John 20:1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.
2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”
3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”
14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'”
18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
Christ is risen!! He is risen indeed.
I don’t know about other pastors, but I have cemetery stories – things I remember that happened in a cemetery somewhere.
Once upon a time – when we lived in Connecticut – a guy from a Hollywood production company came to see me. They wanted to use our church building and cemetery for a couple of scenes in a movie they were making. A Hallmark movie with a few well-known actors in it (Diane Lane and Gena Rowlands). A nice tear-jerker. The church leadership said yes, and they gave us a little money for the trouble of shutting everything down for a couple of days. They let me stand nearby while the filming was going on. (Note: church scene starts at 43:10; cemetery scene starts at 50:40)
The cemetery scene involved an elderly mother, whose four children had died when she was younger. She was talking to a friend and pulling weeds from around the headstones. Very sad part of the movie. Except that it wasn’t real. Of course, it was a movie. But the way reality was portrayed was really interesting.
The production company used an empty space in the cemetery and had some headstones made to look like the others nearby. They even made the stones look weathered and planted the weeds that this lady was pulling. None of it was authentic at all. Nobody was buried there. They made this little set go away as soon as they were done with the scene.
We just heard about another grave with nobody in it.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed.
In fact, the resurrection of Jesus is the point; it is the focus of scripture, the core of our faith. Somehow, I think you know that! It. Is. Real.
One of the things I love about the gospels is that they each have a bit of a different take on this reality. Different people describing the same event from different points of view. For me, that makes it even more real.
The story about the empty tomb of Jesus that we hear most often is the one you just heard from the gospel of John:
Mary Magdelene, who was one of Jesus’ closest followers, comes to mourn at the tomb and finds Jesus standing outside. At first, she thinks he’s the cemetery gardener. They talk for a minute, and suddenly, she recognizes who he is. Suddenly, she gets it. Suddenly, she realizes that Jesus is alive. She has a sudden infusion of faith.
But in Luke, there is a group of women who go to the tomb (Mary Magdalene is one of them) and Jesus is gone, period. He’s not there. They don’t know where he is. They see angels, but no Jesus, and the angels don’t say anything about where he is, except that he is not there. Peter goes to look, but he only sees an empty tomb and doesn’t know what to think.
So, here’s a trivia question: as Luke tells it, who is the first one to see Jesus alive? It’s Peter (see Luke 24:34). There’s the story of the two disciples who have an encounter with Jesus on the road outside Jerusalem (the road to Emmaus), but when they run back to tell everybody else, they find out that Peter’s already seen him. There’s no story to go along with it, Luke just says that Jesus appeared to Peter, and that’s it.
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus doesn’t stay at the tomb waiting to be found, he goes to the disciples. That’s an important thing to know about Jesus: Jesus does not stay in one place waiting to be found, Jesus goes out finding people, and he changes the lives of everybody who sees him. And after they believe, Jesus sends them out – Christians aren’t supposed to stay in one place either.
Everyone who believes in the resurrection of Jesus has a mission to take the good news to anyone who doesn’t know. These believers started ending up in the strangest places, talking to people they never expected to have anything to do with. They started doing things they never thought they could do. God gave them the authority (the permission) and the power to change their world, and that still happens. The resurrection of Jesus gives all of us the permission and the power to change our world. The permission and power to be radical for God. What the worst that can happen – death? Through Christ, God has lifted that burden.
Jesus escaped death; he wasn’t where he was supposed to be, and you never know where he’ll turn up next. You can never tell who he’s going to find next. Somebody will find out that he’s alive, and he’ll change them; maybe you, maybe the person next to you. But they won’t know that this is the year of the Lord’s favor until you tell them.
Practice saying it – Christ is risen. He is risen indeed!
O God, on this day you amazed the world. You took the worst that the human race had to offer and turned it into the best thing that ever happened. You saved us. You make life out of death. Now bring life to us. Make the living Jesus real to us in ways we’ve never experienced or expected. Help us make him our Lord.
Bring us out of the tombs we live in and send us on a mission. Take away our desire for the things that kill us and bury us, and use us to bring life to the world you love and sent Jesus to die for. Give us opportunities to show people that Jesus lives in us. Heal our relationships, give us a greater ability to love and forgive. Make us like him. Give us eyes that are sensitive to pain and injustice, and hands willing to do something that makes a difference.
We pray with faith that as we give ourselves to you, you will give us the kind of life that never dies, because of the risen Jesus. Amen.