An Easter Sermon by Rev. Eric Dillenbeck
April 24, 2011
Fairmount Presbyterian Church
Old Testament: Isaiah 25:6-9
Gospel: John 20:1-18
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Easter Morning is finally here!  Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Alleluia!

Together, we have completed the journey through Lent, remembering God’s claim upon us; together we have walked the painful path of Holy Week.

We heard the cries of “Crucify him” on Good Friday; we watched as Jesus was laid in the tomb and we have wept from the grief of it all.

Now it is three days later and we have come to celebrate the Empty Tomb because we know that on Easter morning the empty tomb means Christ is Risen!

He is Risen Indeed!  Alleluia. 

We come to celebrate because this is day of Life and Light, of newness, a time to sing and pray and shout to the glories of God, who

removed the shroud that was cast over all peoples…, who swallowed up death forever. (Is. 25:7) 

But on the very first Easter, so long ago, when Mary made the journey to the tomb, in the darkness of early morning, her experience was quite different.  Upon seeing that stone rolled away she felt anything but joy!

We must remember, as she approached the tomb she was still grieving a loss that was beyond her comprehension; she was just beginning the slow painful process of saying goodbye to a loving friend and teacher.

Anyone who has lost someone close understands the grief that seeps into the bones and numbs the mind.

It is obvious that Mary Magdalene’s emotions were right on the surface and all she wanted to do was sit and grieve in the silence of the early morning.

She wanted time alone in that space; she wanted to place her hand on that stone which covered the entrance and imagine life as it should have been.

But as she slowly made her way along the path leading to the tomb she could just catch a glimpse of the tomb ahead and she could see that something was not right.

Her pace quickening, her heart racing she comes into the clearing where the tomb is located and everything is wrong!

Instead of a sealed entrance she finds a huge gaping hole.  Instead of a stone protecting her teacher from the prying hands of thieves and bandits and others who would defile his memory, she finds easy access for anyone and everyone.

But she can’t or won’t go in.  Without even checking the status of the tomb, but at the same time certain of what she would find, she runs back to the other disciples to tell them that “someone has taken the Lord.” (vs. 2)

They race back to the tomb, and as Mary weeps outside the other two go in to investigate.  They find the burial clothes and the text tells us that at least one of these two comes to believe.  What it is they believe, is unclear to me.

Did they simply believe what Mary told them, that the body had been taken?  Or did they believe what Jesus had told them, that he be raised from the dead?

My gut tells me they, like Mary, really didn’t understand what had taken place in the darkness of that tomb earlier in the day because the text tells us they “returned to their homes.” (vs. 10)

Mary, on the other hand, can not bring herself to enter the tomb.  Even though the entrance is open to anyone, the best she can do is bend over and peer into the darkness.  Something in her holds her back.

Mary Magdalene is so preoccupied with her grief-filled need to find the body that she isn’t able to fully appreciate the resurrection madness at work in the world.

Peering into the tomb, she does not blink an eye when she discovers angels sitting where Jesus was supposed to be.

Turning around, she is so single-minded in her desire she does not recognize the very one she is searching for.

But I guess we can not blame Mary Magdalene for this behavior because we are more like her than we want to admit.

How often do we get our minds set on something and then miss the real opportunities for life that are right in front of us?

How often do we find ourselves yearning for the way things could have been?

How often have we found ourselves avoiding the entrance to that empty tomb, or blind to the presence of the risen Christ right in front of us?

Our own grief is just as real as Mary’s.  We grieve the death of life as we knew it before the economy plummeted and our insecurity escalated;

We grieve the disaster unfolding inJapan and the toll it is taking on our brothers and sisters there;

We grieve the wars that rage around the world, our participation in them, and the loss of life taking place because of them;

We grieve the emotional struggles so many of our young people have to deal with each and every day;

We weep with our friends who have experienced the sting of death

Just like Mary we approach the empty tomb with many things that keep us from entering in, that keep us bent over and weeping.

But here’s the beauty of this resurrection story.  We do not have to go into the tomb to find the evidence of Christ’s resurrection!

The one who broke the bonds of death is not in there!

The one who removed the shroud from all people is alive and on the loose.

The risen Christ comes to us, seeks us out; speaks our name, that we might recognize him.

When Mary recognizes Jesus she is never the same again.  She is moved from grief to witness.  She is moved from tears to traction.

She no longer stays trapped in that garden of grief, but is freed to say what it is she has seen and experienced.  She runs to the other disciples and proudly proclaims, “I have seen the Lord!”

My friends that tomb is empty!  Christ is risen!

              Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Jesus is alive, in your life – for you, with you, till the end of the age.

Now what?  Believing this, will you stay in the garden of grief?  Or will you run out into the world to proclaim the Good News!  “I have seen the Lord!”

That part is up to you; but look around and know you are not alone!  You are surrounded by other disciples, who like you have seen the Lord!

What would this world be like if we went out to live lives empowered by the presence of the Risen Christ?  I tell you, The Gospel writer of John has it right.  The world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

Christ is Risen!

Christ is Risen indeed! Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Alleluia!