Easter Sunday 2020: Empty
1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
This is without a doubt the most unusual Easter Sunday I've ever experienced--that any of us have ever experienced.
Ordinarily this room would be full of people, all dressed in their Easter best, excited, joyful and ready to celebrate. Instead, there's just a few of us, and a whole bunch of you out there watching.
It's bittersweet because I'm still pumped up that today is Easter. It's been a freakishly long season of Lent. I dressed up today and stuff. It actually feels like the weather is turning to more sunny days than not sunny days.
I'm going to leave today to go home where we're cooking a fantastic Easter dinner, maybe sit by the pool...
And here's the best part... I'll let you in on a little secret... last time I checked, the Tomb is still empty.
Resurrection is what the Christian faith is all about--we're not based on a book, we're not based on a denomination, a particular kind of theology...
None of that.
It's all about the Resurrection. As the Apostle Paul said, if Christ has not been raised from the dead--then what are we here for? Why are we preaching? Why do we even care?
Because of the Resurrection---because of that empty tomb---we don't have to live in fear. We don't have to dread tomorrow. Because we know that this is not the end. And because of this, we can have eternal life right now. We don't have to wait on going to heaven---heaven comes to us when we finally figure this out.
But I've had a lot of time on my hands lately, so I've probably been overthinking things a bit. But this thought occurred to me:
Out of all of those people watching this today, there are undoubtedly quite a few folks who secretly, and perhaps not so secretly, wonder if the Resurrection of Jesus Christ actually happened.
And because they also know that the Christian faith hinges upon the Resurrection of Jesus as a reality, they are probably aware that by wondering about this one part they might also be casting doubt on the whole.
So, if you find yourself wondering those things and facing those realizations, I want you to hear this:
You are not alone.
There are lots of people who have struggled with doubts when it comes to the Resurrection. I am one of them. And they have struck me at the most inopportune moments. On one occasion, as I was reading my Bible I remember feeling a multitude of doubts wash over me like a cold, dark wave. "What if this isn't true? What if I'm believing a lie? What if..."
I've had my own faith crises--my moments when I began to wonder if everything I was doing was pointless and meaningless because none of the things I had believed in for my whole life were actually true... especially the thing about someone being raised from the dead.
So take heart. Your doubts are not the end of you, or your faith.
I believe that the tomb Jesus was buried within that Friday evening over two thousand years ago is empty. I believe it's empty because he rose from the dead. I believe that Jesus is risen, and that he does---as the ancient Christian confession states---sit at the right hand of the Father Almighty.
I will tell you why I believe this.
I believe it because I've experienced it. I believe it because I feel it is true deep down inside, not because of a set of theological arguments, but because of what I know.
What I've been confronted with time and again throughout this season is this one simple thought--one that I know, that I know from the deepest part of me:
THE SIGNS ARE ALL AROUND US--THE TOMB IS EMPTY.
I'm going to speak to you from my heart today.
Many years ago, a friend told me that being a modern day pastor of a large and growing church is like being a CEO of a company. My response was to say that I was absolutely a CEO---I was the Chief Enthusiasm Officer.
This is what I do. I've done it my whole life in all the places I've worked from Walt Disney World to Best Buy and now in Church world.
I love that part of my calling. I love being the Chief Enthusiasm Officer. But I've never been the CEO of a church during something like this. And I have been feeling lately like I'm running out of whatever secret sauce keeps you feeling positive in the face of adversity and negativity.
As this season of Lent drew to a close, I found myself feeling tired. I wondered out loud more than once to God if there was an end in sight to all of this.
Our Senior Director of Family Ministries Chris Gordon shared this quote with us the other day and I was so struck by it, I had to share it with you:
I’ve grown wary of asking with any sense of entitlement for the theatrical miracle, the poignant Easter resurrection you think will show the world whose really in control. I’ve learned to always show up with burial spices. Death is part of life in this world.
But I’ve also learned to look for the understated signs & wonders. The guy you thought was a graveyard gardener may be God Himself. I’ve learned to listen to the rumors of women who swore they saw angels. I’ve learned God cooks fish for you on the shore after all seems lost.
Hope persists after expectations have been devastated. Hope is a calling. It’s a way of life. It’s a way of being. It’s the humility of knowing we see in a mirror dimly, that we only know in part. It’s faith in the face to face to come.
- Amanda Opelt
I love the part where she says, "The guy you thought was a graveyard gardener may be God..." Just like Mary, we often have trouble seeing Jesus when we've become so convinced that resurrection is impossible.
I also really love this line:
"Hope persists after expectations have been devastated."
It's pretty amazing when you think about it---Mary showed up with spices to prepare Jesus' body. That was her reality. He was dead. She saw him put into the tomb.
But the new reality that confronted her after her expectations were devastated was quite simply this:
The Tomb was empty.
You might be sitting out there today thinking to yourself, "Where are my signs? Where is the evidence that I can point to... I'm dying over here!"
The news feels like it's been all bad, hasn't it? It's like every day we are giving up more of our lives, our freedoms and our sense of safety. Government spokespeople try to cheer us by saying that the death toll won't be that bad as long as we keep doing what we're doing.
Meanwhile, some of us are struggling financially. Others of us are afraid because we are vulnerable. And don't get me started on families that are now working from home and doing schoolwork on top of that.
But the signs are there, Beloved. The signs are there.
The Tomb is Empty.
I don't have to wonder whether the Resurrection really happened. I can see it happening all around me. All of time.
And I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that...
The Tomb is Empty.
May you see where Resurrection is happening all around you. May you finally realize that God really does keep his promises---that his claims are true, and real, and offered in love. May you know that...
The Tomb is Empty.