Reverend Philip Stringer
LET US PRAY: Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Feed us with your Word, and speak to our hearts, that we may be filled with your endless life, now and forever. AMEN.
We have a problem. The problem runs as an undercurrent beneath the surface most of the time, but it sometimes gets dragged out into the light. It was presented to me innocently and sincerely as a question while we were living in Taipei.
<<<<< Taipei Bible Study-- “Do you have to believe that Jesus rose from the dead to be a Christian?” >>>>>>>
So there it is. Our problem is that at the heart of our faith is Jesus. And Jesus was defeated.
There are many people who admire Jesus, and what he taught. He lived a way of radical opposition to the way of this world. Love your neighbor, he taught. But also-- and especially-- love your enemy. Pray for those who hurt you-- desire good things for those who desire bad things for you. Share what you have. Say “no” to hate. Live in love.
It is a nice vision-- a beautiful dream of a world where people treat each other with kindness and love, rather than with selfishness and cruelty. But, the realists would say, “that is all that it is. A dream.” The practical ones among us know that the cross is real life. The cross shows us what happens to people like Jesus. Loving your enemies is a nice dream, but it cannot happen in this world. The strong will always dominate the weak-- it’s just the way the world is.
These are people who know reality. So when they hear the Christian claim that the tomb was empty, they say it cannot be; It is only wishful thinking. The resurrection is not reality. The tomb was not empty. Either those who claim it were lying, or they meant it only figuratively-- but the tomb could NOT be empty and the body of Jesus did not rise.
As Christians we have always insisted that the tomb WAS empty. It is central to our faith. But today, it is time that we pause and acknowledge-- and I believe we will feel much better about our religion if we acknowledge that, in fact it is true-- the tomb was not empty.
Instead, let us take notice this morning that the tomb was full of change.
Yes, the skeptics are right-- it is impossible for the dead to rise. Things don’t work like that in this world. But the tomb was full of change. When the women arrived at the tomb, they were confronted with everything they didn’t expect— and the stone was rolled away.
As they ran to tell the disciples what the angel had said, they were confronted by what they REALLY did not expect: Jesus met them along the way!— a new thing from God.
We all know what it is like to grieve-- to lose something or someone who is loved by us.
To grieve the passing of time and youth, of health and opportunity;
To grieve the mistakes we have made and the damage we have done.
We grieve the passing of safety and security and belonging.
We know what it is like to lose something or someone whom we love. Loss is an ever-present reality of life.
When we grieve, we know that there is a tremendous emptiness within us-- a hole that was once occupied-- and we know that because we have lost this, we are incomplete. The truth of this world is that in the end, we all become “empty tombs.”-- hollow and empty.
As the women approached the tomb, they approached as the practical ones-- the realists-- and they approached with gaping holes inside them. If they had found the tomb of Jesus sealed-- as they expected-- that gaping emptiness would have remained.
But thanks be to God, the tomb was NOT empty. True, Jesus was not there-- but the tomb. The tomb itself was full. And what filled the tomb that morning poured into their hearts and filled them, too. It poured into the gaping wounds of grief in their hearts and filled their emptiness with wonder. And soon, with joy.
That is what the tomb was full of that day:
The tomb was full of Joy.
The tomb was full of Hope.
And what filled the hearts of the women that day was faith. Because
what filled that tomb more than anything that day, was a change brought about by the love of God.
A Change that says that things will be different now-- forever.
Yes, the realistic ones are right-- in a broken world, those who love are quickly beaten down by those who hate. The cross is the ultimate reality of this world.
But the tomb, filled with new things, is the ultimate proclamation of the new reality of God. The tomb where Jesus once lay in death, is filled-- not with his dead body, but with the truth of his rising, and of God’s victory over sin. A victory pouring forth by love.
The tomb was filled with love.
Do you have to believe that Jesus rose from the dead to be a Christian?
On that morning in Taipei with my Bible study gathered around the table, the whole group was very interested in the answer. I said to them, “the resurrection of Jesus is the most important part of Christianity. In fact, everything else we believe, we believe because of it.”
I spoke to them about the disciples-- and what happened after the crucifixion. They did not get rich. And they did not disappear. They stood up prominently and proclaimed the resurrection even when mocked, scorned and persecuted.
Each and every one of them dedicated their lives to telling the story that Jesus rose-- and never backed away from it. Even as they were executed for saying it-- one-by-one, they continued to proclaim it. They staked their lives on it. Something extraordinary happened.
But even apart from this, I told them, I believe that love breaks the rules. I believe that God’s love breaks the rules. The resurrection of Jesus isn’t a science debate. It is what happens when God responds to death: Love wins.
Love filled the women that day and set them free-- And love has set us free, too. What filled the tomb has gushed forth for us, that we may have life in abundance-- life in fullness.
We all know what it is to grieve, and to feel the emptiness of loss. But the tomb of Jesus is the work of God to fill that emptiness-- with hope and joy, through the power of God’s love.
Love has set you free to live as Jesus taught us, and to know, it is not a dream-- it is the new reality. Love wins.
Alleluia! Thank God!-- The tomb was full.