Easter Year B, April 4, 2021        John 20:1-18

Good morning. Happy Easter Day! What a gorgeous day we have to celebrate this morning and I’m very glad you’re here.

I hope you’ve come to church this morning, unharried, and…happily. Truthfully, you can’t even complain about being inside on such a beautiful day.

I remember many, many a Sunday morning when the rush to get to church on time, with everyone’s hair combed, and everyone wearing matching shoes, was more trying than joyful. This was true for Rob and me when our three children were young, and it was true for my mom, with four children to corral. Dad, you see, left early for church, as my dad was a priest.

One Easter morning, when I was a young teen, we tried mightily not to be “that” family—you know, the one who tiptoes into the sanctuary as the opening hymn is playing, just to realize that the only open seats were on the front pew. That Easter morning, we were running late as usual. We parked our car and walked briskly along the sidewalk –but then we all stopped short, to gape at the enormous oak tree on the church lawn that had fallen overnight. Ginormous is more like it. The tree trunk, must have been 3-4 feet in diameter, I can’t begin to guess how tall it was, but somehow it fell right between the day school and the nave of the church. And as trees do when they fall, the trunk pulled up a giant root ball. Under it, was a big open cavern in the earth. You could crawl into the cave it made, and stand up, it was so big.

Then we saw the sign that Dad had made for all to see as they walked up to the church. He tacked the sign onto the fallen tree over the cavern. On it he wrote, “He is not here, He is risen.”

Usually when my dad did things like this, I’d called it corny; but this time, I had to give him credit. Clever, dad. Very clever.Like MM’s experience that we would read about that Easter morning—my brothers and sister and I peered into what seemed like an empty tomb, before mom rushed us on inside.

I say we were like MM, but the truth is, looking into that empty cavern, we were only curious. Looking into Jesus’ tomb to find it empty, Mary was distraught. We hear this familiar story today in our gospel reading and we are comforted that the tomb was empty, but Mary came to Jesus’ grave to grieve to pay her respects to the dead. She needed comfort and where else could she go to come to grips with all that had happened. Where else on earth, but beside his grave, could Mary deal with the profound and utter absence of the one she and her fellow disciples loved so dearly?

Our senses lift at hearing that the tomb is empty, our hope is raised. Not Mary. Mary wants answers. Who did this? Where is Jesus’s body?

The empty tomb did not stir Mary’s faith, and if you’ll hear me out, I want to tell you that the empty tomb should not be the thing that stirs our faith either.

Peter and John, summoned to see what Mary was talking about confirmed the tomb was empty. But they went on home.  The men had no answer either. They left Mary, weeping.

No, not the empty tomb nor the angels she saw prods Mary to faith. What causes her to stop asking questions about a dead body, is hearing her name. “Mary,” Jesus says to her. It is then she recognizes his voice, sees his face, and calls out to him,“Rabbouni.” Such a simple, intimate moment. We can hear her inner thoughts, “Teacher, I was looking for you among the dead, and here you are, among the living!”

Our questions may be different than Mary’s, but they are just as confounding. We ask: How can this be? How can I believe this? Resurrection? Is death really conquered, as we’ll sing out in procession later?  Are we really free? Has Christ won the victory? In the end, I think we too ask, what does the empty tomb mean?

And like Mary we hear Jesus’ answer, take your head out of the empty tomb and turn around. I am here. Resurrection is real. The cross, that brutal instrument of death, killed my body; but nothing can kill love–love never dies. This we know to be true, as we experience the power of love in our lives, the power of God over hate and death. Resurrection is all around us.

I see it in a young man who just took his vows of confirmation last week. 14 years earlier, he was baptized on the hallowed grounds of Camp McDowell, held tightly by his mother and father who prayed that he may grow to know the presence of God’s peace, come what may. Love never dies.

I see resurrection over and over in the life of the church. Yes, here in Scottsboro with St. Luke’s band of apostles, saints and sinners alike, adapting and growing through thick and thin, working to serve Christ since 1848.

I see resurrection in the larger Christian Church, with God’s grace and some serious nudging, having to come to grips with its failings, forgetting our call is to lift up those who the world rejects, puts down, and denies the right to thrive in this life. The Church having over and over to remember what the prophets of long ago preached, that our God is a God of restoration. And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.

Love never dies.

This past Good Friday, I saw the beauty of resurrection just off the courthouse square, where I met a hard-working group of folks digging in the Jackson County drug court community garden. On that cold but sunny day, the most appropriate of days to plant new seeds, these folks, who lives once seemed as dark as a tomb, thank God for the new hope of life in their lives. Love never dies.

Resurrection is all around us. When we take our heads out of the empty tomb and turn around to listen for God calling us by name, sending us out into the world, we experience the resurrected Christ.

It is not the empty tomb, but Jesus, the living Christ who prods our faith. Go, Mary. Go, he tells her. Go tell the disciples you have seen me. Proclaim that the Word lives on. That is why on this day and at the grave, we find the faith, and the strength beyond our power of reasoning, to shout the word, Alleluia.

My mom shooed us into church that Easter Day years ago. We were late, of course. Even without the fallen tree, we were late, and we’d have to make that long walk to the front pew. But how awesome it was to move from the empty cavern of that tree and enter the church to hear Alleluia ringing out, Christ is risen. These are the words of the faithful aching to find truth in this world and being reminded once again, on this most holy of days, that we are people of the resurrection, called by name, and like Mary, we are sent into the world by the love of Christ to tell the world, He is Risen. Alleluia.