Sunday, March 27, 2016

Why Did You Come to the Tomb?

March 27, 2016 – The Sunday of the Resurrection: Easter Day
© 2016 Evan D. Garner
Audio of this sermon can be heard here.
What are you doing here? No, really, what are you doing here? Why did you come to church today? Are you here because you always come? Are you here because someone made you? Is today one of those days when you feel like you’re supposed to be in church? Maybe you’re here because you haven’t been to church in a while and want to start a new habit. Or maybe you’re here and won’t come back for another year. Whatever the reason, I am glad that you are here today.

Some of us are here because we know what we will find. Today is Easter, and the truth of the empty tomb is written indelibly on our hearts and in our minds. Others of us aren’t so sure about that. Yes, we’ve heard the story. We know what the bible says, and we know what the preacher will say, but, whether it’s because we’ve never really grasped it or because our life has taken the sort of turn that has led us to question everything we thought we believed, we aren’t sure. We don’t know what it means to look into the tomb and not only see that the body of Jesus is missing but also understand and believe that he has been raised from the dead. And I want you to know that that’s ok. In fact, if you read the story that Luke tells, I think that you’ll find that no one went to the tomb expecting it to be empty.

Early on the first day of the week, as dawn was barely breaking, the women went to the place where Jesus’ lifeless body had been laid. These women had followed Jesus from Galilee, his home, and had been with him through it all. They had seen his miracles. They had heard his sermons. They had stayed close by even while he hung on the cross. And now, because Jesus had died right before the sabbath began, they came on Sunday morning to prepare his stone-cold corpse for its earthly slumber. Even they, who knew Jesus and his message as well as any other, came to the tomb, carrying spices, expecting to find a dead body.

When they went in and failed to find it, they were perplexed—confused, baffled, bewildered. Then, while they were still perplexed, they were interrupted by two men—perhaps angels—who were dressed in dazzling white. The men questioned why they had come to the tomb expecting to find it shrouded in death. “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” they asked. “He is not here, but has risen.” Why, indeed? Why would those who had devoted their lives to following Jesus come to the tomb on Easter Day expecting to find that death had won?

Why? Because it isn’t easy to believe in miracles. Even when you’ve seen them with your own eyes, it isn’t easy to believe. It isn’t easy to trust that God has reversed everything that human experience has shown to be true—that death isn’t the end, that all of our sins have been forgiven, that even our very worst selves are loved and accepted by God. Sometimes, even on Easter Day, we come to the tomb for no other reason except that we don’t know where else to go. Think about Peter. That’s what drew him to the tomb.

When the women of Galilee ran to the eleven apostles and told them over and over again what they had seen and what they had been told, the men wouldn’t believe them. They thought it was “an idle tale”—a bunch of nonsense. These men, who had believed that Jesus was the answer that they had been waiting for, that he was the true hope of God’s people, would not, could not believe that the tomb was empty. Even though they had heard Jesus repeatedly predict his own death and resurrection, they still thought that the story was over—that all hope was lost. But Peter wanted to see it. He needed to see it. Even though he didn’t understand it or believe it, he needed to see with his own eyes what the women had told them. Luke tells us that Peter got up and ran to the tomb and, stooping and looking in, saw the linen grave cloths by themselves, but he found no body. And he went home “amazed” at what had happened—amazed. Some translations say that he “wondered” or “marveled” at what had happened. But the one thing that no bible says about that moment is that Peter “understood” it or “believed” it. Because he didn’t. Not yet.

We come to church today because we have heard a rumor. Some women reported to us that the tomb is empty and that Jesus is risen. Their “idle tale” is too wonderful to believe, but perhaps we’re here because we need to see it for ourselves. Whether this is the first time that you’ve stooped down to look inside or whether you’ve looked into the empty tomb more times than you can count, allow yourself to be amazed—perplexed, bewildered, astounded. Remember that no one came to the tomb expecting to find it empty. That truth caught everyone by surprise—even Jesus’ closest friends, the saints whose example we try to emulate. I’ve been doing this for a while, now, and I still don’t know what I will see each year when I look inside.

No one in his right mind expects it to be true, but, on this day, when we see the stone rolled away and find that the tomb is empty, we discover again the truth that God’s love has triumphed in a way no one thought possible. We might not understand that truth all at once, but we don’t have to. God’s victory isn’t trapped in this moment. God has defeated sin. God has triumphed over death. In the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has declared that his love for you will never end. That will be as true tomorrow as it is today and as it has always been. Whatever it is that brought you here today, I hope you will leave with a sense that God has done something that has the power to make a difference in your life, and I pray that, no matter how long it takes, you will come to know how full God’s love for you truly is.

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