Easter sermon: God Moves … Out of the Tomb

Empty tomb

Texts used – Isaiah 65:17-25; Luke 24:1-12

  • Answer a question for me, all (be honest!): Who had some chocolate on this beautiful Easter morning? Or, if you haven’t had it yet, who has some chocolate waiting at home for you?
    • Probably one of the biggest names in chocolate around the world and certainly the biggest name in American chocolate: Milton Hershey[1]
      • Born in Pennsylvania in 1857
      • Dropped out of school at age 13
      • Apprenticed with a master confectioner (candy maker) in Lancaster, PA at age 14
      • First attempt at opening his own candy shop @ age 18 (Philadelphia, PA) = failed after 5 yrs.
      • Spent time working for another candy maker in Denver
      • 2nd attempt at opening his own candy shop (Chicago) = failed
      • 3rd attempt at opening his own candy shop (NYC) = failed
      • 1883: founded the Lancaster Caramel Company (back in PA) → success at last!
      • 1893: got an up-close introduction to chocolate-making at World’s Columbian Exposition → decided to formulate a way to mass-produce milk chocolate (delicacy at the time – largely done only by the Swiss and only by hand)
      • 1900: sold Lancaster Caramel Company for $1 million (nearly $30 million by today’s standards!)
      • 1903: started building a massive and modern candy-making factory in Derry Church, PA → opened 2 yrs. later … and the rest, as they say, is sweet, sweet history.
    • If Milton Hershey had allowed his path to be determined by expectations and “how it’s always been before” (failed candy shop after failed candy shop after failed candy shop), those Easter baskets … the candy aisle … chocolate-making as we know it today would be vastly different. But Milton Hershey kept hoping that something new and different could happen. He hoped through setbacks. He hoped through outright failures. He hoped and hoped and hoped … until it happened.
  • So friends, we’re here this morning to celebrate Easter – the empty tomb, the sparkly strangers bearing the good news, and the risen Christ.
    • Sermon series throughout Lent: God on the Move
      • How Christ moved throughout his ministry (physically and through teachings/parables)
      • How God moved throughout Scripture
      • Ways that God moves us to action
      • Today’s capstone = most important movement of all: God Moves … Out of the Tomb → This is it. This is the point. All of the other movement culminates in this. This is the reason for the movements that Christ made throughout his ministry. This is the pivotal moment to which all the movement in Scripture has been pointing. This is jumping off point for all of our movements of faith. Without this movement, we would not be sitting here today. And yet none of these are things that were expected. This movement was completely out of the blue – a whole new thing. And it hinged on one, effervescent, pie-in-the-sky, never-been-done-before thing: hope.
  • Love this version of the resurrection from Luke’s gospel because it’s so full of obvious shock and surprise
    • Begins with women bringing “fragrant spices” to the tomb = “business as usual” → The women were coming to the tomb that morning to anoint the body of their beloved teacher and friend. In that time and culture, it was the women’s job to prepare bodies for burial which included anointing with a number of different oils and spices, some for religious purposes, some for embalming purposes. The spikenard that we talked about a few weeks ago was one of those oils. Now, surely, this would have already been done before Jesus was placed in the tomb, so Biblical scholars aren’t entirely sure why the women felt the need to anoint the body again.
      • Maybe they just wanted to be near Jesus one more time (time to say goodbye) → spices were a plausible excuse if they were stopped by the Pharisees or the Romans
      • Maybe they wanted to further honor Jesus → anointing him again as a way of expressing their grief and devotion
    • Arrival at the tomb is anything but “business as usual”
      • Stone inexplicably rolled away
      • Jesus’ body = gone
      • Sudden and unexplainable appearance of unexpected strangers bearing the most baffling and miraculous news of all – text: [The women] didn’t know what to make of this. Suddenly, two men were standing beside them in gleaming bright clothing. The women were frightened and bowed their faces toward the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He isn’t here, but has been raised.”[2] → Imagine what must have gone through the women’s minds at that point! It’s hard for us to grasp today, isn’t it? I mean, we’ve had the privilege of knowing the end of the story since the beginning. Even as we embarked on this Lenten journey – as we do every year – we know that the culmination is Easter: white paraments, celebratory flowers, an empty tomb, and the proclamation, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” We are so familiar with the story that I think the shock of it is often lost on us. But to those women that morning, it was a whole new thing!
        • Jessica LaGrone captures some of that shock and amazement: The women arrived to see a stone that had rolled and a world that had changed, even though they didn’t know it yet. They expected to encounter a continuation of the message of grief and sympathy that had begun on Friday; instead they found Sunday’s message of congratulations and a Savior who would not be contained to one location.[3]
      • Reason for the passage from Is this morning → God declaring through the prophet Isaiah that God was going to do a new thing and that that new thing would be sacred and glorious and hope-filled – text: Look! I’m creating a new heaven and a new earth: past events won’t be remembered; they won’t come to mind. Be glad and rejoice forever in what I’m creating, because I’m creating Jerusalem as a joy and her people as a source of gladness. I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad about my people. No one will ever hear the sound of weeping or crying in it again.[4]
    • Shock and surprise of Luke’s account extends outward from there – text: When [the women] returned from the tomb, they reported all these things to the eleven and all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles. Their words struck the apostles as nonsense, and they didn’t believe the women. But Peter ran to the tomb. When he bent over to look inside, he saw only the linen cloth. Then he returned home, wondering what had happened.[5] → That’s right, y’all! The first evangelists … the first Christian preachers to deliver the good news of a risen Savior … were women. And the men didn’t believe them.
      • 2 powerful elements to this part of the story
        • First: women’s action → We’ve spent Lent talking about how God moves us to action, and here it is right before us in black and white. These women heard the good news of resurrection, and they went out to share it. They moved. They shared. Through those sparkly strangers, God called them to go and do, and that is exactly what they did. God in Jesus Christ moved out of the tomb that morning, and thankfully, so did the women. Because that movement sent the word out.
        • Second: Peter’s reaction = powerful because it is both immediate and unresolved → Scripture says the apostles didn’t believe the women … and yet Peter is curious enough to run to the tomb and check it himself. When he does, he finds it empty with nothing but the used linen burial wrappings lying on the floor. And all that we get from Luke for a conclusion is, “Then he returned home, wondering what had happened.” There is no period on the end of this story. There is only an ellipsis … “dot dot dot” … an open space for whatever comes next.
  • And friends, that is where we come in this morning. We are a part of that ellipsis. We are a continuation of that resurrection story – of the shock and surprise, of the good news, of the movement that defies expectations, and above all, of the hope that spurs that movement. Because that is indeed what we are called to do: defy expectations with radical, hope-filled abandon.
    • Sometimes expectations can be a good thing → classroom management tactic: setting clear expectations so your students have something to strive for (parents, too!)
    • Flip side: expectations can fall short of our actual potential and hold us back
      • Expectations placed on us by others
      • Expectations that we place on ourselves
      • Expectations that come from past experiences
      • Expectations that come from things we have learned OR lack of learning
      • Expectations based on misunderstanding and prejudice
      • Expectations based on flawed or incomplete picture of who we really are
    • Everyone’s been underestimated at some point in their lives, right? Someone at some point in your life thought you couldn’t do something for some reason or another. Maybe it was a big thing. Maybe it was a small thing. Maybe you were the someone who thought you couldn’t do something. But through the miracle and audacity and movement of the empty tomb, God has said definitively, “Expectations no longer apply. Forget what you thought you knew. Forget what you thought could happen. Forget what you assumed or supposed or even what you believed what possible because I am doing a new thing. And I am doing that new thing through you. Hope abounds. Hallelujah!”
      • Scholar: Through the presence of an empty tomb, God calls on people to act. Easter morning is God’s clearest statement that the world is different and that those who follow in the pathway of the risen Lord are called to live differently. The good news is not something to observe; it is something that demands our response.[6]
        • Reason we say “Christ IS risen! He IS risen indeed!” instead of “Christ was risen! He was risen indeed!” → power and hope of resurrection are ongoing, and so is our participation in it
      • Scene from Polly[7] (“Wonderful World of Disney” made for TV movie – adaptation of the original Pollyanna story with twist of being set in the segregated south in 1950s → Polly brings people together to tear down barriers of segregation) → scene where Polly finds Miss Snow picking out her coffin
        • “That itched like crazy, didn’t it? That means you’re alive, and I want you to act like it!”
        • Miss Snow’s expectation was aging meant inertia and death à Polly’s call was to action and life
      • LaGrone: Wherever you are feeling stuck or trapped, wherever your past has told you that you will never change, wherever you encounter a world that seems to be lost in pain and grief – you will find a moving Savior. Today is a day of congratulation for God’s people. For new locations and second chances. For new hopes and dreams. … [Jesus] is alive and moving in our world and our lives today. Hallelujah![8]“Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” Amen.

 

CHARGE

Danny Boyle (British film director, producer, screenwriter): It’s a good place when all you have is hope and not expectations.

[1] https://www.biography.com/business-figure/milton-hershey.

[2] Lk 24:4-6a.

[3] Jessica LaGrone. “Lenten Series: God on the Move – Lent 7: God Moves … Out of the Tomb” in A Preacher’s Guide to Lectionary Sermon Series: Thematic Plans for Years A, B, and C. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016), 201.

[4] Is 65:17-19.

[5] Lk 24:9-12.

[6] Pendleton B. Perry. “Luke 24:1-12 – Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels – Luke, vol. 2. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 346.

[7] Polly. Released by Walt Disney Television, Nov. 12, 1989.

[8] LaGrone, 203.

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