April 8, 2012
What Do We Make of An Empty Tomb?
In the days prior to Easter I’m always curious to see what bookstores are offering. Most years there are a number of books and magazines about Jesus in the days before Easter. This year it was a bit different, as there didn't seem to be as many titles about Jesus. In fact, it seemed there were more magazines about UK and their national title season than about Jesus.
The resurrection is a great dividing line. It is a dividing line between faith and skepticism, between belief and doubt – it is a dividing line over how to view the world, history, the past, the present, the future, and ourselves.
We ended our reading from Mark’s gospel at the point when Mark says they said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. That seems like an odd point to end the reading, but it leaves us at the point of so many of the early followers of Jesus – what do we make of an empty tomb? Most of the followers of Jesus had no other information other than word of an empty tomb. Very few actually saw the empty tomb, so they were left with the question – what to make of an empty tomb?
We are the beneficiaries of 2,000 years of history, theology, and teaching about the resurrection. Belief in the resurrection and the understanding of the resurrection as the pivotal event in human history is passed on from one generation to another almost as though it is a family heirloom.
Though Jesus spoke of resurrection, his followers didn’t really expect it, and had a hard time believing it was true, as the resurrection narratives in Scripture clearly show.
How do you comprehend something that is so completely outside your range of knowledge, experience, or expectation? How do we, to use today’s overused language – think outside the box our minds have been molded into? How do we accept the impossible as possible, and the implausible as plausible?
Because of faith.
It was faith, awakened in the early followers of Jesus by the resurrection that completely transformed their lives. How else could this small band of followers, frightened and confused, have gone on to transform the world?
What do we make of an empty tomb?
There is a spiritual side of life. I was in a bookstore yesterday and picked up a book from a table featuring titles for Easter. One of the books was from the point of view of unbelief. I thumbed through it and it was the same old stuff, and what struck me was a touch of sadness because of the inability to see that life is more than the material – more than what can be touched, or seen, or measured in a laboratory. There is a spiritual side to life. We are more than flesh and blood, and the resurrection challenges us to remember there is more to life than just making a living and pursuing entertainment.
There is a new beginning for life. John’s gospel points out that the resurrection takes place on the first day of the week. That’s much more than just a simple observation – it is a reflection back to the book of Genesis and creation. This is a new creation. The resurrection remakes everything. And the great promise of the resurrection is we get a new beginning.
Like many of you, I have a Facebook page, but I wonder sometimes if it’s a good idea. And I’m amazed at what some people put on their Facebook page. Those pictures and comments follow people forever – it guarantees you can’t escape your past. People like to bring up our past to us sometimes, but the resurrection means we have a new beginning.
It also means God’s great love is poured out on all people. About ten years ago I was in Wilmore for the Ichthus music festival. On Saturday evening they have a huge outdoor communion service – over 20,000 people in this large field – and on that particular day an interesting cloud formation floated over the crowd. As the communion service began, a cloud formed in the shape of a perfect cross began to float overhead. It gradually moved across the sky, from one end of the field to the other, and the timing was perfect as it dissipated just at the end of the time of communion after passing over the entire crowd.
It was a really great effect to see this cross in the sky passing over this large crowd of believers sharing a tine of communion together. I think about that moment occasionally, and the idea of the cross covering the world is a very powerful image.
Here is a very important truth – Jesus lived, died and rose for all people. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus was not just for you and me; it was not just for people who believe; it was not just for church people – the life, death and resurrection of Jesus was for every person alive at the time and for every person throughout history. The power of the cross and what the cross of Jesus accomplished covers all people, not just some.
What do we make of an empty tomb? Life, hope, and love, because of the resurrection of Jesus.