Easter Sunday 2016
St. Paul’s Within the Walls
March 27, 2016
An empty tomb is an invitation.
When the disciples heard Mary’s dire announcement that the stone had been rolled away, and that Jesus body was no longer inside, they ran for their lives.
They ran, just as Mary had, to see what further shame and insult could be visited upon the One they had followed since those early days by the shores of Galilee.
As if the beatings, the crucifixion, and his death weren’t painful enough… now his dead body had been stolen as well.
As their lungs burned…their blood hot within them… they must have truly believed that this time, they really wouldn’t lay eyes on him again.
It WAS truly finished.
The hopes and dreams they had seen grow from a small spark in their hearts, to a kindled fire of followers, and finally into a nation-consuming flame of Hosannas, were now as dead as the Messiah’s crucified hand on the hard wood of the cross.
Standing before the open grave, peering into the shadows and the emptiness…hearing the sounds of their labored breathing breaking apart the deafening silence of the stone…the moment of discovery was upon them.
What did they see?
All of us who gather on this Easter Sunday stand on the precipice of that open tomb, and each of us brings to this moment the sum total of all our hopes and dreams…the culmination of our disappointments and despairs…and as we gaze upon the scene that the disciples witnessed, we have a choice about how we will respond.
Peter looked upon the rolled up linen wrappings and the shroud and remembered the cock crowing and probably wondered where the perpetrators had hidden the body.
We have no indication that he responded at all to what he saw.
This is a common response.
How many of you gaze upon this scene today and struggle with how to respond?
When we look upon the death and tombs of our world…a world reeling from terrorist attacks…a world that has become too accustomed to perversions of justice that send innocent people to their deaths while the guilty seem to escape unpunished…a world where the powerful add insult to injury and the poor are sent too readily to their graves…it can be hard to believe in another way.
Often we can feel paralyzed like Peter…unable to respond and shocked with grief.
But paralysis is not the only response.
The other disciple saw the same scene and believed.
Perhaps he remembered Lazarus coming forth from the tomb when Jesus called him by name, still wrapped head to toe in all those same burial linens, and the sight of those rolled up wrappings made him think, “Why would body snatchers take the trouble to remove those wrappings, much less roll them up like this?”
Regardless, that one clue made him believe that all the things Jesus had ever said about the Son of Man being killed and on the third day rising again…all the words of scripture that Jesus had explained to them while alive…they came rushing back to him and filled him with an assurance that despite the disappointments and the despairs…the hopes and dreams were real.
The questions and doubts about what God was up to in Jesus had been answered for him.
What about your questions and doubts?
Sometimes we carry these questions and doubts like great burdens, wondering if we will ever be free of them, or if they will ever be definitively answered.
The Welsh poet R.S. Thomas, in his poem called “The Answer” illustrates the power of seeing these old burdens lifted.
There have been times
when, after long on my knees
in a cold chancel, a stone has rolled
from my mind, and I have looked
in and seen the old questions lie
folded and in a place
by themselves, like the piled
gravecloths of love’s risen body.
The other disciple saw the open tomb and knew that love’s risen body was the only reality that truly mattered anymore.
Death had been swallowed up forever, and the thin wrappings that had once been able to hold Jesus and, for a moment, contain the power of God that flowed through him to make all humans children of God…those wrappings were folded and in their proper place…in an empty tomb.
Life was outside, and the believing disciple knew he needed to go out into the world to meet and greet the life he had sought among the tombs.
And then there is Mary.
She tells the others of the open tomb, and when the others leave, she just breaks down in tears.
You may remember that it was another woman’s tears that mingled with the dust on Jesus’ feet when he was dining with Simon the Pharisee, and talked about the forgiveness of sins….may remember that the woman anointed Jesus feet that day with costly perfume.
Now it is Mary, the woman who had stood by him as he died on the cross…who had come first to the tomb in the twilight hours looking for any sign of his being raised to life…this Mary is standing outside crying her eyes out.
She is so grief stricken that she probably thinks the angels inside the tomb are hallucinations…and when she sees the figure speaking to her outside the tomb…she mistakes him for the gardener.
And yet when Jesus calls her by name…remember when Jesus told them that the Good shepherd calls his sheep by name and leads them out…when he says to her “Mary!” She knows that it is he.
Sometimes it takes our name being called for us to recognize that Jesus is with us…and once we have been so called, it becomes difficult to do anything but spread the good news that good conquers evil…that life is stronger than death…and that love never ends.
That’s what Mary does, rushing home and becoming the first to actively proclaim the resurrection.
Her zeal is palpable, “I have seen the Lord!”
For all those baptized into the death of Jesus Christ, who have been raised with him to new life, and who enjoy this fellowship of love and prayer called church…Mary is a wonderful example of how to respond.
We have been called by name in Baptism, and having been so called, and having seen the Lord with our own eyes we must go and tell it widely.
Tell it in the streets.
Tell it on the mountain.
Tell it in the darkness, within the prisons, and among the tombs where hopelessness has reigned for far too long.
For the Jesus Mary sees, the one who might look like a gardener or a refugee, or maybe even the person sitting next to you right now…that Jesus is omnipresent in all creation if we but have the eyes to see.
The Word became flesh and lived among us…and we have seen his glory.
The question this Easter is if we will keep looking for that life in all things, keep supporting it through loving action and service, and proclaim through word and example that we too have seen the Lord.
Faced with an empty tomb, we have choices people.
Today, I choose Alleluia.
Today, I choose life.
Today, and all the days that I have left on this earth, I choose to look for and shout out the truth that shook the world 2000 years ago.
That Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, death has no more dominion, and that the love of God can never be destroyed.