers in the resurrection. Thousands come to believe at a time. All because of the witness of Peter and others.

 The tomb is empty. We have the disciples’ witness that it is true. We have the witness of countless people who saw the risen Jesus during the 40 days between the resurrection and the ascension.

 And we have the witness of hundreds and perhaps thousands of people we know today who tell their own stories of their encounters with Jesus. Jesus in the hospital; Jesus at their bedside, Jesus sitting next to them, Jesus riding with them in the airplane. Jesus wiping away their tears, Jesus laughing with joy with them when someone is healed or found safe. Jesus offering them a pair of shoes or a blanket or a nourishing meal.

 We are Jesus’ witnesses today. Some people have never heard the story, and many more don’t believe it is true. Many have been hurt in some way by church people. It is up to us to tell the Jesus stories to each other and to those who don’t know and to those who need to be healed.

 And we need to tell the stories to our children and grandchildren, so the story can continue. If we don’t tell the story of Jesus, who will?

 Today, we celebrate the good news that the tomb is empty. It is news worth sharing, so, go out and share it with someone. Say Happy Easter to someone. Tell someone else that they can do anything God is calling them to do, because the tomb is empty and Jesus is in charge.

Please pray with me. Jesus, we thank you for the surprise and blessing of this day. Help us to remember every day that the tomb is empty, and we can do anything you call us to do. Amen and Alleluia!