Sunday, April 8, 2007

The Tomb is Empty

Holy Redeemer Lutheran
Binghamton, NY
April 8, 2007
“The Tomb is Empty”

Luke 24: 1-12
Alleluia! Christ is Risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!

I don’t know if you have ever noticed, but in the four Gospels, Mark, Matthew, Luke and John, the stories of the Resurrection are different. In Mark there are no appearances of the risen Christ but a promise that he will come to the disciples in Galilee. In Mathew we hear of Jesus’ appearance to the disciples in Galilee. In Luke, as we heard this morning, an angel tells the disciples that he is risen and it will be next week when we hear of Jesus’ appearance on the road to Emmaus. And in John we hear Mary finding Jesus in the garden in Jerusalem.

It is well worth your looking up these bible passages at your leisure and reading the different stories of the Resurrection. One isn’t right and the others wrong. They are just four different accounts of the mystery of the Resurrection that people told and which were set down some 30 to 80 years after the event. But there is one thing that is common to all of these stories: In each Gospel, the tomb is empty.

In each Gospel we are brought quickly to the apex of the story of Jesus. These gospels are not about Jesus’ life and death anymore. They are not about his teachings or his ministry, who he healed or even raised from the dead. They are about the fact that something powerful happened not just to Jesus, but for all humanity. In Luke, when the women go to prepare his body with spices, they find the stone rolled away. They could not find his body. Then two in white, which all of his followers would have identified as angels said, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen.”

The tomb is empty.

Most of the time when we say that something is empty it is a negative thing. We even have psychologists telling us that if we see that something is half-empty we tend to be negative people. To see life based upon on what we don’t have creates a need to get more ---to spend our lives trying to fill up the voids in our lives. We often refer to the emptiness of our lives or the vacant place within ourselves as something that needs to be crammed with meaning. And yet when we find this scene in Jesus’ life we find that it is the emptiness that carries the weight of meaning for the Christian.

“Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified and on the third day rise again,” the angels say to the women. For the Christian to believe that Christ is risen and not in the tomb of death, is THE statement of faith. The earliest creed in the Church was: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” It was in the past and it is today, and it will be forever, the most basic understanding of the Christian faith. When you try to type out Christ is risen, on your computer, you will find that the grammar correction will automatically say “Christ HAS risen”, but that is not the statement of faith! It is not past tense. It isn’t past perfect even. The faith tells us that Christ IS risen. It is something that is going on right now and has been going on for 2,000 years. The tomb continues to be empty, because he is risen as he said.

The Empty Tomb is the sign that life is full.

Philip was a nine year old that was what we might call developmentally disabled. He had difficulty keeping up with his fellow classmates. The children in his Sunday school class were often impatient with him. One Easter the teacher of the class brought some plastic eggs that you can get at the dollar store and told her class to find something that symbolized the resurrection an put it in their eggs and then return to class. One girl found a butterfly and placed it in her egg. A boy found a blade of new grass and put it in his egg. Another boy thought Jesus was the rock and placed a small stone in his egg. But when Philip returned he had nothing in his egg. “Oh Philip, you didn’t do it right,” the kids said. “That’s stupid.” “I DID do it right.” Philip said. “The tomb was empty.”

As so often happens with slow children, Philip died that year. At the offertory at his funeral his Sunday school classmates processed up to the altar each laying their empty plastic eggs on the altar. They too understood what Philip had said: “The tomb is empty.”

We no longer need to fear death because the tomb is empty. We no longer need to fear what life has in store for us, because he is risen right here and now. We no longer have to fret about what we are to eat, or what we are to wear. We no longer have to worry that our children are going to be ok. We no longer have to wonder about how our lives are going to work out because the tomb is empty.

The grace that is worked for us in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the kind of action that tells us that God is about saving all of creation. This does not mean that we do not have to do our part. This does mean that we have to assume the responsibility for the gifts God has given us. But all too often we humans forget that God is still working out our salvation in that empty tomb—that it is God who is still gracing us with the love he showed in raising his Son.

The empty tomb becomes a metaphor for our lives. It becomes a way for us to face life with hope. If death cannot stop us, what need we be afraid of? If life is given in the quiet of the tomb, why should we be scared of what death might bring? If grace is flooded upon us even in our sinfulness, what is keeping us from turning our lives over to Christ? It is in the empty tombs of our existence that God comes close to us, raises us and restores us so that each part of our life can be filled with those resurrection moments—that we can know the meaning of life eternal.

It is in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that we see our own lives. But it is also in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that we can see the gift of others too. When we lay down our own fears, then we can look in to the lives of others and find in them the salvation that God holds out to them as well. It is in the empty tomb that we find that we do not have to fill up our voids to the exclusion of others. There is room on this wee earth for all God’s children. It is in the empty tomb that we come to know that Ultimate power comes from God and that all other power is false.

The story of the resurrection is timeless. It is not a matter of what happened 2,000 years ago that makes a difference in our lives today. The story of Jesus is our story. His life is our lives. It was his faith in God that allowed him to know that death was not the end. And it is our faith that allows us to look into those empty places in our lives and know that it is not the end. For us the empty tomb must be the place where we find the faith to make this world a place that is different. It must be our willingness to face the powers of this world with God’s power knowing that eternal life is always ours. It is in the voids of our worlds that we must be willing to show forth God’s love to those who do not think as we do. Like the women at the tomb, we must hear the angels, though. We may not look for the living among the dead. We must, as Church look for those who need to know the love of God and share it with them. And we must be about the tearing down of power structures that are not of God.

It is among the living that we are to live out of our empty tombs, freed from fear, freed from the bondage to power that is not of God. It is among the living that we are called to love one another in the name of Christ. It is among the living we are to embrace God’s power so that we do not fear it but share it. For this day of Easter proclaims that God’s power is enough. This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

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