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Sermons

A Borrowed Tomb

June 23, 2013

Bible Reading

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.

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

John 20:1-22

Sermon

Here’s an opening bit of humor for this Easter day:

The Sunday school teacher told her class that Jesus was buried in a borrowed tomb. One student said that she knew why: “Jesus only used it three days.”

Easter Sunday—the day on which we gather to celebrate that the stone sealing up the life and love of God has been rolled away, that our hopes are alive in the resurrection of Jesus. By his risen presence he assures us that the grave is not the end, but that to die to this world is to live again!

One of my very dear friends used to say to me, “This too shall pass,” whenever I was in the midst of turmoil. It’s a helpful thought, when we are caught up in an emotional event, to remember that most things that happen in our life eventually are resolved, and that we continually move forward on our life journeys. It is a saying that works to help us retain our perspective during both bad times and good.

Let me tell you a story. A farmer owned a beautiful mare that was praised far and wide. One day, this beautiful horse disappeared. The people of his village offered sympathy to the farmer for his great misfortune. He said simply, “We shall see.”

A few days later, the lost mare returned, followed by a beautiful wild stallion. The village congratulated the farmer for his good fortune. He said, “We shall see.” Some time later, the farmer’s only son, while riding the stallion, fell off and broke his leg. The village people once again expressed their sympathy at the farmer’s misfortune. The farmer again said, “We shall see.”

Soon thereafter, war broke out, and all the young men of the village except the farmer’s lame son were drafted. All were killed in battle. The village people were amazed as the farmer’s good luck. His son was the only young man left alive in the village. But the farmer kept his same attitude: despite all the turmoil, gains, and losses in his life, he gave the same reply, “We shall see.”

Taoist Farmer stories are based on the Chinese belief that life has its ups and downs and does not always work for the best. This may not be the most passionate way of living life, but it certainly imparts serenity to experiencing its vicissitudes. In Buddhism, letting go of emotional attachments—all attachments, actually—is necessary to attain a state of enlightenment—in other words, a heavenly state.

So why am I telling you this? Well, reading over the passion story, I was reminded of how much the Lord embodied this attitude of “this too shall pass” and “we shall see.” He rode into Jerusalem as messiah and king, knowing that this acclamation too would pass. In his turmoil in the Garden of Gethsemane, he said, “Father, if it is your will, take this cup away from me; nevertheless not my will, but yours, be done.” He asked for the cup to pass from him if it could. He came back to Jerusalem, knowing the outcome of his life, of the betrayal and crucifixion and death, but he knew that even those too would soon pass, and that he would soon arise from death.

The Easter story doesn’t begin in the light of day. It begins at dawn, when it’s still a bit dark, a time when we cannot see clearly. It begins with Mary. Mary had experienced in her own life how the Lord loved her. He transformed her own darkness within and removed it from her life, letting her be reborn. But Mary came to the tomb in darkness—not just the darkness of the sky, but the darkness in her soul. She had no hope left to hold onto. Jesus was gone.

If you’ve ever found it hard to see the love of God during dark times, you can appreciate how Mary might have felt that morning. She didn’t realize that Jesus had risen from the dead. She didn’t know that his death was a passing state. She was grieving the very real loss of someone she loved tremendously. Her hopes were dead—her hopes, and the hopes of all that had followed Jesus. Their hopes appeared to be sealed in that tomb, in that dark place that we all go to when love and hope are taken from us, that place where we do not realize that this too shall pass, and love and hope will live again.

But Easter morning penetrated that darkness. What Mary clearly saw that Easter dawn would change her life forever.

It can change ours, too. Jesus came to Mary because she needed him. He comes to us too, because we all need him. But Mary wasn’t to cling to his bodily appearance, for that too would pass, and the hope that was alive was not in the limited presence of his body, but in his unlimited presence, which could now transcend time and space as the living hope for us all.

In the midst of our losses and sadness, we can anchor our souls with the presence of our risen Lord, with his divine strength. Knowing that events in life will pass—and with his help, guidance, and strength—we too can look upon the events of life, good and bad, and find serenity in the idea that this too shall pass, that the values we practice in our lives will stay and continue on with us as we pass into the life eternal.

A teacher asked her class what each wanted to become when they grew up. The kids offered the usual noble goals: doctor, fireman, teacher. One by one, they answered, until it was Billy’s turn.

The teacher asked, “Billy, what do you want to be when you grow up?”

“Possible,” Billy responded.

“Possible?” asked the teacher.

“Yes,” Billy said. “My mom is always telling me I’m impossible. When I grow up, I want to become possible.”

Sociologists have a theory of the “looking-glass self”: that you become what the most important person in your life (wife, father, boss, etc.) thinks you are. How would your life change if you really believed the truth about God’s love for you, if you looked in the mirror and saw what God sees? Would you be able to let go of the faults and mistakes that you have taken on as a part of yourself? Would you realize that they too can pass away and that you could gradually become “possible” as an angel of God, with God’s love and God’s living hope for you in this world?

Easter gives us the greatest truth of all: the truth the Lord showed us by coming out of the tomb. The truth of how much God loves us. The truth that this life too shall pass to a heavenly eternal life, where we will be much more than our “looking-glass selves” and will become the inner self embodying all our loves. In this heavenly life, we will do what we love, and that love will take us to new places.

We, in the wake of the Resurrection, have the advantage of knowing that death does not have the final word. We know that the death of Jesus was just a temporary state, and that he only needed to borrow that tomb. His death was not final; this too passed from him and became a glorified, triumphant victory, so that He could be with us always.

A divine love and goodness beats at the heart of the world that was made warm and human in the person of our risen Lord, Jesus Christ. He moves in our midst and is now both God and human, present with us, alive among us to guide us and bless us.

Jesus said: “I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you. In just a little while, the world will not see me again, but you will. For I will live again, and you will too. When I am raised to life again, you will know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” (John 14:18-23)

Rev. Nadine Cotton