Monday, April 21, 2014

Empty Isn't Always Bad

I've read a lot of blog posts and comments recently. A lot of times, either the post itself or the comments that people post following it just make me sad, for lots of reasons. So, here's (a version of) my Easter sermon from yesterday, with no claim to all the answers about any particular topic, other than that Christ is risen. That's the best news, most worth blogging about, I think. Maybe this will bring someone some hope and joy. If not, then disregard it, I guess. It's worth a try, anyway...

"Empty Isn't Always Bad"
John 20:1-18

Mary waited as long as she could, after the Sabbath was over. She just needed to go to the tomb and see if there was anything to do, if there was any way it had all just been a dream. So she went--and it was still dark--and then, what was to be done? Nothing was as it should have been--the stone had been messed with and the body was gone! What could she do next?

So she runs to tell some other disciples, and the story gets a bit confusing then, with the disciples' foot race and all the talk about cloths--and what exactly, did the disciples believe, after they had seen the tomb? And then they went home? What?!

Some--well, lots!--of this story is so mysterious. Why couldn't John (or one of the other gospel writers) just tell us what really happened when Jesus was raised from the dead? Why can't we know all the details? How can we believe it's true? Could it be true? Does an empty tomb really mean something good?

No one saw the resurrection first-hand, and after all that had happened, we can probably understand why Mary stood there weeping, even after the two disciples had gone. "What have they done with him?" she wanted to know. And what was she to do now?

You see, Mary didn't realize that empty isn't always bad. To Mary--just like to most of us, if we'd be honest enough to admit it--God just did not seem big enough, after all that had gone on, to make an empty tomb have any redeeming value. Jesus was dead, and she just wanted to make sure everything was done right with the body. He was dead. That was the truth of the matter. And what what she going to do now--now that the tomb was empty?

You know the story--maybe you're tempted to shout to get her attention: "Mary! Mary--don't you see, it's him!! He's right there in front of you!!" But Mary will not see, not until her calls her name ("My sheep hear my voice," he had said.). She will not know that an empty tomb is not a bad thing, until she can be completely shaken out of her too-small, Good Friday-filled world, where Jesus is still dead.

How often do we live in that Good Friday world? That world, where death seemed to win and sin seemed to reign. That world, where all that seems ever before us is the horror of what happened then. The hymn writer said it so well: "O Sacred Head, now wounded / with grief and shame weighed down, / now scornfully surrounded / with thorns thine only crown; / how pale thou art with anguish, / with sore abuse and scorn! / How does that visage languish / which once was bright as morn!" That world, where darkness seemed to extinguish the light...and an empty tomb could only mean someone had taken a body away...

But not today! Not this day! Not in the middle of a garden, not at a borrowed tomb...Not today! Not in a hospital room, where it appears death has the final word--not in a brothel or a crack house or a jail cell, where darkness seems to be overcoming all--not in your heart and in my heart and in all the broken and ugly and dark places in our lives--death and sin and darkness don't win--not today!!


And Mary, in her grief, stuck in her Good Friday world, doesn't realize that empty isn't always bad, that her Lord stands right before her!! WHAT A STORY! Could it be true? Yes, it is!! CHRIST IS RISEN!! Weep no more! Look for tombs and stones and cloths and dead bodies no more! Go and tell! CHRIST IS RISEN!

He calls your name and my name--call us out of the mire of the sin that keeps us from hearing his voice, call us away from the despair and disillusionment that make us think God isn't big enough to do something miraculous, calls us to go and tell, like Mary did. Go and tell--Christ is alive--I have seen the Lord!!

Have you been tricked? Have you been led to believe that you have no story to tell, that you have no word to speak, that empty is bad and only full is good news? Not so! Go and tell! "I have seen the Lord." That's such a simple sermon to preach: "I have seen the Lord." Christ is risen!

Sure, we don't know all the details. We can't imagine what it felt like or what it looked like, when Christ was raised from the dead. Sometimes, we will still get distracted, even from such an amazing story as this one. But with Mary we can say, "I have seen the Lord."

Now, I know you're thinking, "But seriously, Pastor, you know I have never actually seen Jesus!" And I know--we have not stood in that garden, and we have not seen Jesus face-to-face like Mary did, as he called her name. We have not heard him call our names in the same way she did. I know.

But you have seen the Lord--or you wouldn't be here today! Where have you seen him? When have you seen him? How have you seen him?
...In the hug of a child?
...In the eyes of one in need of your help?
...In the love of a neighbor?
...In the touch of a parent or loved one?
...In the unexpected care of a stranger?
...In the forgiveness offered by a friend?
...In the witness or words of a fellow believer?
...In the bread and the wine?
...In the words of life that we read?

Yes, you have seen the Lord!

So, go and tell: "I have seen the Lord!" Christ is risen! An empty grave is there to prove our Savior lives! Alleluia! Glory to God! Amen.

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