The Bible makes a definite point that Jesus died. He hung on the cross until he was dead. It wasn’t a spiritual death, but a physical one. His body was dead. The heart of man stopped beating. Furthermore, when he was taken down from the cross by the soldiers, they made sure there was no mistake about it – they speared him in the side to drain the blood. Eventually, the body of Jesus found its way to the tomb of a wealthy man, Joseph, because Jesus had no tomb of his own. The body was laid to rest in the grave, and the tomb was sealed off from the world, placing a stone in front of the grave, the guards were ordered to watch the tomb to protect the order of the empire from the people’s uprising.
Everyone thought the story was over.
The death of Jesus on the cross was like a baseball announcer thanking everyone for coming out to watch the game following a disappointing home team loss, but it’s now time to return to your cars and depart for your homes.
The game was over. Even those who followed Jesus had already returned home try to make sense of all the events that took place.
Then early on that third day, the gospel accounts record that the women – Mary Magdalene and the other Mary go to the tomb to out of respect for their spiritual leader to anoint the dead body with oil and spices so to remove the stench of death. We are not sure what the disciples thought about their teacher, but no could have suspected that he rose from the grave. That’s just not humanly possible, nor does it follow any logic of the natural order! As Jesus hung on the cross, folks though he was just one more honorable person who had said and done some amazing things, but who died like everyone else.
The Bible says that early on that first Easter when the women arrived at the tomb, they met an angel of the Lord, who came and rolled the stone away. The women boldly make their way to the tomb when the angel appeared the men, the guards were the ones who stood in fear and were rendered useless. “Don’t be afraid,” the angel told the women.
You remember those words, “Don’t be frightened!” Don’t you? They happen all the way back when at the beginning of the gospel at Jesus’ birth when the angel speaks to the shepherds on the hillside. This time the words are articulated to the women as he announces the good news of Jesus resurrection. “Jesus isn’t here. Come and look for yourselves. And then, go and tell…”
And then Jesus appeared to them, calms them, and tells the women to continue to Galilee and to tell the men to go to Galilee where his brothers will see him.
You have before you and have heard for yourselves the story of Jesus resurrection. None of us were there that day, the gospel writers left us this evidence of the resurrection. This morning I want you to know that there is a vast difference between the evidence of Easter in God’s Word and the experience of Easter.
This Easter morning, I can stand before you and offer you every possible view of the empty tomb. I can try to explain to you in human ways in which the empty tomb might be possible, and I can point you to all the evidence of Easter, with all the emotional fanfare of the celebration of the Easter season. But what I cannot do for you that you should decide for yourself is to experience the empty tomb.
What I’m getting at here is the experience of an empty tomb to deepen our faith and trust in the resurrection of Jesus. Evidence only can do so much, but the important step is going to the empty tomb of Jesus for yourself.
The Easter story was never really meant to be argued about if it’s true, or real, or relevant, a waste of time, or otherwise. Look at those Easter Lilies; they don’t argue; they just bloom. The changing of the seasons doesn’t argue or listen to our popular opinion on the matter, the seasons just come. Same as the setting of the sun and the rising of the moon. It just is part of a natural process. Around these parts, we could say the same when a farmer buys a bag of seeds and plants it in the earth. It just does with it does without argument. The same thing is true for music and beauty. Sure, we have our favorite styles of music, and each of us has a differing appreciation for the beautiful things in life, but music and beauty are meant to inspire us and beckon us into a deeper appreciation of life.
The Easter story was made to invite us to experience the resurrection of Jesus as being true. It’s intended to invite us into a deeper understanding of God’s love and grace. The Easter story is only genuine when we experience the resurrection of Jesus and the impact that resurrection has on our collective life together.
Over the past several weeks, I’ve had the occasion to proclaim God’s Word to many who have lost a dearly departed loved ones. And one simple verse that we preachers proclaim at the time of death is from the Gospel of John 14 in which Jesus assures us: “In my father’s house there are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go and prepare a place for you?” It’s Jesus way of saying to his disciples, believe me! Trust me! I’m not pulling your leg. “And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may also be,” Jesus tells us there will be a reunion and a resurrection.
Like the fear experience by the guard at the tomb on that first Easter morning, death can and does create much anxiety in our life. The Apostle Paul says that death is our last enemy that Christ has defeated for us. But also like the words “Do not be afraid” that appear at the beginning of the gospel and Jesus’ resurrection, on the other side of all our lives at our birth, the prospect of coming and begin born into this world must be scary. Think about it. There is no way we can be born into this world understanding all the differences and ways of being. We live without air in the womb. How then can we live with it and breath on our own? We live without light in the womb, yet how can we imagine the world without light? In a certain way, birth seems like it is a death, wrenched away from all that sustains us in the womb.
But in the miracle of creation, God has prepared a place in this world for us.
They say that a newborn’s first experience of the world, our first awareness in this life is of the strong arms that surround us and keep us warm; eyes that consider ours with love and tenderness. Someone had anticipated our coming. Created is a place for us to dwell. Unknown to us we began to develop an awareness of our eyes and start to see the light, unknown to us was that we had a pair of lungs that we would need to breathe, ears to hear. If God so carefully planned our entry into this world, what would make us think that he would have anything otherwise prepared for when we depart? Remember Jesus saying: “I go to prepare a place for you.”
Sisters and brothers – Easter isn’t something that we can prove happened. At the end of the day, Easter isn’t about the evidence of Jesus resurrection. Faith, after all, is not provable.
Think about the last time you cried. For some of us it may have been as recently as this week, others we may have gone for an extended period without the need to shed tears. What is a tear? It depends, doesn’t it? I can give you a dictionary definition of crying, but I’m not speaking to your personal experience, am I? Here’s the evidence:
“A tear is a drop of the watery saline fluid continually secreted by the gland between the surface of the eye and the eyelids, which serves to moisten and lubricate these parts and keeps them clear of foreign particles.”
That’s a tear? Really?
I give you no more evidence of Easter – I want to invite you to be aware of Easter and experience God working through the power of our final enemy –death- to create life. Ask a child, “What does Easter mean to you?” and she might say (as my 4-year-old told me at Aldi) this week, “Easter is about the Easter Bunny and the chocolate rabbit.” Ask a teenager, “What does Easter mean?” and he might answer that Easter means, “Christ rose from the dead.” And if you ask a mature person of faith the same question, “What does Easter mean?” That person might reply:
“Easter means that I have only begun to live.”
The good news of Easter isn’t only that it is a celebration of a future gift in another life, but that it is ours to experience right now! Today!
Easter is getting in touch with that same power that brought Jesus out of the tomb and into life.
Come to the tomb and see for yourselves! You don’t have to fear like the guard at the tomb, but stand strong with the women – the Mary’s. Don’t bend down in shame, hold your heads up high and proud. And for Pete’s sake, don’t look for evidence of the resurrection. It’s not there, at least in any form we can prove to the world! Just trust that experience of transformation will happen without anything we think, say, or do. It’s all God! So, embrace the resurrection moments. Embrace the experience of the Lord who is risen and alive! And who comes to offer to walk with us.
No matter what else comes our way. Christ goes with us! Amen.