How many of you came to church ready to celebrate?! (raise hand) All of us! Right? That’s why Easter is such an awesome day to worship…it’s all good news! for us…but what about originally? This day didn’t start out bright and shiny. It was dark and scary and sorrowful. The disciples were hulled up in the upper room, scarred for their lives, full of sadness that Jesus was gone, bitterness and resentment that he didn’t do what they thought he would, and remorse and guilt that they hadn’t been better to him at the end. It started out as an awful day…another day in the haze of grief where it still hardly feels real. That’s where the disciples started, so that’s where we will start our story today.
It was still dark when Mary left for Jesus’ tomb. We don’t know exactly why she was up in the darkness of night before the sun was even peaking over the horizon—maybe unable to sleep, maybe fighting nightmares reliving her friend’s murder, maybe sick to her stomach over all of it, or exhausted from tears but unable to find enough calm to sleep. Maybe instead of tossing and turning any longer, she goes to the tomb to spend a little time with Jesus in the quiet. Sure, he wouldn’t really be there…but she could touch his body…hold his hand, find some solace that she was near him in some kind of way. Mary is like a lot of us, she can’t move on or hurry through her grief, she has to sit in it. It may be hard or uncomfortable, but something is better than nothing. Memories are better than not having known him at all. Touching his cold hand would be better than grasping at the air or relieving that awful nightmare of watching him suffer and die.
Only, when she gets to the tomb, and sees the stone rolled away. The story doesn’t tell us she got close enough to look inside—only that she saw that stone had been moved and, of course, she knew what had happened. She didn’t have to see the empty tomb to know he wasn’t there. The guards were gone. The stone was moved—someone had stolen Jesus. She’d have to figure out where they took him.
Mary was heartbroken, devastated that her friend was gone. She went to say goodbye again—to be near him in some way—yearning for just a few moments—maybe she wanted to share her heart, or rail against the cowards that did this to him, or just be together. Only he wasn’t there. How any of it could be real, and now, as if could get any worse, his body was gone. Who would do that? Couldn’t they offer any kind of mercy? But why would they? They ordered the death of an innocent man, beat him nearly to death, mocked him, scorned him, and then hung him on a cross to die. There was no mercy in life—why on earth would she expect there to be mercy in death? Wretched cowards have stolen his body—but why? and more importantly, where?! Where did they take him? And how could she get him back? There’s no way she could carry him alone.
So she got the others. No sooner had she said the words, “he’s missing and I don’t know here they took him.” that Simon Peter and the beloved took off running. She knew they could help so she followed them back. The beloved had been at the cross until the end—he took with Jesus’ mother, Mary magdalene and the other Mary and then watched as Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea laid him in the tomb. The beloved knew where Jesus would be—at least where he should be—where they laid him, and so he led the way to the tomb.
Only when they got there, he couldn't go in. He could see the burial clothes in a heap, but he couldn’t quite face the rest. But Peter had to go in—he hadn’t seen it yet—he hadn’t had to face Jesus’ limp body lying there in the tomb—so he went in—he had to see for himself. But Jesus wasn't there—-only the heap of burial clothes and then the face shroud—all neat and tidy. Had Jesus even been there? Was this the right tomb? They were sure he’d died, right? They said they saw him take his final breath—that they’d helped get him to Joseph’s tomb. It was real, so where was Jesus now? Mary must have been right—they moved him. But where? How would the disciples even find him? Who could help them? They’d have to go back to the others—-they’d need their help. They’d have to spread out and ask for help. But how would he convince them to get out. They’d all been so scared—unsure if they’d be the next one crucified. They hadn’t left the upper room since it happened—not until Mary said Jesus’ body was missing. But they’d have to risk it. They couldn’t just let him lie….wherever….they’d need to find him and soon…but how?
Mary saw the men leave the tomb. She heard them say they’d need the others, but she wasn’t ready to go with them. She hadn’t slept in nearly two days and she just needed a minute to be where he was. So she walked over to the tomb, expecting to just go and sit and probably cry some more. Only it wasn’t what she expected. There were 2 angels there, right where they’d lain Jesus/ Maybe they would know something—-they asked her why she was crying—because Jesus was here and now he’s not and she didn’t know where they had taken him. Or how the others would find him. And before they could answer a man appeared—maybe he knew—maybe he’d seen something or someone and he asked the same question…why are you crying? Do you know? Did you see something? Please tell me. I just need to find him. I won’t bother you further if you just tell me where he is.
Rabboni!!! It was him. Really him! How did she not recognize him? But it’s him—he’s here! Thank God!! and he’s alive. He’s alive?! You’re alive! He’s alive!! That’s why you weren’t here, you’re alive!! But how When? What happened? How is it even possible?!
Jesus is alive!!!
That’s the good news we celebrate today. That in the midst of our grief, our fear, and our confusion, Jesus lives. We may be convinced of all the awful things—that darkness wins, that liars, murderers and power players rule the land…but Jesus says no…he wins. He lives.
He’s greater than sin and death and murder and betrayal. He’s greater than fear and doubt and all the worst things we do to one another. He lives. We’re doubters. We’re skeptics. We struggle to believe. But he’s there to prove us wrong. He is alive!! He is risen from the dead and he’s alive. Hallelujah!