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The Empty Tomb

4/5/2015 Resurrection of Our Lord/Easter Day The text is Mark 16:1-8.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

I don’t know much about him.  I only read about him in a book that contained short stories.  But his story said something profound, something that I want to share with you this Easter morning.

His name was John and he was a special-needs child.  He was eight years old and developmentally challenged.  But, his diminutive intellect never kept him from going to church or attending Sunday school.

John was one of eight children in Mrs. Smith’s Sunday school class.  As Easter approached, Mrs. Smith, as was her custom, had the children do a special project.  This particular year, the year that John was in her class, the children were asked to bring to Sunday school a L’eggs panty hose container (you know, the one that looks like an egg) with something inside representing new life.

Well, the day came to bring in the L’egg eggs, and the teacher asked the children to place their containers on the table to be opened one at a time.  She opened the first egg and inside was a tiny flower, and one of the children proudly said, “That’s mine.”  She opened another and found a rock.  Another child explained that the rock had moss on it – a sign of life.  She opened a third and a butterfly flew out.  The children shrieked in delight as another child spoke up, “That one’s mine.  It took me all day yesterday to catch it.”

She then opened the fourth and much to her surprise, she found that it was empty.  Mrs. Smith’s heart stood still.  She knew that this one must be John’s and somehow, he had misunderstood what he was to do.  She didn’t want to embarrass him, so rather than saying a word, she closed up the egg and put it aside and then reached for another.  But, John saw what she was doing, and said, with a halting voice, “Don’t skip mine.”  The poor teacher…she had tried so hard not to do anything which might make John feel badly, and now, finally, she had to speak up.  “But, it’s empty, John,” she said in a soft voice.  And John answered, “I know.  The tomb was empty, and that is new life for everyone.”  Sometimes, the most profound things are found in the most unexpected places.  No one expected John to be the one child in the class who most understood what Easter and new life was all about.

My friends, if this story I just told sounds familiar, it is because I have shared it with you before.  It is one of those stories that we need hear more than once.  For, my friends, Easter is not about bunnies and eggs.  It’s not about new clothes, beautiful flowers, moss covered rocks and butterflies, even though many of these things are symbols of the new life we have in Christ.  No, Easter is about the unexpected emptiness of a tomb visited by some women who came to anoint a decaying body.  It is in the simplicity and the barrenness of an empty tomb that we find the greatest expression of God’s grace.  Empty is the tomb, and in its barrenness, we are blessed.  For, Christ has risen.  He has risen, indeed!

But, we live in a world in which emptiness is not a good sign.  It is a sign of despair, not a sign of hope.  An empty gas tank means we are out of fuel and that the car will stop going.  An empty wallet means we are out of money and that we will have to stop spending.  An empty stomach means we have not eaten for a while and that we will have to eat soon or bear the consequences.  An empty house means no one is home.  An empty mind means we do not think very often.  So, whenever we use the word, “empty”, we are saying that we are lacking something that needs to be refilled.  Emptiness is something we don’t want.

Yet, it is in the emptiness of the tomb that God makes known his greatest work.  On Easter, the cross stood empty.  Jesus was no longer upon it.  On Easter, the tomb stood empty.  Jesus was no longer in the grave.  And in this emptiness, we find life, an overflowing cup of God’s grace and salvation for all.  For, Christ has risen.  He has risen, indeed!

We can look upon this emptiness and rejoice.  But, that was not true for the women who went to anoint the body of the Master on resurrection morning.  They found the tomb empty.  They found the stone rolled back and in the tomb a young man dressed in white, and they were terrified.  Even the unexpected and joyful words, “You seek Jesus who was crucified.  He has risen.  He is not here,” did nothing to alleviate their fear and angst.  We are told by Mark that this unexpected news caused the women to flee from the tomb, for trembling and amazement came upon them.  And this is where the Gospel according to Mark ends – with the women fleeing an empty tomb, leaving us hanging on the word of resurrection and the promise of new life.  In Mark, there is nothing more to be said.  There is no record of the witnesses who saw the Lord alive again, no story of the doubter Thomas to support our faith, no commission to the fledgling church to break loose in the world to preach and teach and make disciples of all nations.  In Mark, there are only the women, the stranger, the word, and the empty tomb.

Years later, some felt uncomfortable about such an abrupt ending and chose to finish the account by adding verses, but Mark chose not to give us this type of completeness.  Mark chose not to give us a lot of witnesses to the resurrection.  Mark chose to leave us pondering about an empty tomb and hanging on the words, “He has risen.”  And, maybe, Mark chose to leave us there for that’s precisely what Easter is about – finding hope in those barren spaces in our life through the mystery and joy of the empty tomb of a risen Lord.  For Jesus is not there.  Jesus is not confined.  Jesus was not found where the women expected him to be.  For, Christ has risen.  He has risen, indeed!

He died.  He rose.  He lives again.  And in the movement from death to live, his word and promises are made secure.  We are made free in him – free to live a new life in God’s grace.  For the tomb, my friends, stood empty on resurrection morning, and in the emptiness of the tomb, there is hope for us all.

May we find as much joy and hope in the empty tomb as the eight-year old John.  May we be willing to share our faith in the empty tomb as boldly as that developmentally-challenged young man.  And may we be open to God’s grace which comes in unexpected ways.

A blessed Easter to you all, my friends!  For, Christ has risen.  He has risen, indeed!  Alleluia and amen!  And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.



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