Tag Archives: The Empty Tomb

Easter and Us

A Sermon for 1 April 2018 – Easter Sunday

A reading from the gospel of John 20:1-18.  Listen for God’s word to us.

“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.  So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”  Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb.  The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.  He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in.  Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb.  He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.  Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.  10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.  11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb.  As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.  13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”  She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”  14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.  15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?  Whom are you looking for?”  Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”  16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!”  She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).  17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father.  But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”  18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord;” and she told them that he had said these things to her.”

This is the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God!

What does resurrection have to do with our lives – not just some day off in the future when our mortal flesh returns to the earth.  But today, on Easter.  And tomorrow.  And the next.  And any random day of the week, like three weeks from next Tuesday?  How does resurrection impact us every day?

We know how it impacted the life of Jesus, the Christ.  Arrested for sedition by a state that was colluding with religious folks who believed him blasphemous, Jesus was brutally executed.  Hung on a cross as were all those in his day who were condemned to die.  A handful of women – and, according to the gospel of John, the beloved male disciple – were the only ones from the throngs devoted enough to watch.  Joseph of Arimathea – who represented a dissenting voice on the Jewish high council – and Nicodemus – the Pharisee who once went to Jesus at night to learn of God’s undying love for the world – got his body off the cross.  The gospel of John records that they wrapped him with about a hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes – which is a hole lot of powerful healing oils!  They placed their dead Rabbi in the linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews.  And because the Jewish day of preparation was fast-approaching, they laid his body in a newly hewn tomb in the garden near the spot where he had been crucified.  Night fell as the corpse lay stone-cold still, the ruah – the breath of Life, the spirit of the one called Jesus no longer there to animate his body.

Resurrection meant all the difference for that one!  Early on the first day of the week, after the celebration of Passover was over, in the dark before dawn; Mary Magdalene found her way back to the tomb in the garden.  Love’s redeeming work was done!  He was not there but had risen!  That very morning, he again called her by name.  Standing before her face-to-face; the Risen One charged her to go tell his brothers.  He was ascending – returning to the Source from which he had come.  Though he would appear to them all later that night.  Then one week following.  And again, when they had returned to the boats and nets.  The power of his life was not yet done.  The resurrection of his body confirmed all he had been teaching – the LORD of heaven and earth would have the last word, not death.  But Life for all and forever for those who would follow his path.

Resurrection changed the lives of those first rushing to the tomb.  Mary Magdalene, Peter, and John.  Mary his Mother, James his brother, Thomas and all the rest too.  To the ends of the earth eventually they would go.  Not scattered like scared sheep but sent with purpose to the far-reach of lands we now know as India, Africa, and Europe.  From that one little spot in a garden outside the walls of Jerusalem, a different kind of world-wide web would form.  The message over and over:  “I have seen the Lord!  The crucified, dead, and buried; lives forevermore!”  He is present with us.  In us, as we continue to walk the path he taught throughout his living and dying and living again.  . . .  Talk about an adventure!  All around their known-world they went to teach any who would listen everything they had seen and heard.  To give witness to Christ’s healing power.  To tell of his up-side-down understanding of the welcome of God.  To live in ways that showed yet the life-transforming effects of compassionate love.  Resurrection made all the difference in a world craving any seed of hope.

Resurrection is meant to change our lives too.  It shows us the pattern imprinted by the Creator in the creation.  Life.  Death.  Life again!  We too live forevermore.  Our days have purpose because of what we have seen – not just far off in the land where Jesus first lived.  Not even alone in the stories of scripture that we cherish.  But also in our very own lives.  Where the power of forgiveness has broken-open our hearts to heal.  To begin again.  Where the up-side-down welcome of God has allowed us to be – to accept ourselves in all of our foibles, because each part is accepted by God, redeemed by God, cherished not as weakness but as an opportunity for God to work wonders we cannot accomplish on our own.  In our own lives – I hope we have experienced and continue to be for others – people of compassionate love; those who consider the need in ourselves even as we notice the deep need in another.  Resurrection is meant to change our lives – to give us hope in a world where we’re taught to focus more on that which divides instead of seeing all the ways we are connected.  For we need one another.  And when we sit together to break bread, the mysterious Spirit of God is found binding us all into one.

Resurrection has everything to do with us – with our living, with our dying daily, with our living again now and forevermore!  . . .  Happy Easter, Resurrection people!  When we depart from here, let us go to make all the difference!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2018  (All rights reserved.)

And Then . . .

A Sermon for 5 April 2015 – Easter Sunrise

Click here to read scripture first:  

http://www.biblestudytools.com/nrsa/john/passage/?q=john+20:1-18

John 20:1-18

Early in the day standing in the garden just outside the old city of Jerusalem, it is easy to imagine this morning. The world is hushed as the sunlight streams through the tree branches. All kinds of birds gloriously sing. Little flowers open their petals as if to proclaim their own alleluias. Of course, it’s impossible to be there alone these days what with the millions of pilgrims who make the trek to the Holy Land each year. The good news is that this treasure of the Garden Tomb is less crowded than the Church of the Holy Sepulcher inside the old city walls where Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians have built a massive structure over what they claim to be the sites. Not so in the garden – there’s none of that holy bling there. Just an authentic sense of a quiet spot only a stone’s throw from a rocky hill that literally looks like the shape of a human skull. Archeologists claim that was the site, the Place of the Skull, where Rome would have crucified insurrectionist as it was along a main thoroughfare out of the city and right over the spot previously used for religious stonings.

“’Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He has been raised; he is not here!  Look, there is the place they laid him.’”  (Mark 16:6) The Empty Tomb of Christ at The Garden Tomb, Jerusalem.   Photo by JMN, March 2014.

“’Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here! Look, there is the place they laid him.’” (Mark 16:6) The Empty Tomb of Christ at The Garden Tomb, Jerusalem. Photo by JMN, March 2014.

The day I was there last year with my pilgrim group, the garden was just beginning to bloom as the sun pierced the crisp morning air. I wandered around the garden trying to catch a glimpse of the Risen Christ standing among the fronds of palm trees or sitting among the greenery of what I think were eucalyptus bushes. . . . According to the gospel of John, Mary Magdalene slipped out of the Upper Room before dawn that first day after the Passover Sabbath was over. Presumably overwhelmed yet with grief, can you see her fumbling her in way in the dark along a narrow path. Down the steps near Caiaphas’s house where Jesus would have been held the long night before his crucifixion. Through Zion’s Gate and all the way from the southwest side of the city to just north of the Damascus Gate. Winding west of the Temple mount across the very same path today called the Via Dolorosa where they would have made him carry the heavy beam for his cross. It must have been a risky trek what with the city all a buzz from the swift action of Rome at the urgings of the religious leaders.

The gospel of John doesn’t explain why Mary of Magdala went to the tomb early on that next day, as some of the other gospels tell of spices to be bought for a proper burial anointing. John just says she went. She certainly got in a good workout that morning as she ran back to find Peter and another disciple before racing once again to the empty tomb. Peter and the other disciple are going to be the ones to go in first, into this cave in a garden very near to where their Teacher had been brutally killed by the state just a handful of hours before. The gospel of John makes a big deal about them seeing the linen cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ broken body at his burial. The cloth for his face even receives special mention, as if to note that no one would have raided the tomb to take away a dead body but stopped first to neatly roll up the cloth from his head and carefully place it alone in the tomb where his skull might have laid. No, the gospel wants us to know that his dead body hadn’t been stolen. Something miraculous had taken place. Like lying there in the absolute silence of death, when suddenly the breath of God returned to his lungs. Infused again in every cell with the force of life, almost how the buds of tree branches arouse from their winter’s sleep at the first hint of the warming spring sun. He found himself to be alive again and whether he unbound himself or if God made it happen some other way, it was like that day Jesus proclaimed about Lazarus: “Unbind him and let him go!” (John 11:44). Again in the wee hours before that dawn, he stood up.

I know it’s a tale many minds find difficult to fathom. You might too if in your day to day life you’ve not experienced such resurrection – such moments after the blows of life when you find yourself somehow, miraculously, again standing up. Maybe that’s why the gospel of John gives so much attention to the lingering Mary Magdalene. Peter and the other disciple are reported as leaving pretty quickly after they went into the empty tomb. But Mary of Magdala stood there weeping in the garden. If in fact it was the exact spot, then right there near the same spot I stood to take the photo of the tomb that is on the bulletin cover for today. We don’t know why she wept – if they were tears of anger. Tears of sorrow. Perhaps even tears with a hint of hope, wanting to be filled with great joy. When pressed on it, she simply says: “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him” (John 20:13). When she turns to see who she believes to be the gardener, she makes the outlandish statement that if he knows where the body is, then just tell her and on the adrenaline in her own body, she’ll carry him away alone. Oh Mary! The Risen Christ must have been a little bit tickled at her impossible, impassioned plan. I wish we would been told if he giggled at her first before he finally spoke her name: “Mary!” Then, as suddenly as the Breath of Life must have returned to his body, joy flooded over hers. “My Teacher!” she exclaims. For even here in this empty tomb he is showing her the truth he’s been trying to tell them all along the way.

It doesn’t make rational sense – our logical minds can’t figure it all out. Which really is part of the gift. For in the world all around us, in those we love, and even in ourselves; Life happens again. It’s the underlying truth of it all for us simply to behold. To see. To trust. To wash over any doubt within until we’re left in total awe. The mystery of a Love that never will let death be the final word. Only Life. Life. Wonderful new Life. . . . In gratitude for such an amazing gift, from Mary Magdalene’s first thanksgiving through all the ages and even unto our own; let us join in the long line of great rejoicing. Christ is risen! Alleluia, Alleluia, Amen!

© Copyright JMN – 2015  (All rights reserved.)