Easter Sunday – Without End

My dear friends.
It is Easter morning. I am standing in a nearly empty church sharing a message about an empty tomb. This was not how I planned to proclaim Easter, and I know it was not how you planned to celebrate Easter, either. Empty is not the word we usually focus on at Easter! We use words like “risen” or “hallelujah” or “amazed.” But empty?! The word ‘empty’ in and of itself is not necessarily a negative adjective, but it depends completely on the context.
An empty bank account with mouths to feed at home – negative.
An empty fuel tank on the highway in the heat of summer— definitely a negative.
An empty house because you’re moving out of the house you’ve lived in for 50 years to move into a retirement community may be bittersweet.
But an empty house because you’ve just purchased your first home seems pretty positive.
Those are all tangibles, let us not forget some of the intangibles, that we as people of faith, are also called to. In the realm of our faith, we talk about emptying ourselves to make room for God.
So maybe, an empty tomb and an empty church can offer us something new this Easter morning. Maybe, this is our gospel message this year — a year where we do not gather in person – a year where, the best way we can demonstrate our love and care is to shelter in homes.
We cannot be physically close to one another in this time, but we can be relationally close. So, on this Easter morning, I encourage you to pass the peace with your church family and loved ones by taking a moment to text or call people and let them know you are thinking about them. Send your Easter photo, or post it on social media and tag West Grove UMC to maintain your connectional nature, even in physical distancing. You will be amazed how much a text or call can brighten someone’s day.
Early on that first Easter morning, the women were on their way to the Empty Tomb; Empty Church tomb and on their way there, they may have to be agile and think on their feet. Yes, they’ve brought what they needed to anoint Jesus’ body. No, they hadn’t decided who or how they would move the stone covering the entrance to the tomb. Have ever found yourself starting a project only to realize you didn’t plan it out very well. For example, you find this great recipe on the internet. It has great photographs and descriptions beautifully photographed, and you are hooked. As you started making it for dinner, you realize you’re missing half of the ingredients. You begin to make substitutions until you come up with something completely unexpected.
Perhaps, this is how we empty ourselves this Easter season. We empty ourselves of the traditions, just for this year, the lilies, the new dresses and outfits, the beautifully orchestrated event, and we make room for God to take a greater central role in the story.
Now know, that as I say this, we are an Easter people who love to gather and proclaim together and resurrection. This is not where we are right now. We have an empty church on the morning of an empty tomb. William Barclay writes, “The best proof of the resurrection is the church, because we believe in the resurrection, certain things will follow. The church is our only hope – our only claim to the empty tomb.” We, the church, in each of our homes around the world today find ourselves closer to those in the early church, than maybe we have ever been. We are hanging onto each word of Scripture and looking for the promises of God in new ways as we face this COVID19 pandemic.
For Mary, who saw the Lord on that first Easter morning, her day began with determination to do as she had said she would do. She then experienced incredible fear, as it was not at all like she expected it would be. (Maybe we can relate here). And Jesus met her, bringing her what she needed, while giving the world resurrection and eternal life. Emotional roller coaster of a day, but one she would never forget.
I doubt we will forget our time of quarantine or the Easter we had an Empty Tomb, Empty Church. There is an invitation in that: What did you need to empty in order to embrace faith, hope and love this Easter season? Perhaps you need to empty what you are carrying to make room for trust — either figuratively or literally. What would it look like for us to have such reliance on God that we could embrace an empty tomb and an empty church? I pray we can have that kind of faith. Our world needs us to have that kind of faith. Faith that is rooted and is across generations. Faith that is without.
This morning, we conclude on study of the Lord’s Prayer with these final words: For thine is the kingdom, and the glory, and the, forever and ever, Amen. You might notice that this last phrase was not one of our scripture readings. The last phrase is not in many of our Bible translations proper. Some of you will have a footnote next to Matthew 6:13 that reads: Other ancient authorities add, in some form, For the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours forever. Amen. The ancient authorities refer to a set of teaching documents called the Didache, or the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, from the first century. Didache include a manual of morals, doctrine, and most importantly, for our purposes, a collection of worship rubrics.
The earliest Christian communities as they were praying the prayer that Jesus taught them to pray, ended with this familiar song or doxology – for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever, Amen. They concluded together as reminder of the timeless nature of the promise of Jesus. This doxology was appended to the Lord’s prayer at a time when people of the Way were routinely rounded up, questioned, and often had their life in the balance. Across persecution and famine, illness and evil, violence and death, the promise of the eternal nature of God’s steadfast goodness and grace was sung as a doxology at the end of prayer Jesus taught the disciples. A proclamation that the empty tomb is God’s declaration of life everlasting.
All of the sudden, this is not some story we are reading in an ancient book. This is OUR story. This gospel has been opened to us. The whole future of the church depends on what we do with this story. For the rest of our lives, we will remember this Easter. It is like no other, and it will not happen like this ever again. We belong to one another. All of you who serve as essential workers in healthcare and on the frontlines in food production and distribution, have already seen this, and can teach us. Our deepest gratitude to you. We are part of something greater than ourselves and that which is greater will see us through this.
Jesus is risen. He is not here. Behold the empty tomb.
Behold the empty church. Go and tell. The story isn’t finished.
Take faith
Have hope and
go love.
Without End.
Christ is risen! He has risen indeed!
This is the Gospel of our Lord, Jesus Christ, thanks be to God, Amen.

Old Testament Lesson: Psalm 118:1-2, 21-24
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!
Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”

I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Gospel Lesson: John 20:1-18
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”
Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb.
He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Meditations For Your Week

Sunday, April 12 ~ Saturday, April 18, 2020

Sunday: “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.” John 20:1. Christ is the Lord is Risen! Mary who went in search of Jesus, found he had kept his promises. Praise God for keeping his promises to you!

Monday: “But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come; see the place where he lay.” Matthew 28: 5-6. On this Easter Monday, prayerfully consider where God is inviting you to see evidence of God’s promises kept. Even when we cannot see Christ, Christ is with us!

Tuesday: “Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.’ So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.” Matthew 28: 7-8. The good news of resurrection is never just for one or two. It is for the whole world. Who will you share it with? Let the Holy Spirit be creative with you in sharing digitally and virtually.

Wednesday: “Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.’” John 20:18. When we see the Lord, we are called to tell others! How can you share the good news of resurrection in this unusual time?

Thursday: “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” Colossians 3:1. Pray that Jesus will reveal to you the heart of God who loves all of God’s children. Advocate for justice and access to healthcare for all people.

Friday: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Colossians 3: 2-3. Where is God inviting you to take a break from fear and make time for devotion and prayer?

Saturday: “When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.” Colossians 3: 4. Look around you today for signs of revelation and redemption. God is never far, even in a time of quarantine.