Posts Tagged ‘Empty Tomb’

He’s Not Even In There 4-1-18 Easter Sunday

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In this Easter Sunday sermon, I explore Mark’s account of the Resurrection. The tomb is empty, but the Risen Jesus is no where to be seen.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/hes-not-even-in-there-4-1-18-easter-sunday

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

It probably goes without saying…but as a pastor I spend a lot of Sunday’s in churches…no big surprise, comes with the job. Now, most of time…most of those Sundays, this is the church where I’m at…again, no big surprise…but every once in a while a Sunday comes around when I find myself in a different church.

The most recent example of this happened just 2 weeks ago…14 days back I was not in Underwood Lutheran…but rather I found myself in a slightly larger place called the Church of the Holy Sepulcher…in Jerusalem.

Now this enormous cathedral is built over the site considered by many to house both the location where Jesus was crucified, as well as the location of the tomb where they laid him following his death on the cross. The two spots aren’t far apart…maybe separated by 100 feet or so…but within this one church, they are two very different focal points…the tomb has actually been enclosed into a tiny chapel, itself located inside this one great big church…and as our small group of Holy Land travelers went in…it took a bit of time before we could enter the tomb.

Now this tiny chapel that houses the tomb itself is not large. The entire structure would probably fit inside the narthex right outside our sanctuary doors…but before we could go it to see it…we had to wait in line…because of course we weren’t the only ones there. Now the line actually spun around the outside of the chapel structure…and MAN did it move slow.

We got in line…and we waited…and we waited…and we waited some more…every once in a while we’d take 2 or 3 baby steps forward…inching our way around the chapel towards the entry to the tomb of Jesus. As we moved closer, the people in line got packed in tighter and tighter as we funneled down into to single file…and needless to say we were all getting a little restless, both from the close proximity as well as the time that we were standing there.  Finally, after we’d been inching forward in line for about an hour…and were still roughly 30 minutes away from entering the tomb…one of the people from our group said “Seriously…why are we waiting…he’s not even in there.”

Now it was a sarcastic comment and we all laughed…but then I got to thinking about it…and by golly…there is some deep theological truth in that snarky comment isn’t there? And that’s a statement that sounds pretty familiar doesn’t it? (pause)

Easter Sunday…the day of the Resurrection…the time when we gather here in the church to celebrate God’s defeat over the powers of darkness…that through the resurrection of Christ the powers of sin and death have been overcome. We cue the trumpets…we smell the Easter lilies…it’s a time of celebration. But this time around it’s a little odd isn’t it…because this year we hear from Mark.

Early…EARLY on Sunday morning…the sun’s not even up yet…and we hear that Mary Magdalene, and another Mary, and Salome…3 women who had witnessed the death of Jesus on the cross on Friday…these women who watched as they took his lifeless body down, wrapped it up and laid it in that tomb…they watched as the giant stone was pushed in front of the door.  These women who have witnessed it all are on their way for a difficult task.

They plan to anoint the body of Jesus…but they’ve got some things working against them don’t they?  He’s already been dead for a while…his body would already be decomposing, which defeats the purpose of anointing him.

And not only that but as they’re walking along they have one of those startling moments of realization…one of those moments when you realize that what you’re attempting to do is complete futile…like when you get to the check-out counter only to realize that you left your wallet in your other pants…They ask “who’s gonna roll away the stone for us? We can’t do it.”

Maybe, just maybe these women are feeling utter defeat, and yet in the face of everything, they arrive at the tomb. Now here’s the crazy part…the stone’s already moved…and so, edgy and scared, they poke their heads inside…and there stands an angel.

And now that feeling of defeat turns into fear…into anguish…in fact its same exact thing that Jesus himself experienced in the Garden a few night back as he was sweating blood in anguish…this is the same feeling that the women are now experiencing…and who knows why…maybe its at the presence of the angel…maybe its because the tomb is empty…maybe its both…

But its stands to reason, as we consider all this, that for them…NONE of this made sense. He was dead…they saw it…they watched as he was placed here…and everyone knows that the dead don’t just get up and leave…and now to top it all off here’s an angelic heavenly being and we’ve heard in many places in scripture that this seems to be a freaky situation when an angel shows up…and yet the angel assures them…do not be afraid.

For the angel knows why they are here…and angel also knows the futility of their visit. “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth…the one who was crucified…He…is…not…here.”(pause) Honestly, we could have used that same angelic proclamation 2 weeks ago in Jerusalem. What do you want in there for…he’s not even in there.

Now maybe this all sounds familiar…that’s the part of the story that’s pretty much the same regardless of what gospel account we hear from…but remember Mark’s different. The angel goes on. Jesus is not here…but go and tell the disciples and Peter that he has gone on a head of you into Galilee…there you will see him…And the women…still utterly freaked out, run off…and say nothing to anyone.

WAIT…WHAT? Its Easter…the tomb is empty…Jesus is risen…what do you mean they said nothing? That’s weird…I think we better read on and see what comes next right? (pause) But here’s the kicker. There’s nothing more to read. Mark ends here…strange as that might seem…and yah its weird…so weird in fact that a few hundred years later some well-meaning monks tacked on a couple extra endings just to try and tidy it up for us.

But maybe we can’t tidy anything up…because think about it. Easter is about resurrection…but resurrection starts from a place of death right…it has to…and logic, along with our personal experience, together these things tell us that there’s no coming from back from death. And the women at the tomb that day…I’m guessing they thought the exact same thing.

So what do we do with this today? What are we to make of this odd ball, utterly abrupt ending of the gospel of Jesus Christ? What are we to make of this empty tomb and this Easter story that lacks actually seeing a Risen Jesus? What are we to make of this oddball decree to go out into Galilee where we’ll see him?

I think that perhaps…odd and confusing as this all is…it is perhaps the best possible way to hear about the resurrection…because it doesn’t make sense…and yet we profess that it is true…We can’t quite understand it…and we sure as heck can’t explain it…and maybe like the women, we just walk away confused by this whole deal, and don’t say anything to anyone…because honestly…who would believe it right? Dude was dead and now he’s not? He was in the tomb and now its empty…HUH?

But here’s the thing. This isn’t the end…and if you don’t believe me, let’s back up to the start of Mark’s Gospel. Chapter 1 verse 1. “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (pause) I don’t think Mark spent 16 chapters telling us the whole story…I think Mark spent 16 chapters telling us the beginning of it. And here, with the women running off from the empty tomb…that’s not the ending…that’s just the conclusion of the beginning.

We cannot hear this amazing news of Jesus, raised from the dead…this amazing news of how God has stepped right into death and brought new life out of it, not only for Jesus but for all life through him. We cannot hear it and simply walk out of here today unchanged…perhaps to step back in next week or next month or next year to simply hear the same message again.

Resurrection life is about becoming something different than we were before…about life looking different…about life being lived different than it was before the empty tomb. (pause) This is what’s happened…and this is what Easter is really all about…not about lilies…not about trumpets…not about nice new Easter outfits and family dinners.

Easter is about a God who takes SO MUCH delight in the creation that he made that he willingly took on flesh and stepped down into it…he walked around, and went headlong into every single solitary place of death, even those that we have created for ourselves…and that same God has already, and will continue to create new life out of death…even if its scary…even if it doesn’t make any sense. (pause)

Now let’s swing back around to the command given to the women to pass along to Jesus’ disciples…to his followers.  Go into Galilee, there you’ll see him. Now I’ve often wondered…why Galilee…why not into the temple, or over to Bethlehem…these big name places that were literally right around the corner? Why back to Galilee, that backwater province far to the north?

Well…let’s back up to Mark chapter 1 again…the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ…Where do you think it all started? Galilee…Galilee is where the Jesus called the disciples to follow him…its where he performed countless miracles…its where he spent time teaching them…leading them…and showing them what the kingdom of heaven looks like when it comes near…when boundaries that society has established about who’s in and who’s out are utterly overcome…when those boundaries are utterly demolished…Galilee is where discipleship happens…because Galilee is where life following Jesus happens.

I can’t help but think that Mark’s gospel is one heck of a cool cycle. The gospel begins, and as present day followers of Jesus and readers of the gospel…as present day members of the Body of Christ, we travel along through Galilee right alongside Peter and the rest of the disciples…and we follow along when Jesus is betrayed and killed and laid in the tomb, and now that the tomb is empty…we are sent back to the place of discipleship once more…we are sent back into those places of joy and of sorrow…those places of unity and division…those places of community and isolation…we are sent back out from the empty tomb into the place of life…and that’s where we see him in the faces of one another…in the hungry mouth that we feed…in the widow that we visit…in the time that we spend supporting one another. (pause)

Sure we can visit the tomb. Its possible, I’ve been there…and we can jostle around, pushing to get into that place of death…but in the end what’s the point…Jesus is out here in the place of life…that tomb is empty…Dude’s not even in there. Amen.

Behold 4-16-17 Easter Sunday

In this Easter Sunday sermon, I explore Matthew’s account of the Resurrection, found in 28:1-10. We see a lot…and we are intended to. The tomb is open so that we can be witnesses to what has occurred.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/behold-4-16-17-easter-sunday

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

The first of my grandparents to die was my grandpa on my mom’s side.  He and my grandma had moved to the Phoenix Arizona are when I was 5 years old…and they were still living there in the midst of my junior year of college, when Grandpa, quite suddenly had a serious health problem. He hung in there for a while…long enough for my mom to get down there to see him…but shortly after that he died. There was a small funeral for him, attended by those who could make it…but the timing was off for me, happening right in the midst of college mid-terms and sadly, I was unable to attend.

Then about three years later…I was finished with college. My wife and I had been married for about 18 months or so, and we decided to fly down to Arizona to visit my grandma…and while we were there, the three of us hopped in the car and visited the cemetery where my grandpa had been buried.

Now of course, I had mourned my grandfather when he died…but when we walked up to his grave and I looked at his tombstone, I just…lost it. I can’t explain why this happened, but I learned an important lesson that day. There are certainly things that you just have to see in order to fully experience them…and in this case…it was the grave of my grandfather.

(pause) Now, perhaps it seems a little strange to kick off an easter sermon by talking about death. Admittedly, I sort of thought the same thing as I sat at my desk on Friday, working my way through the preparation of this message.  As you likely realize, Friday was, of course…Good Friday…and I struggled with this message because my head was in two different places…I was thinking about Good Friday and our worship service that was coming up that evening…and at the same time I was thinking about this morning and the joy of Easter Sunday…and I was stuck in that tension between the two…I was stuck in thoughts about death while I was trying to think about new life.

But then I read today’s gospel lesson again and I realized that this is exactly where the story of Easter begins…with Mary Magdalene and the other Mary going to the tomb…and rest assured, they know where to find it.  If we back track just a little ways, we hear that these two women have been witnesses to all that Jesus has endured. They are among the women standing there when he dies on the cross…and they are watching when his dead body is taken off the cross and laid in this very tomb.

And so, as the action picks up…early morning on this random Sunday 2000 years ago…these two women are walking to see the tomb.  That’s an interesting point here in Matthew’s gospel…there are no spices in tow…and nothing about going to anoint his body…the tomb is closed…he’s dead and buried…they are simply going to see the tomb.

Now I pondered on that fact for a while…and then I remembered what happened to me at my grandpa’s grave…sometimes you’ve got to see it…and maybe, just maybe they were going there in order to try and feel a tiny little bit of connection to this man that they had known and loved.

Isn’t that what we do when we visit a cemetery…when we walk up to the grave of someone that we loved in this life…when we sit there and talk to them…what is it that we are doing, besides trying to have a tiny little bit of connection to this beloved person who has crossed the boundary that death creates.

Make no mistake…we all know, as we walk up to that tombstone…that in no way are we going to see the person again. We know that if we talk them, they aren’t going to talk back again…we all know about this division…this boundary created by death…and the two women knew it too.

They knew he was dead…but yet they went to SEE the tomb…and make no mistake…they saw the tomb…but they saw a whole lot more than that…Interestingly enough…the phrase “to see” or “to behold” is all over this short passage today…and there is a lot to behold.

They went to behold to tomb…and BEHOLD…there was an earthquake….and BEHOLD and angel descended from heaven and rolled the stone away. The angel greets the women, telling them fear not…You are looking to Behold Jesus who was crucified…BUT BEHOLD…he is not here…come and see.

The angel has a message…and a command…go and tell the disciples…he has been raised…but go into Galilee and there you will BEHOLD the risen Christ…this is so amazing…also frightening…but with joy the women run away from the tomb…and wouldn’t you know it…BEHOLD, there’s Jesus….who tells them the very same thing…don’t be afraid, but go tell my brothers to go out into Galilee and there they will BEHOLD me. (pause)

If the old saying is true…and seeing is believing…then we’ve got a lot to believe today don’t we? But what is truly amazing to me, is that what the women expect to see is the polar opposite of what they experience. They went looking for the tomb…but they found a whole lot more…and so…do…we. (pause)
Now…I don’t even need to tell you that Christ is Risen do I? I mean, of course he has…but you already know that…you’re already here today…clearly the Resurrected Jesus is something that is prominent enough on your radar that you are already here.

But imagine if you didn’t know that…because that’s the situation the women found themselves in. They went expecting death…and interestingly enough…but what they experienced included and earthquake, and an angel opening up the tomb…and then the angel pointed something out to them…not the Risen Christ…they didn’t find him there…the angel pointed out the lack of a dead Jesus. You are looking for Jesus was crucified, but see he is not here.

Here’s the amazing thing about that angel’s message and action of rolling away the stone. He didn’t show up in order to let the risen Jesus out of the grave…somehow that had already happened, even with the stone blocking the entrance…he moved the stone to let the women…and to let us IN…so that we can BEHOLD that the tomb is empty…that death didn’t get the last word…and that somehow, some way, there’s more to this story.

Now in it in their fear AND great joy…experienced at the same time mind you…as they follow the command of the angel to go and tell the disciples what they experienced…that’s when they encounter Christ…not among the dead, but out there in the world….and his command, repeated to the women in order that they might share it with the disciples is the same…tell my brothers that they must go out into the world and THERE they will see me. (pause)

This is the big deal about today…like the women, we expect to find death…and sure enough, we all experience it…and I’m not just talking about physical death…but something I tend to call little deaths…because this world is not perfect…and our lives are not perfect…and simply being followers of Christ in whatever capacity we find ourselves today does not excuse us from that.

We come to worship this morning…expecting the empty tomb…expecting trumpets and joyful proclamations…expecting the Resurrected Jesus…BUT…we come bearing all sorts of little death…you know what they are in your life. Those things that you struggle with…those voices in the back of our heads that tell us that we aren’t good enough…that we aren’t smart enough…that we haven’t done and will NEVER be good enough. We all have those hardships…those trials…those things that stand in the way of joy. (pause)
BUT…the tomb is empty. (pause) Death doesn’t get the last word…and what we experience…what we see…what we BEHOLD in the empty tomb is that we have a God who can…who has…who DOES create new life out of death…and as we go forth…out there into the world, bearing the news that the tomb is empty…bearing the knowledge of our experience…of our own story about what we have seen God do in our lives…when we are out there….that’s where the joy of the resurrected Christ meets us…and as we share this news as WE have experienced it…just like the women…just like the disciples at the end of the gospel…that’s where we find the Resurrected Lord….not in here…because here today…we find an empty tomb…but out there…as we bear this news that the tomb is empty…that death doesn’t get the last word…as we look in the face of the beloved child of God that we share this news with….that’s where we see Jesus….and maybe, just maybe, they’ll see him too. (pause)
Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, for he is risen…and that’s something to behold. Amen.

This Makes No Sense 3-27-16

HE HAS RISEN!

In this sermon for Easter Sunday, taken from Luke 24:1-12, I explore the empty tomb and the angelic proclamation, but recognize that we have yet to see the Lord.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/this-makes-no-sense-3-27-16

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

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

During my first couple of years of college, I worked part time for a local pharmacy. I had a few different duties in that job, but my main one was making deliveries. The store offered the service of deliveries, a service utilized by quite a few shut-ins around the community, not to mention the three different nursing homes in town.

Now I really enjoyed this job, because the majority of my time was spent driving around town in my boss’ brand new, light blue, Chevy pickup, and keep in mind that this was in the late 90’s right about the time that remote car locks came on the scene. That was always my favorite part of deliveries. First stepping out of the truck and clicking that button, hearing the “CHIRP” of the horn…or on the flipside walking back out to the truck, hitting the button in my hand as I stepped up to door, and hearing the click of the door unlocking.

Except one time…I had just made a delivery to one of the nursing homes…and was walking back out through the parking lot…and as I stepped around the front end of a light blue pickup, I clicked that button…and nothing happened…so a second later when I reached out for the door handle…it didn’t open.

I didn’t think too much of it…and so I clicked the button again…nothing…now things are starting to get weird…but I thought, hey, I’ve still got the actual keys in my hand…I guess I’ll just unlock the door manually…kids, you might not realize this, but there was a time when we actually had to pull our keys out of our pockets and stick them in the car door to unlock it…crazy huh?

But when I tried that…it didn’t work either…and I just kinda stood there for a moment in disbelief…my mind could not comprehend the problem…which I’m guessing by now you have figured out (pause). Wrong truck…there happened to be 2 different light blue Chevy pickups sitting in the lot in that moment…and I was standing at the driver’s door of the wrong one…something that I discovered when I finally had the brilliant thought to click the lock button and I heard the “CHIRP”…from two spots away. (pause) Now I wish I could tell you that this is the only time that has ever happened to me…but I can’t. I did the exact same thing just a month or two ago in the parking lot down at Walmart…when I walked right up to a maroon Chrysler 200…and could not figure out why I couldn’t see the light’s flashing when I hit the unlock button…

Sometimes our minds just cannot accept the truth of what we are seeing…we cannot manage to wrap our heads around what are witnessing or experiencing. (pause)

And now…Easter Sunday…the Resurrection…one of the most important instances within the entire Bible…so important…that it is one of those stories featured in all four gospels…now of course, each account has some small differences in terms of details…but the overarching arc of this event holds true.

Jesus is buried on Friday…everyone waits through Saturday…women go to the tomb first thing Sunday morning…the stone is removed…the tomb is empty…and angels show up making proclamations about what has happened. (pause) That about covers it right? And Luke’s account that we have shared today is no exception.

But one thing about it that jumps out at me…is that the women must have had an experience sort of like what I did when I could not wrap my head around the issue with the car doors failing to unlock…now keep in mind, the women had watched everything happen on Friday…including the removal of Jesus body…and the placement of his body in the tomb…that’s why I included those extra couple of verses at the beginning of the gospel today…there can be no doubt…they watched it happen…and they knew…where the body of Jesus was…they knew where they were going.

And so when they show up early Sunday morning…and they find an open tomb…confusion…for they had seen the stone rolled in front of the door…but all that aside…then they step into the tomb…expecting to see a dead body, wrapped in linen, laying there on the stone floor of this small cave, carved out of solid rock.

But when they step into that tomb…there’s no body…and we hear that they were perplexed…which is really just a nice way of saying that they lost their minds over this. HOW CAN THIS BE? WHERE IS HIS BODY? WHERE IS THE LORD? (pause)
All logic says that his body should be laying there in the tomb…it was there a couple days ago…it should be there now…but…it…isn’t. And all the women see…all they experience in this moment…is an empty tomb…an empty grave…his body was here…and now it isn’t. (pause)

And as they stood there…perplexed…confused…out of nowhere…a couple of angels show up with a pretty question. “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”  Imagine being the women in that moment…faced with this question…Why are you looking for him here? “Well duh…he’s dead…this is his grave…where else would he be?”

But then the angels give them the rest of the story…Yes…he was dead…but no longer…and look he is not here for he has risen…Remember his words that he told you…he predicted that this would happen…he told you he would die but then…that he would be raised.

And with that…the divine light bulb goes off for the women…and they remember that Yes…JESUS DID TELL US THIS…and it has come true…and that confusion…that state of being perplexed…that lifts…and their minds and their hearts are filled with faith…with belief…and not just belief in what the angels were telling them…but belief in the promise that Jesus had made…that he would rise again…and filled with this faithful joy, they run off to the disciples and share their experience.

I can only imagine the excitement that the women were feeling and showing as they shared the news…that the tomb is empty and angels appeared saying he is risen…can you imagine it?  (pause) Well something tells me that they must have been pretty worked up, because as we hear…the disciples…the very individuals who you would fully expect to get it…to understand it…to believe it…don’t. Luke tells us that the disciples thought the women were feeding them an idle tail…which is just a really nice politically correct way of saying the disciples thought this was a giant load of B.S…and they don’t believe a word of it.

The only one to even give it a second thought is Peter…and we hear that he runs off to see the empty tomb…only to head off from there in amazement…aka…just as confused as the women initially found themselves. (pause)
So just what the heck is going on here? We’ve got an empty tomb…and we’ve got an announcement of the Risen Lord…but what we don’t have…is a Risen Lord…granted…he shows up later…Later on that day he pops up on the road walking with two random disciples who cover 7 miles without recognizing him, until he breaks bread for them.

We hear somewhere during the day he shows up to Peter…and then later that night…he shows up out of nowhere with the entire group of disciples…who freak out, thinking he’s a ghost…and its not until he grabs a hunk of fish and eats it in front of them that they start to believe that its really him…

But that’s all later…here today…in our joyous celebration of Easter Sunday…there is no Jesus present…and when I realized that…it really made me stop and pay attention…and I began to ask the question…what is it that we are celebrating today? (pause
And the answer…the tomb is empty…and there has been an announcement that he is risen…and at this point…that’s it…HALLELUJAH!!!!! AN EMPTY CAVE! (pause)

But you know what…we all know that’s the not the end of the story…and even though we cut it off there today…it goes on…and we do hear about those instances when Jesus shows himself to his followers…and the interactions they have with the Resurrected Lord before he eventually ascends to Heaven and sends the Holy Spirit among us…and gradually, as those different individuals encountered the Risen Lord, they believed…but Jesus had a message for them…You have believed because you have seen me…blessed are those who have not seen and yet come to believe.

And guess what my friends…that includes us…because look around…Have we seen the Lord? (pause) As much as I would love to say yes…I can’t…can you? (Pause) And yet you are here…and why? Well, because somewhere there is an empty tomb…missing a body…and because someone proclaimed to you that He Has Risen…

Now the funny thing about this…is that there are two possible reactions to this…two ways to respond to an empty grave and a proclamation of Resurrection…we can believe it as the women did…or we can blow it off as a big load of B.S. like the disciples did at first. (pause)
And think about it…doesn’t that pretty much cover the bases of responses? It does for me…because for a long time…I thought it was…and IDLE TAIL…but I kept hearing the proclamation…the words that Jesus himself had said…that he would be killed and then he would rise…and somehow…someway…the Holy Spirit managed to get in my brain…and I believed it. (pause) And since you are here…I’m guessing that you believed it too…maybe even just a little tiny bit…enough to bring you hear today to see if maybe, just maybe that tomb really is empty.

But others don’t…that’s just a reality of the world we live in…some believe this news that we claim as the best news in the world…but some laugh it off…because its utterly ludicrous to think that IF there’s a God out there…that God would become human…and that God would die…or that someone who had died…would come back. It defies all logic…and our minds cannot make sense of it. (pause) Mine couldn’t.

But maybe that’s okay…and maybe we don’t have to make sense of it…maybe we don’t have to understand it…maybe, the tomb just has to be empty…and someone needs to tell us He is Risen…Amen.