2018 04 01: The Garden Tomb

Posted on 03 Apr 2018

Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

Since today is Easter, I have chosen skip the sermon completely, and we will move directly to the offering.  Amen.  April Fools!  Yes, I expect that this is my once in a lifetime opportunity to preach an Easter sermon on April Fools’ Day.  The last time Easter fell on April 1st was before I was born in 1956, and I expect by the next time it occurs in eleven years in 2029, I will be retired.  Now there’s nothing wrong with a little laughter on Easter. In fact, in the early years of Christianity, Easter Monday was known as the “Day of Joy and Laughter.”  It was based on the musings of the early church fathers who stated that God had played a practical joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead.   But let me assure, no one in Jerusalem could have imagined an April Fools’ joke that early Easter morning. 

For most preachers today, however, it is not laughter they are afraid of, nor is it the fear of the crowded sanctuary, not even the distracted children who have already eaten too much chocolate.  No for most preachers, the challenge is trying to tell the Easter story in a new way.  Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, nearly 2000 years ago, is after all the greatest event in the history of the world. It changed humanity’s perspective on life and death.   Both faithful and skeptical people flock to the church this day from all different persuasions and understandings to experience the Easter faith.  Some preachers, like journalists, are looking for a new angle. Others are prepared to preach about the risen Christ without even mentioning what Jesus went through to get there. They will skip right over Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and move quickly to Easter.  Part of this is because we don’t like to have to deal with the darkness of Jesus crucifixion, suffering, death and burial, especially on a bright Sunday morning. Yes, we prefer a good April Fools’ joke over the gospel truth.  And that’s too bad.  It says that we don’t really understand the meaning of resurrection. 

You see, my friends, resurrection literally means to make something right again. Though we are bruised or broken by life’s burdens, and the darkness and pain we have experienced, God’s love in Jesus Christ has the power to make us upright once again. Maybe not today and maybe not tomorrow, but faith in the resurrection means that your entire life will be right again and you will have the last laugh.   

In St. John’s Easter gospel we read that   Mary came to the tomb while it was still dark, even before the sun had risen.  Perhaps she simply couldn’t wait until daybreak.  The darkness and pain of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday kept her awake. St. John doesn’t write that she was preparing the oils and perfumes to anoint his body.  Indeed, he doesn’t even mention the other women sojourning with her to the tomb to complete the sorrowful anointing.  When Mary saw the stone rolled away from the tomb she didn’t shout, “Christ is risen!” She didn’t expect resurrection.  The darkness was still upon her.  Instead, we read that she ran to tell Simon Peter and the other disciple John, “the one whom Jesus loved.”  The two disciples ran a foot race to the grave, the “other disciple” getting there first.   Whatever the reason, the beloved John looked into the tomb at the linens, but didn’t enter.  Perhaps respecting the elder disciples, John let Peter go in first. Simon Peter then saw  the linens and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrapping but rolled up in a place by itself.  Only then did John enter the tomb, and he saw and believed- whatever that belief may have been.  For neither understood the promise of scripture.  Then the two returned home, and no one was laughing. The weight of Jesus’ death and grief was still upon them.  

Now Mary continued to stand there alone weeping, but as she looked into the tomb the grave clothes were transformed into angels, sitting at the place where Jesus was once lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.  Mary didn’t seem to notice the angels.  She treated them like chamber maids in a fine hotel.  “Why are you weeping,” they asked.  “Why shouldn’t she be weeping?”  She had a hundred reasons.  She turned around, and looked at Jesus standing there, but assuming he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”  Then Jesus said to her, “Mary!”  Hearing her name, Mary cried out, “’Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher).”  With this familiar name Mary claimed her place as one of Jesus’ disciples, and soon she was to become the first apostle preaching the good news to the other, “I have seen the Lord.”   

In his gospel, St. John the Evangelist offers us a portrait of three disciples and three different responses to the good news of Jesus’ resurrection. One saw the grave clothes neatly folded and believed. One saw the same thing and was startled.  And one was surprised into believing by hearing the sound of her own name. The good news of the resurrection came to all three in a different way.  But one thing I can tell you, in time all three would be made right again.  They would each experience a personal resurrection. 

I imagine if we are honest, we can see a little bit of ourselves in each one of the three disciples.  Mary Magdalene, Peter and John, all went to the tomb, and all came to believe.  But they were  being challenged and hindered by the cruelty of that dark Holy Week, and it was hard to imagine that they would ever laugh again.  Perhaps the same is true for you this Easter morning. 

We all have our fears and our joys.  You may delight in the family that God has given to you and who are gathered around you today; but you are also anxious about what may happen to your children in the future in a dangerous world, when you are no longer there.  You may be filled with great joy at the work and fulfillment you have experienced in the past and the colleagues who have been a part of your life; but you are anxious whether you will have a job in the year to come.  We live and walk everyday with both a great joy for loved ones, and a fear about the fate of a loved one struggling with illness. It’s true for our neighborhood, the church, our families and the world.  We live with the memories and shadows of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday all our lives. And we wonder whether we will ever laugh again.  

The good news of the resurrection, however, is whether it comes to you in a moment, or in experience that slowly changes your life, or when God’s voice calls you by name it changes everything. It changes the way that you face the challenges and heartaches of life.  Yes, Jesus’ resurrection brings you a second chance.  A chance to see the newness of life in your midst again and to be made right again. 

That was greatest April Fools’ joke that God could have been played on the devil, and God is still laughing.   The devil, the world and the Roman authorities, all thought that Jesus has been destroyed, but God made him right again.  Not even death could hold him prison.  Jesus had been resurrected from the dead.  That is the good news of Easter. Christ is risen, he is risen indeed.  

May the peace of God which passes all understanding keeping your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.