Sunday, March 31, 2013

Sermon: Luke 24:1-12 The Empty Tomb

This morning I’ve got a quiz for you. They’re all odd one out. I’ll give you four items, and you have to work out which one is the odd one out. Which doesn’t fit in the set?

lorry; bus; car; bicycle - the odd one out is bicycle - it doesn’t have an engine, and only has two wheels.

slippers; gloves; sandals; shoes - the odd one out are the gloves, because they are worn on the hands, the rest on the feet.

cabbage; pineapple; orange; apple - the odd one out is the cabbage, because the rest are fruit, but it is a vegetable.

doctor; nurse; vet; surgeon - the odd one out is the vet, because they treat animals, the rest people.

Now, those were easy, weren’t they? In each of the sets, there was one thing that stood out, that didn’t fit in with the rest.

On that first Easter morning, early on, some of the women who had followed Jesus went to the tomb. They were going to finish the funeral customs, by bringing the nice smelling spices to rub into his graveclothes. They went to the tomb expecting to find the body of Jesus in the tomb.

But that’s not what they found. Rather, the grave was open, the stone was rolled away. There was no body. Where had it gone? They were very confused.

Suddenly, though, two men in dazzling clothes (angels) appeared and said to them, in effect, that Jesus is like the odd one out. They had come to the graveyard, the place of the dead. But Jesus isn’t dead. He doesn’t fit into the set. He’s not like everybody else.

Here’s what the angels said: ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.’

They came expecting to find Jesus still dead. They knew, the same way we know, that dead people stay dead. They didn’t expect Jesus to be risen - otherwise why would they bring the burial spices?

This is the unexpected message of Easter: Jesus is alive. It was so unexpected that when the women went to tell the eleven disciples and the rest of the people with them, the disciples couldn’t believe it. They weren’t expecting it either.

‘These words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.’ (11) Another version puts it like this: ‘They did not believe them for their words seemed like nonsense.

Perhaps today, you still think the story of Jesus being raised from the dead is just nonsense. You just can’t believe. If you were making it up; if this isn’t true, would you really make everyone doubt it when they hear it at first? Wouldn’t you want the characters to expect it? But they don’t. Why write it this way, unless it is the way it happened.

It was unexpected, and yet, they should have been expecting it all along.

When we were growing up in Dromore, there used to be a ‘spot the stranger’ competition every year. We didn’t all meet up in the town centre and point at outsiders who weren’t from the town. Rather, every shop decorated their window showing the things that they sold, but hidden among the display there was a ‘stranger’ - something that didn’t fit; something you couldn’t go into the shop and buy. It might have been a shoe shop with a knitting needle sticking out of a boot; it might have been a thimble sitting in the middle of a basket of apples. Sometimes we wondered if the stranger in some of the shop windows were the dead flies, but that was never the right answer, for some reason!

Some of the shop keepers were very obvious and the item would be sitting plain (probably so that they weren’t hassled by children and their parents wanting to know the answer), but other shops were more sneaky - you had to look very carefully, spend lots of time outside the shop until you spotted the object. But once you knew what it was, then any time you walked past, the stranger then jumped out at you. It was obvious that it didn’t fit. You wondered how you missed it all along.

It’s a bit like that with the resurrection. It was a shock to the disciples, but they should have known all along. Look at verse 6. The angels are speaking to the women: ‘Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’

Jesus had told them time and time again what would happen, and yet they just didn’t understand at the time. They should have been expecting Jesus to rise from the dead, but they didn’t. Like the stranger in the shop window, it’s now obvious for us. We can see that Jesus knew in advance what would happen to him, both the cross and the resurrection; he told the disciples, but they didn’t believe, until afterwards.

Jesus is still the odd one out. Just think of any collection of religious figures and founders - Mohammed, the Buddha. All the other people who started religions are dead. You can go to Muhammad’s tomb in Medina, Saudi Arabia; you can visit the Buddha’s grave in Sri Lanka; they’re both occupied. Jesus’ tomb is empty ever since that first Easter morning. Jesus is the odd one out, because he is alive!

It’s amazing news. It’s wonderful news. Whether you’re hearing it for the first time, or the thousandth time, the truth is that Jesus is alive. The grave could not hold him. Jesus doesn’t fit among the dead, because he is alive. And because Jesus is alive, that means that we too, as we trust in him, will live with him. Death has been defeated. Jesus is victorious - as he had promised.

This sermon was preached at the Easter Family Celebration at Aghavea Parish Church on 31st March 2013.

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