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Idle Tales and Empty Tombs. A Sermon for Easter.

March 27, 2016

This sermon was preached at Grace Lutheran Church on Easter Sunday. I’ll post video later, but wanted to put the text up on this festival day. Happy Easter!

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

  1. Paulette Leblanc stood near the Avenue Louise in Brussels, police and ambulance sirens blaring from all directions. She spoke, simply and to the point: “No one feels safe anymore.” She had been out running errands when terror erupted in Belgium, when her life was interrupted by the deaths of others at the hands of terrorists at the airport and a metro station. She turned to walk for home, saying, “It’s very sad.” No one feels safe anymore; it’s very sad. She spoke for her nation, and for all of us. She could have been speaking of any of eighteen terrorist attacks that occurred around the world just last week, from Burundi to the Philippines, from Turkey to Afghanistan, from Iraq to the West Bank. She could have been speaking of Chicago, where nine more murders happened last week. She could have been any of us at the bedside of a loved one, no less painful for being less newsworthy. She speaks for all of us we who live in this world stalked by death. We shake our heads and head for home – no one feels safe anymore; it’s very sad. But what are we to do? This, it seems, is the way the world works. How can we hope for anything more?
  1. Leblanc could’ve been the spokesperson for the friends of Jesus on that grim Good Friday outside the city gates of Jerusalem. They had such high hopes for a while– hopes that God would remember the promises of old, hopes that Jesus would be the one to usher in the fulfillment of the covenant and restore God’s people to their proper place. But the world is what it is, and was even then. There was no place for a man such as Jesus; no room in this world for a message of peace and forgiveness, of love and mercy. And so the powers that be, religious and political, did what the powers that be tend to do. They got rid of Jesus on trumped up charges and strung him up to die. No one feels safe anymore. After all, they followed Jesus; would they be next? Were God’s promises as good as dead? Yes, it’s very sad. But so it goes in this world of woe.
  1. Except for one thing; God wasn’t done yet – not with this world, not with Jesus’ friends, not with us, and most of all, not with Jesus. The women, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and others, in their sadness and grief, go to the tomb to tend to the body of Jesus. But Jesus is nowhere to be found. Perplexed, the women find two men in dazzling clothes, angels it seems, standing suddenly beside them. “Why,” they ask, “do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” The women go, seeking out the eleven disciples. They share the good news that has been proclaimed to them and are, naturally enough, met not with joy and thanksgiving, but with the weary wisdom of this world’s skepticism. The men hear the news as nothing more than an idle tale. Yes, they think, it’s very sad; no, we are not safe, but that’s no reason to go making up stories about a dead man come back to life. We are too wise for such things, are we not? We know the score; we know the way the world works.
  1. But the way the world works is not the way God works. Christ’s death was no accident, and his rising is no idle tale. The death of Jesus was not a signal of the failure of God to keep promise; no, in the unfathomable grace and mercy of God, the crucifixion becomes God’s means to overturn our sin, creation’s brokenness, the forces of the devil and all evil, and even the tyranny of death itself. God does not mutter, “It’s very sad,” and move on. No, in Jesus’ living and dying, God has entered all the way into the sorrows of this world to give us what we most need – light and life emerging out of and overtaking darkness and death. Peter goes to the tomb and finds it empty, and so do we. Alleluia – Christ is risen!
  1. The other week I was re-watching Ken Burns’ nine-part document, The Civil War…because my life is very interesting. The American Civil War was the first modern war in many awful ways; Burns reminded me that it was also the first war to be extensively photographed. Matthew Brady and his fellow photographers took over one million pictures, images of the suffering and death that tore this country apart. After the war, perhaps not surprisingly, no one wanted them. Brady went bankrupt – in an effort to pay some of his debts he, like others, sold many of his glass plate negatives. But they weren’t bought by collectors or museums. No, they purchased by gardeners. The gardeners weren’t interested in the images of death, in the pictures themselves; no, they wanted the glass for greenhouses. In the years that followed Lee’s surrender, the sun slowly burned the images of war from thousand of glass panes, until there was nothing left on the glass to prevent the light from shining through, clear and bright and true. The sunshine burst through, bringing life to that which grew beneath the glass.
  1. Yes, the images of death and sin still linger in this world. But the light of Christ is simply too bright, too overpowering, for these images to last. In Christ, in his dying and rising, the suffering and sadness of this world have been overcome forever through the grace of God, the God who will not let the people of this world be lost, who will not let death have the last word. The tomb is empty and Jesus is forever on loose, bringing hope and comfort and resurrection in his wake. Sadness is cast out as the light of Christ’s joy rushes in, and we are safe forever in the hands of the God who will never let us go. In and through Jesus Christ, the images of suffering and sin and death that mar our lives are simply burned away; the only image left upon us is the mark of the cross, restoring us to the image of God in which we were created.
  1. We come today once more to the empty tomb and find that our sorrow and sadness are turned to joy and laughter; our funereal dirges have become full-throated songs of praise to the God of life. It turns out that this seemingly idle tale is the truest one of all. Jesus’ tomb is empty and God is on the loose. Your tomb is empty and God has set you free. The light of Jesus shines through death until nothing but life is left. Sin and death are left behind. Come out of your tombs and into the sunshine; leave sorrow and sin behind; live in the light of Jesus, this day and forever. For he who was dead is alive. Alleluia! Christ is risen!

From → Sermons

One Comment
  1. William Shoup permalink

    Thank you…………… He is Risen!

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