Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Feast of the Empty Tomb

Easter Sunday

Gospel John 20:1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” 3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying. 11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

Three non-church-goers died and met at the pearly gates of Heaven. St. Peter told them that they could enter the gates if they could answer one simple question. St. Peter asks the first man, “What is Easter?”

The man replies, “Oh, that’s easy! It’s the holiday in November when everyone gets together, eats turkey, and are thankful…” “Wrong!” replies St. Peter, and proceeds to ask the second man the same question, “What is Easter?”

The second man replies, “Easter is the holiday in December when we put up a nice tree, exchange presents, and celebrate the birth of Jesus.” St. Peter looks at the second man, shakes his head in disgust, tells him he’s wrong, and then peers over his glasses at the third man and asks, “What is Easter?”

The third man smiles confidently and looks St. Peter in the eyes, “I know what Easter is.” “Oh?” says St. Peter, incredulously. “Easter is the Christian holiday that coincides with the Jewish celebration of Passover. Jesus and his disciples were eating at the last supper and Jesus was later deceived and turned over to the Romans by one of his disciples. The Romans took him to be crucified and he was stabbed in the side, made to wear a crown of thorns, and was hung on a cross with nails through his hands. He was buried in a nearby cave which was sealed off by a large boulder.” St. Peter smiles broadly with delight. The third man continued, “Every year the boulder is moved aside so that Jesus can come out… and, if he sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter.”

If Jesus had not risen and had not appeared to the apostles, there would be no Christianity today and none of these men would have even heard of Easter to get it wrong. After Jesus’ death, all the hopes of the followers of Jesus were dashed. Many of them went into hiding. This Messiah that they had decided Jesus was, died the worst death – that of a criminal – and achieved none of the expectations of a Savior. Jesus’ death may have saved the world, but we would have never heard about it.

This is a major event, very hard for any of us to comprehend. We cannot find in the Scriptures any consistent, single or unified explanation of the resurrection. What makes it believable, for me, is that these people who were in hiding, totally disappointed, totally lost, suddenly changed. Not just one of them, but all of them. They had an experience of the risen Lord, came out of hiding, and understood finally what Jesus was all about all along.

As a child, I used to think that Jesus rose and was exactly the same as he was before, only with holes in his hands and feet. As an adult, I read more carefully the Gospels, and realize that Jesus raised was not the same as he was before. He could appear and disappear, he could change his looks so he wouldn’t be recognized, yet he could eat and be touched. This is something new to grasp.

In every case, however, the followers of Jesus recognized him, believed in him and changed. We went from a group of frightened and scattered followers to a group of excited men and women, anxious to share their joy, their insights, their love. That is the miracle of Easter. We need to not take this for granted. Each time we hear this story we need to examine it and get excited about it just as the Apostles did.

Isn’t this why the church reminds us each year with this glorious feast, made all the more glorious by the contrasting days of Holy Week. We need to awaken to this glorious news of the Resurrection, be as excited as the women who saw the empty tomb, be changed in the way Jesus’ followers were.

Thus, Jesus has conquered death and so we also can conquer death as well. We are an Easter religion. We believe that despite all the evils surrounding us, all of the natural disasters that hit us, the poverty, hunger and discrimination of the world, that we will not give ourselves over to that power, but through faith in the resurrection, we believe that all this suffering will be vindicated, and that like Jesus, we will be raised up and renewed. We realize that risen life will come because of our self-sacrificing love of others, with Jesus as our prime example of that.

Today’s Gospel reading, you may have noted, is not about the appearances of Jesus, but simply about an empty tomb. I doubt that any of us will see the risen Jesus in this life. We have to take our faith from what is unseen – the empty tomb. Faith in Jesus’ resurrection came originally from the empty tomb, the tears of Magdalene, and the gradual belief of the followers in what had happened. We too must take our faith from the empty tomb.

Let it be a symbol for us of the faith that we are all developing, our own gradual understanding like Peter and the Beloved disciple of what it all means, and a growing awareness that we too will conquer death and be with Jesus in the kingdom! Philip Brooks, an Episcopal Bishop, said “The great Easter truth is not that we are to live newly after death – that is not the great thing – but that…we are to, and may, live nobly now because we are to live forever.” – Happy Empty Tomb! Happy Easter! This is the Good News and the Best News that we celebrate today!

St. Valentine Faith Community
Mass: 10AM Every Sunday
2301 E Sunset Road
Suite 18
Las Vegas, NV 89119
702-523-8963 Rev Sue Provost, Pastor

"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. " (1 John 4:9-10)

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