The empty tomb
24 Very early in the morning on the first day of the week, the women went to the tomb, bringing the fragrant spices they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 They didn’t know what to make of this. Suddenly, two men were standing beside them in gleaming bright clothing. 5 The women were frightened and bowed their faces toward the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He isn’t here, but has been raised. Remember what he told you while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Human One[a] must be handed over to sinners, be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8 Then they remembered his words. 9 When they returned from the tomb, they reported all these things to the eleven and all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles. 11 Their words struck the apostles as nonsense, and they didn’t believe the women. 12 But Peter ran to the tomb. When he bent over to look inside, he saw only the linen cloth. Then he returned home, wondering what had happened.
This is the word of God, for us the people of God. Thanks be to God.
The women were absolutely surprised. And they didn’t know what to make of the empty tomb. Their words seemed to be nonsense to the others.
Over the last few weeks of Lent we have gotten a glimpse of the heart of God as we’ve studied the Gospel of Luke, and we’ve been surprised by Jesus, too, all along. In this sermon series on the Gospel of Nobodies, we have witnessed God reveal himself to the world through Jesus – showing great compassion and concern for those the world would consider nobodies.
We’ve been surprised by a God who loves without strings attached; we’ve been surprised by a God who forgives the unforgiveable, and we’ve been surprised by a God who has compassion for people most of us would not even notice. More than anything, we now come to the day that we can truly see the sacrifice that Jesus was willing to make to express God’s love for the world. And now another group of nobodies are the first to discover the empty tomb – these second-class citizens, the women, arrive that early morning to make a shocking discovery. The women become the first ones to tell the world that the Lord is risen.
On the screen you see a painting by French painter William Bouguereau called the Holy Women at the Tomb. If you have a smart phone, would you pull that out and google this painting – I would love it if you could see these women’s faces up close. These three women women arrived at the tomb three days after Jesus was taken down from the cross and laid in the tomb; they had certainly witnessed all of the horrific events of Jesus’s death. And they arrived expecting to find the decaying body of the one that they thought had come to save them. Their hope in this Jesus – the one they thought was the Messiah – was crushed when his lifeless body was taken down and laid in that tomb. So when the remains of this body they knew as Jesus were not in the tomb, they didn’t know what to make of it. What a surprise! Can you imagine what they must have been thinking and feeling?
I love the way the artist has portrayed their reactions. First notice that you can see a glimpse of one of the men in gleaming bright clothing in the background. And there is one woman who is standing in the back – she is dressed in mourning clothes of black. And she has her hand to her forehead, and the look on her face is so expressive – she is perplexed and confused. She’s rubbing her brow. It’s like she is thinking, “What in the world is happening! I am so confused! Where has the body of Jesus gone?” In the foreground you see a woman with a white veil on her head, and look how she’s hiding behind the wall – she’s not even wanting to come near the tomb. She must be terrified. And then there is a woman in the middle who is on her knees – and the expression on her face seems to be equally stunned, but notice how she is kneeling and her hands are over her heart and clasped as if in prayer. She seems to be realizing that something holy is going on. Their reactions are all over the board – they are afraid, confused, perplexed and even amazed.
To say that the women were surprised and didn’t know what to make of the empty tomb is a little bit of an understatement. And to this very day – April 1, 2018, we still don’t know what to make of the resurrection of Jesus. We still can’t understand a love that would be shown with such a sacrifice. And I think we still tend to search for the living among the dead.
We still have trouble understanding how the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are part of our everyday lives. We like to think about God as up there, don’t we. We think about God as sitting on a throne in heaven watching with satisfaction or maybe even anger – sometimes we think about God as a passive observer of the world. We think about God as someone to pray to when we really need something. And I wonder if this is a way that we keep Jesus in the tomb and ignore that he is alive.
I know I successfully did that for a long time. I could go to church on Sundays and then continue on with my normal self-centered, sinful life without giving Jesus another thought. You see it took me a really long time to change my heart and life and figure out that God was all in my business – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I knew something was out of kilter about my life. I sensed there was something missing in my life. But I evaded God for years; I kept Jesus safely in the tomb, behind the stone, and locked away.
But then, God surprised me, and started to wake me up to God’s living self. At first I was afraid, and I tried to hide from God. But I couldn’t hide; and thankfully, God didn’t give up on me. And then I became confused and perplexed, and I wondered, “What in the world God was doing getting in my business like that!” And then I finally fell on my knees and recognized that something holy was going on in my life. I figured out that I couldn’t keep God safely in a church building on Sunday mornings for an hour. I started to recognize that the living God was all around me. I noticed that God was working in my job during the weekdays, and that God was working on my finances, and that God was changing how I acted and who my friends were. Jesus was transforming how I thought and what came out of my mouth. It was like I was the one who had been sealed in the darkness of that tomb, and Jesus had drawn me out into the glorious light. I figured out that “He is alive!” wasn’t just something the preacher said on Easter Sunday.
And once God became living to me, things began to get really surprising. You see as we grow in faith, God continues to pour out grace upon us transforming us more and more into people who resemble Jesus. And one of the things that seems to happen is we start to notice people who are suffering and who really need the love of God in their lives. It’s almost like our eyes are opened and our hearts are softened to reflect this compassion that God has for his people – especially for people the world might consider nobodies; and we start to become Christ’s representatives living in the world. It’s like we figure out that we are the hands and feet of Christ – we recognize that Christ has no hands on earth, now, but ours. We learn that Jesus is alive in us and through us, and God calls us to love others in tangible ways!
Luke describes how Jesus saw his mission while he was here on earth, and I believe this is part of the mission we are supposed to carry on as followers of the living God. In Luke chapter 4, Jesus stood up in the synagogue and he said:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,
to proclaim release to the prisoners
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to liberate the oppressed,
19 and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.[e]
(Luke 4: 18-19).
You see I believe that Jesus came to save the nobodies he talked about here in Luke 4 — the nobodies — like you and me – people who are poor and blind, imprisoned and oppressed. The nobodies who are our neighbors. And even the nobodies who are our enemies. It’s a surprising thing, and we have no idea what to make of it.
You see, we are surprised by a God who loves us so much that he would want to give us a living and breathing example of how to love one another and how to love God.
We are surprised by a God who comes to tell a bunch of shepherds working at night in a field about the birth of Jesus or who allows a bunch of women to be the first to discover the empty tomb.
We are surprised by a Savior who heals the untouchable lepers and a blind beggar by the side of the road.
We are surprised by a Savior who forgives and then celebrates when the prodigal son returns.
We are surprised by a Savior who loves saints and sinners alike.
We can’t comprehend a God who would love people who are considered nobodies to the world!
And we can’t imagine a God who would love the world so much that he would send his son to die for us – to forgive us for all those times we mess up.
But if Jesus is alive, if Jesus is alive in us, then it is part of our work to show others the heart of God in the same way that Jesus did for all those nobodies Luke writes about. You see we are called to show the living God to those in need. We are called to notice the people around us and let them know through our words and our actions that they are somebodies to the living God!
The last few weeks you all have done some amazing things – we have begun to notice some needs in our community, and you have spent your time and money to help people who needed to feel the love of Jesus. If you are visiting today, you can see some details about that in the bulletin. Even 4 year old Aubrey Grace got in on it this week when she told her grandmother that the children at the Shelter needed stuffed animals because every kid needs something to cuddle.
But our action shouldn’t end now that Lent is over. I challenge you to continue noticing people – God’s people. And I challenge you to do even more than just noticing physical needs. I challenge you to make some new friends, especially with people who might really need a friend and a little love. The Holy Spirit will show the way and give you the words you need.
Because here’s the thing. If we are going to recognize that Jesus is not in the tomb – if we are going to believe that Jesus is alive, then it is time for us to act that way. The resurrection is the most surprising news the world has ever known, and it changes everything. So —- how does the resurrection change your life?
I pray that each person in this room would live and work hand in hand with the living God. And my invitation to you today is to lean in to that tomb and really figure out that it is empty – lean in to the surprise and uncertainty and the fear that may come from following the living Christ. The amazement and wonder of it all is like nothing you will ever experience.
Because Jesus lives, the sting of death has been defeated, and those who follow Jesus will experience life eternal. But not only that – as if that isn’t good enough, God doesn’t want us to live our lives in the tomb either. We are called out of the darkness of the tomb into the glorious light of a life lived with Christ!
Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia.
Let us pray.
Holy and living God, we are surprised and amazed by who you are and how you love us with no conditions. May we feel your presence in a new way today – may we realize that the resurrection changes everything. Would you lead us to a deeper faith, a living faith? May we experience the hope and power of the empty tomb in a way that will transform us into a people who are truly disciples of Christ – unafraid to take any risk – including loving God and our neighbors the way Jesus taught us, in ways requiring sacrifice. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.