3/26/2016 sermon “Inside the tomb”

Preacher: Jo J. Belser
Location: Immanuel Chapel, Virginia Theological Seminary, Alexandria, VA
Text: Luke 24:1-12
Day: Holy Saturday Easter Vigil

“Inside the tomb”

The Gospel of John’s account of the events of Good Friday includes this line, “Meanwhile, near the cross of Jesus…” Yesterday, at Church of the Resurrection, we thought about the five followers of Jesus who, “meanwhile” (as the gospel lesson said) stood near the cross during Jesus’ crucifixion. We explored what had brought them there, what they had risked, and what they had gained from being “near the cross of Jesus.” Tonight we explore “meanwhile, inside the empty tomb,” using Luke’s account of the disciples’ discovery that Jesus was again among the living.

Fra Angelico, Resurrection of Christ and the Women at the Tomb, Fresco, 1440 [Public Domain]

So, can you imagine what that first Easter Day was like, when the women went inside the empty tomb and found no BODY there? Luke says that the women were “perplexed,” puzzled about where Jesus’ dead body could be.

And while the women were pondering this question, suddenly in the tomb with them were two SOMEbodies, not dead bodies but men in dazzling clothes. Luke didn’t say that they were angels, as some of the gospel writers identifed them. Like the women who encountered these two beings, we don’t quite know who or what these SOMEbodies were. But we understand their message quite plainly:

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?” these beings asked. Then they added, “Remember how [Jesus] spoke to you when he was still in Galilee, saying, ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again’?”………………………… Oh THAT!

What these two SOMEbodies told the women inside the empty tomb was that Jesus was no longer dead. We understand the words, but the concept of resurrection eludes us. HOW could Jesus be alive? How, scientifically, is this possible? WHY is Jesus alive again? Why, theologically, was his death necessary?

These are important questions to ask… … for scientists, philosophers, and theologians. But they are not OUR questions, right here and now. Confronted tonight with the empty tomb, standing inside the empty tomb, OUR question is this: “Why do we continue to look for the living among the dead?”

These women had gone to Jesus’ tomb looking for a person who—unknown to them—was no longer dead. We can excuse these women because no one before or since has ever come back to life from being dead for three days. And these women had good reasons for being inside the empty tomb: they had seen Jesus die, and they loved Jesus. But they were there because they couldn’t quite believe, and therefore had put out of their minds, what Jesus had told them: “On the third day I will rise again.”

I know that you, too, are in search of Jesus, simply because you are here tonight. But, all too often we ALSO are inside the empty tomb, inside the dead zone of our lives. All too often we are in the tomb with our denial, with our deceit, and with our depression; with our fear, our failure, and fault-finding—in there with whatever we fill our living deaths with. So I ask you tonight: who or what is inside that empty tomb with you?

Sometimes WE—we who KNOW that Jesus DID come back from death to life—WE sometimes forget what Jesus has told us. We go to the tomb, we get stuck there with the “dead things” of our lives, and we forget that Jesus has the power to change whatever paralyzes and keeps us inside the tomb. Jesus can bring to life whatever we think might be dead, dead, dead. Jesus can cure us of the things about our lives that are keeping us pinned in the tomb, keeping us bound to death. Jesus can resurrect our lives, if but ask him to free us.

The two SOMEbodies in the tomb had to remind the women that they did not have to STAY inside the tomb, any more than Jesus had stayed there. What I proclaim tonight is the Very Good News that the Son of God is risen. Christ is alive, his Spirit dwells in us, and Christ Jesus’ Resurrection can give US new life also. Our future is NOT determined by our past. Transformation is possible. Today is Resurrection Day!

Because this IS Resurrection Day, we rightly do not have confession of sin during our service. Because on Resurrection Day we are especially aware that Christ Jesus’ sacrifice of himself for us provided a way for us to be free of our sins. God’s grace and mercy abounds. Now is the time, though, on the Eve of Easter, for us to look around our empty tomb and leave whatever we find there behind. Let the stone be rolled away. Fold up and leave the burial cloth behind. Forget your skepticism about the SOMEbodies. Step out of the tomb into new life.

I confess that I come to the empty tomb tonight to remind myself that new life always begins with death. We have baptized Brooklyn tonight so now her journey out of the empty tomb has begun, so that she won’t have to live inside the empty tomb, but can join Christ Jesus in life eternal.

Why do we Christians seek the living among the dead? We seek the living among the dead because this is where our hope and our faith in eternal life rests—not just on the cross, but in the empty tomb. As long as we don’t get stuck inside.

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
The Lord is Risen, indeed. Alleluia.

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