Empty Tomb. Empty Church - As Seen on Sunday
Christians around the world are celebrating. Kids are dressed up, sat down, and eagerly awaiting the chocolate bunnies awaiting them at home. Even the non-religious folks get in on the celebration today. This, of course, causes the retailers and confectioners of the world to rejoice as well. There is no doubt about it, the Easter Sunday celebration sits center stage as the world looks on.
The story of Jesus is the origin story of the Easter celebration, at least in the Christian tradition, that is. While the methods of celebration have morphed and changed throughout the millennia, the core of the story has remained the same. Jesus, who is God, came to earth, lived a life dedicated to restoring and healing the brokenness of the people he interacted with, was convicted of crimes in a kangaroo court, received the most severe punishment allowable by law, and died betwixt the two thieves who characterized the two relational choices every human being would have to make: do you view Jesus as a saviour to be embraced or just a polarizing figure who might be of some value when you are in trouble.
The story of Easter seems pretty sad up until this point. It's got an inspiring beginning, a tumultuous and troublesome middle, and now the ending seems pretty harsh. And undeserved death in the company of the undesirable. But this story has a surprise fourth act. And like every good story it begins with someone who lost something and went out looking for it.
The Fourth Act
The final scene of the story opens with a character shift. Mary Magdelene arrives on the scene. Actually, she comes from the scene.
We don't know much about Mary. We have no record of Mary’s parentage, her marital status or her age. That she was free to follow Jesus in His journeyings would suggest that she had no home obligations.
I guess that is why she was able to go out in the early morning and visit the tomb where they laid Jesus. And what did she find there?
She went searching for her Lord and she came back with nothing.
He was gone. Nowhere to be found.
"Perhaps someone took him?" She reasoned to herself. "Yes, that must be it. They came and took him away?"
She ran and told the terrible news to a couple of the disciples. Peter and John came and found the same thing - an empty tomb. As John and Peter did some CSI work inside the tomb, Mary sat outside and cried.
The Jesus had gone 404: Messiah Not Found.
The Search for Jesus
Searching for Jesus is still a common practice to this day. Especially on days like today when the churches of full of the people who only come around to visit once or twice a year. Still, they come looking for something.
Perhaps it is proof of a Messiah that came to bring change. Maybe it is to seek temporary sanctuary from the guilt of over-bearing parents that keep asking "When are you coming to church." Maybe they are just searching, as author Philip Yancey has pointed out, "God knows what."
But whether you are sitting in church every week or every Sunday, you come searching for Jesus. For his presence, advice, strength, wisdom, joy...you come looking for something.
Sadly, like Mary, we often time come to church and are forced to come to the same conclusion, "He is gone. They have taken him and I don't know where they put him."
Sadly, this statement can be true of churches - ESPECIALLY ON EASTER.
They get so wrapped up in preparing events for the "Christian Super Bowl" that, perhaps, the have taken Jesus and laid him somewhere where it is hard to him. I mean, how can you focus on Jesus when you have the easter egg hunts and extra special light shows to attend to?
I am sure that people come away impressed that their parking experience was superb, but can we stop to ask a question? Did they find what they were really looking for?
The Only Easter Sermon you will Ever Need
1. We search for God in places where we expect him to be found. We look for him in our addictions and pursuits of power and influence.
2. God rarely shows up where we expect him to be.
3. For those searching for Jesus, I want you to know that he is able to be found.
4. But I also want you to know that you may find an empty tomb.
5. this can be discouraging. You, like Mary, may even begin to weep when you have discovered that Jesus isn't where you thought he would be.
6. Don't lose heart. Jesus has a knack of showing up when it seems most hopeless. At the precise moment he will ask you a question, "What are you really looking for?"
7. And upon the true confession of your soul's search...Jesus will call you be name.
8. At that moment you will know, and you will be able to say, "I have seen the Lord."
Empty Tomb. Empty Church.
We at Empty Church are here to go looking together. Remember, Mary ran and grabbed the disciples - the search is never an individual journey.
We recognize that we might go searching for Jesus and find an empty tomb. Our search can bring dispair and confusion.
But upon the revelation of the truth - that Jesus had not been taken away and hidden, instead he was alive - the empty tomb turned from a symbol of dispair and hopelessness to the foundation of all hope, peace, and joy.
I firmly believe that Jesus is alive and he will always be in the process of making himself known to us. Therefore we have hope.
I want the testimony of Empty Church to consist of stories where dispair was turned into joy. Where hopelessness was turned on its head, and mourning was turned to joy because Jesus came, he called us by name, and he is our Lord.
The EC Challenge
Take two minutes and write down what you expect when you find Jesus.
Who do you need to accompany you to your empty tomb?