4/12/98, Easter, Year C

“The Tomb Is Still Empty”
John 20: 1-18

eremy was born with limited abilities and a chronic terminal illness. At age 12 he was only in the second grade at a small Christian school. His teacher was often at the end of her ropes. She had thought about encouraging his parents to send him away to a special school, but they insisted that this was the happiest he had been and that they could not part with him. Miss Miller realized that she could not part with him either.

Prior to Easter she explained the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection, but she felt that Jeremy did not catch on at all. He stared back with blank eyes. Her idea was to give each of her nineteen students an empty plastic Easter egg and ask them to bring it back the next day with something inside that would illustrate the resurrection.

The next day there were 19 eggs in her basket. She opened the first and inside was a flower. "Oh, yes, a flower is certainly a sigh of new life." A girl in the front row waived her hand, "That’s my egg, Miss Miller." The next egg contained a plastic butterfly. "We all know that a caterpillar changes and grows into a beautiful butterfly," said Miss Miller. "Yes, that’s my egg," little Judy shouted out.

Then Miss Miller opened the third egg and gasped. The egg was empty. She knew it was Jeremy’s. Again he had not understood her instructions. She discreetly set the empty egg aside not wanting to embarrass him. Suddenly Jeremy spoke up, "Miss Miller, aren’t you going to talk about my egg?" Flustered, she replied, "But Jeremy--- your egg is empty!" He looked into her eyes and said softly, "Yes, but Jesus’ tomb was empty too."

Three months later Jeremy died from his congenital illness. Those who came to the funeral were surprised to see 19 eggs on top of his casket, all of them empty.

The Good News that Easter declares to a dying world is that The Tomb Is Still Empty!

Mary Magdalene found it so, although at first she did not expect it, did not understand it, and did not initially believe it. But then Jesus called her name, "Mary!"

Then we see another best fiend of Jesus in this vignette, John the Beloved--- the man who stood with the women and watched him die. He was a fast runner and got to the tomb first, after hearing Magdalene’s story, but he hesitated at the entrance, and The Big Fisherman blew right by him and found the tomb empty. Then came John who saw the linen embalming wrappings all neatly rolled up, and they believed. They saw the empty tomb and believed--- it is ours to believe without seeing.

Millions around the globe celebrate Easter faith this day with songs of Alleluia. History records 2,000 years of Easters that have changed billions of hearts and established Christian churches and Christian civilization around this globe. It is hard to imagine that we could all be deluded. It’s sad to think that those early Christian martyrs went to the lions with a false hope. Was Mary, Peter and John all wrong? Were they somehow mistaken? Are they dead in the ground and gone forever?

Believer’s hearts and voices have shouted loud Hosannas out of the most difficult circumstances and it has given them resurrection power. Torn from their homes and forced into slave ships and brought to this strange new land, the great tribute to African Americans is that once hearing the resurrection message they sang out of their pain, "I looked over Jordan, and what did I see, coming for to carry me home? A band of angels coming after me, coming for to carry me home. Swing Low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home; swing low sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home. If you get there before I do, coming for to carry me home; tell all my friends I’m coming too, coming for to carry me home."

Shall we discount such strength and power stemming from Easter faith in the empty tomb?

I was reared in a family that assumed an empty tomb. This is perhaps most simply illustrated by the words on a plaque that my mother purchased as a young girl in Tarrant City, Alabama. I have seen it all my life hanging on her wall next to her bed where she kneels and prays every night. These words, "Only one life, Twill soon be passed, Only what’s done for Christ will last." And at the bottom is a line from Philippians 1:21, "To me to live is Christ."

Mother has promised me this plaque after she is gone, but she might live a long time, she is only 89; so, just last week I found a duplicate at an antique shop, and here it is--- And it means the world to me. Perhaps it will be an every day reminder to me of the power that is mine as one who has looked into the empty tomb and believed.

We need all the encouragement we can get in these days of doubt. Did you read in yesterday’s "Atlanta Journal-Constitution" about the atheist who answered her son’s question about what happens after death with, "No, they just turn into dirt."

It did not bolster our faith this Holy Week when we saw Public Broadcasting’s four hour special dealing with the unsubstantiated hypothesis that the simple carpenter/preacher Jesus was gradually turned into the Christ, and Son of God, by misguided early followers. I watched most of it, and did not hear much new; but, I am afraid that the impact might be negative upon some poor soul out there searching for answers. My response to the program was about the same as when I studied the same material thirty years ago in college and seminary, "It takes more subjective faith to believe the ‘scholars’ assumptions than it does to believe the story as recorded in inspired Scripture."

Faith in an Empty Tomb broke into Jeremy’s heart, and left a resurrection faith in the hearts of 18 children and one teacher. Perhaps Jesus has called out your name this morning, as he called Mary’s. Let’s go forth echoing Magdalene’s words, "I have seen the Lord!"

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor

4/12/98, Easter, Year C