EASTER SUNRISE: "Jesus Left Some Things Behind"
A Sermon based on Mark 16" 1-8
They risked confronting the guards. They wondered about how they would open the grave, knowing that a very large stone covered its entrance.
By contrast, we risked only the threat of snow and the bitter cold as we traveled through the Michigan darkness… to meet the dawn. We had no fear about who we might meet here. We took no risk that we might confront the authorities. We carried no spices, nor burden of grief. We knew that we would not be facing the heavy labor of moving a slab of limestone, here at the Small Boat Harbor on this Easter "sunrise" morning.
When the women arrived at Jesus’ tomb, looking up, they were surprised to see that the stone was already rolled back! Stepping inside the tomb, they were further surprised to see a young man in a white robe (like mine) seated where Jesus’ body should have been. The messenger said: "He is not here!" And that news also took them by surprise!
You see, these women had watched Joseph of Arimathea bury Jesus in his own freshly-prepared family tomb.
They had watched him roll a huge stone down the track to cover the opening. So, they knew very well where Jesus was buried…and, by God, this was the place!
But the young man in the white robe said: "You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place where they laid him."
What did they see? What had Jesus left behind? (?) Just Joseph’s family tomb, empty now. … And the grave cloths, folded up neatly. Some folks believe the Shroud of Turin is the very cloth that once wrapped Jesus’ body. But, if it is… it only proves he left it behind!
Oh, and on the hill Golgotha, the place of the skull -- Jesus left behind an empty cross. So, on that Easter morning, Jesus left some things behind: an empty cross, an empty tomb, an empty burial gown...
But he also left behind some grieving women and some very frightened men.
The disciples were hiding behind locked doors; some were leaving the city, scattering for the safety of small towns (like Emmaus). Who can blame them? Jesus, their leader, had been tortured & killed for all to see.
Those women -- despite their grief, despite their fear -- came out of hiding and brought burial spices to the graveyard, to finish with dignity Jesus’ proper burial.
But he is not there! He has moved on, leaving them behind.
But where? Where has Jesus gone, following his death and resurrection?
The Gospel of Mark says: "He is not here. Look, there is the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples (and Peter!) that he is going ahead of you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you [before he died]."
On the road again... Back to the place where it all began… where it all started! Home to Galilee. This Risen Jesus is "going ahead of you" to Galilee, just as he had promised.
So, that’s something else Jesus left behind: his promises! His words are not as tangible as the empty cross is… as the folded grave-clothes are, or as is the empty tomb... but they’re just as real: Jesus’ promises.
Unfortunately, in their grief over his death, the disciples and the women had forgotten what he had told them! They forgot that he had said he would rise again on the third day... Yes, Jesus had told them to expect this, but they didn’t believe it -- not really! (I mean, who would? Nothing like this had ever happened before! The resurrection of Christ is an incredible thing, when you think of it! Isn’t it?)
And now that the messenger has reminded them of Jesus’ promise, they still don’t believe it.
Furthermore, with all the surprises of this unexpected Easter event, the women have become so frightened that they "went out and fled from the tomb… for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid!"
Here we are, some 2,000 years later, and the story of Jesus’ Easter Resurrection is so familiar, that we are no longer surprised with the news of what happened that morning. In fact, you would have been surprised if I had told you any different story this morning! (Right? I mean, it’s Easter!)
So, since we believe it, we think those women followers should also have believed it. We think they (and the male disciples, too) should have listened better… or should have remembered more of what Jesus had told them.
We think they should have been comforted by the fact that Jesus always keeps his promises! Even death could not stop him from loving them & leading them into a new & better future. That’s why we’re here this morning, so many centuries later. (!) Death doesn’t have the power to stop Love, nor to stop the spiritual movement that Jesus had begun. Only they could stop that… if they quit!
The women were told: "Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you!" Yes, Jesus told them that he would meet them in Galilee, and he is going ahead of them to keep that promise.
Those "words of reminder" should have helped them (and should help us!) to remember some of the other promises Jesus had made, such as: I go to prepare a place for you, so that where I am, there you may be also.
I am the resurrection and the life; those who believe in me,
though they are dead, yet shall they live.
Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.
Because I live, you shall live also.
Yes, Jesus left behind not only an empty cross and an empty tomb -- not only the folded grave cloths and his grieving friends -- he left some promises behind that should bring comfort, as he goes on ahead!
We are here to greet the dawn of a new Easter Sunday, and to remember all the saints who have done the same over the generations, as we follow Jesus Christ, resurrected and alive, even now, and for evermore.