Easter SUNDAY – 10:45 AM
But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. (Matthew 28:5)
So what are you looking for? … Why are you here today? You’re not here for these marshmallow Peeps. Obviously, as you can get them at Target or Walmart. And while the flowers around the altar are lovely, you could get them at Stauffers or Giant. Whether you realize it or not, I think you are here for this right here … or actually, you are here for what is inside it.
Some of you have been preparing for this for a long time now … forty days to be exactly (not counting the six Sundays of Lent, which function as weekly Sabbath days from the Lenten season). You came to Ash Wednesday services and received a mark on your forehead as a sign of your mortality, and you found this in this burial box. Ashes that provided you with a black smudge on your forehead, that was a sign that this coffin was what you expect to receive for your sins. And the season of Lent tried to cooperate with you by reminding you of your sinfulness and the call to repentance, throughout the following forty days.
Then last Sunday, these are what you might have been looking for if you came to church. They are in here, too. Palms make us happy … they make us smile … we love to think about Jesus as being our King … we like to fold them into harmless little decorative crosses … and we love to see our adorable little kiddos wave them in the air. But that didn’t turn out so well either, because after our kiddos were so cute walking around waving their palms, we read the story of Jesus trial and crucifixion …and death. And that means we end up where? …. Right back here at our coffin.
Then came Maundy Thursday. Thursday wasn’t so bad, if you were here with us … we focused on Holy Communion and foot washing as modeled by Jesus at the last supper. And we saw in them a call to service and a call be one with Christ. Of course, that service eventually ended with a stripping of the altar – a symbolic ritual that mimics the preparation of Jesus for death on Good Friday … so yes, we are again, back to this.
Our Good Friday service was celebrated two days ago … and … well, we all know what that is about. It is the day Jesus is finally put into this little puppy on our behalf … or into the garden tomb as it is called … which was really just a cave in which people were buried … a cave that was the closest thing 1st century culture had to this coffin, or casket if you like that term better … or burial box … it is all the same in the end, I guess. This is the day when you may have pulled out from the place you store your memory items at home … a memorial card from your husband or wife’s death … or your son or daughter … or a beloved parent. This is the day you may contemplate your own mortality
And then we waited … we waited all of Saturday. And probably you distracted yourself with Easter Egg hunts, and food preparation for today’s Easter Dinner, and maybe some shopping, or some ironing of your Easter suit or dress. Maybe you watched one of those classic Easter movies like The Robe, or Ben Hur, or the Day Christ Died … or if you were a hippie, Jesus Christ Superstar. Anything to take your mind off of this … which is the elephant in the room on Easter Saturday.
And now finally … today … Easter Sunday … you are here … but this is still here, too. Why? … What are you looking for within this casket now? Maybe, without even realizing it, you are actually looking for this story by Robert Fulghum in his book, It was on Fire When I Lay Down on It:
There is a bench in the city where I live. It’s structure is simple – three slabs of smooth gray granite. This sturdy seat was placed with purpose on the highest ground on the highest hill in my city. These words are chiseled into the edge of the bench …West lies the Puget Sound; East the mighty cascades run free; North is the University; South, a great tree. All theses things were loved by me. They bare an epitaph. For the bench is, in fact, a tombstone in a cemetery. No name. No conventional epitath. And no dates. Just an unspoken invitation for anyone to sit and think. In all the cemeteries I have visited around the world, I have seen nothing like it – and nothing so fine. It was onthis bench, the summer after my fiuftieth birthday that I came to the realization that I will die. Me. Fulghum. Will not be. Sooner or later. Not only did I realize that I will die, but I walked away thinking, “Well, it’s OK.”
It is OK, because this is not the end of the story. Death is never the final word when Jesus the Lord of Life is involved. The final word from Jesus is that the tomb is empty. That no burial box can hold the potency of life which God has fashioned within us… That grief is not forever … That life in this world is not the only life we live … That Jesus has the power to transform any loss … any death … any sense of hopelessness, which in the end is really the death of your spirit. That is why you have come today. To see this empty tomb with your own eyes. And to recognize that it has been offered to you. Because Christ is Risen! (He is Risen indeed!) Amen.