Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Easter Sunrise Sermon in the Memorial Garden

What are you bringing to the tomb of Jesus? The women - the two Marys and Salome - were bringing spices to the tomb, in order to anoint the body of Jesus. They were coming back to conclude the rituals they started on Good Friday, but could not complete because of the Sabbath. So here they are, bright and early the morning after the Sabbath, expecting to finish the job. Along with their spices, they also brought their sadness. These women had witnessed firsthand Jesus’ death and burial. The reality of Jesus’ death must have been starting to sink in. The tears of shock and disbelieve might have been dried, and the task of mourning would have begun. They also brought with them their concern about the stone that covered the tomb. They had seen it days ago – it was heavy. How were they possible going to perform their last goodbyes for Jesus? They were just doing what they had always done for the dead. They certainly were not expecting resurrection.

What are you bringing to the tomb this morning? (Pause) Are you worried about the declining health of a family member? Are you concerned about the future of your career in this troubled economy? Are you fearful of a doctor’s diagnosis or of facing yet another day with chronic pain?  What other things are on your heart and mind that you have brought with you here today?

We all have brought something with us here to the tomb. And there is plenty to be worried about and fearful of in this world. Each of us has seen firsthand the harsh nature of life. Innocent people get hurt. Good people die. Our stories don’t turn out the way we want them to.

What are we expecting as we gather at the tomb today? The women bringing spices were expecting to do what they had always done. When someone you care for dies, you lovingly prepare them for burial, as your sign of respect. But Jesus was more than just someone they had come to love – these women had followed Jesus during his ministry in Galilee. They listened to him and provided for him. He was supposed to give them hope in the midst of their oppressed lives under the Roman thumb. Instead, they had watched as he was crucified, and buried in a borrowed tomb.

Then they looked up from their heavy sorrow and BEHOLD! The stone was rolled away! How strange! And even stranger, there was a man dressed in white there to meet them. And the most strange and terrifying thing of all was the message that he told them.
“You were looking for Jesus, and rightly so, for you saw him die and be buried. But don’t be afraid, for see, he is not here!”

And sure enough, when they looked in, the place was empty. They had looked for him in a place of death, but he was no longer there.

But he was not just gone, disappeared, vanished. He had gone ahead of them, done back to Galilee, and would meet them there. They were assured that they would see him again! O frightening and wondrous good news!

I like to think that these women, when they fled the scene after this announcement, left their spices at the entrance of the tomb. In their terror and amazement, they were dropped and forgotten. Because they didn’t need them any longer. They were useless, for there was no body to be anointed! The dead body of Jesus was not there!

But we have had the good news handed on to us, all the way back, from these initially frightened and silent women. And it is in wonder and amazement that we too can put down our burdens at the entrance to the empty tomb. We drop our burdens, though, out of joy and not fear. We drop them because they can no longer hold on to us anymore. We can still hang on to them, if we want, but they are not who we are. But we can leave them here, at the empty tomb, because Jesus showed us that God’s reality is stronger than the finality of death.

In a world where death and brokenness have become the norm, Jesus left a message for us at the entrance to an empty tomb. He said, “You’re not going to find me here among the dead, because I am alive!”

On the Friday that we call Good, evil thought that it had won. But Death did not have the last word. Death could not hold him down. With Paul, we can ask, no, shout even, “Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting?”

It’s gone. It’s finished. It’s been swallowed up, just as the tomb burst open in that early morning hour.

Death is the same-old, same-old, but life, now that’s the surprise. Surprising enough for some women to drop their spices and run away in fear. Surprising enough for the faithful to get up extra early on a special morning to celebrate. Surprising enough that we trust that Jesus has gone ahead of us to, and that we will see him as he has promised.  Because the story is not over. It has just begun. AMEN. 

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