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March 27, 2016

The Empty Tomb: A Place of Remembering

Preacher: Rev. Jack Meehan Series: Lent & Holy Week 2016: Places of the Passion Category: Biblical Scripture: Luke 24:1–12

The Resurrection of Our Lord: Easter Sunday
March 27, 2016
Luke 24:1-12

“The Empty Tomb: A Place of Remembering”

“But on the first day of the week, at early dawn…” (Luke 24:1). These are the opening words from Luke’s Gospel that begin to tell the story of resurrection – of new life and new hope. The Easter story begins at early dawn on the first day of the week. This is why Christ’s people continue to gather on the first day of the week for worship because this is the day when Christ rose from the dead. If resurrection is tied to any particular time of day, surely it is dawn –a new day; a new beginning as we rise up from darkness to light. Dawn is a time of great beauty (unless you’re not a morning person), and God in his wisdom chose this time for the resurrection of Jesus. And with the resurrection of Jesus, there is a new creation. The old order has passed away, and something new – something amazing – has risen up in its place. This new creation means death is not the final word. This new creation means that life is not pointless or futile like so many things, but life has meaning and purpose! And this new life, this new creation, centers on a risen Jesus who is not in the tomb any longer. The tomb is empty, and Jesus is alive! That is what we remember and that is why we rejoice. It is this remembering that we focus on today as we heard in the Gospel lesson. The angels spoke to the women who came to the tomb on that first Easter morning: “’Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.’ And they remembered his words…” (Luke 24:5b-8). And so the theme for the message on this Easter Sunday is “The Empty Tomb: A Place of Remembering.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.

Some of you are here today because you’re here every Sunday; it’s part of your life to be in God’s house each week. As special as this day is, it is no different from what you do every other Sunday. Some of you may be here because it is what others expect of you – to be in church at Christmas and Easter and maybe in-between as well. And so you are here – grudgingly perhaps, but you are here. Some of you may be here because you are searching. You are looking for something that is missing in your life and you are wondering how God fits into all of this. Some of you may be here because you remember. You remember what it was like as a child to come to church on Easter Sunday. You remember bringing your own children when they were growing up. You remember coming with your spouse but that person is gone. You remember how it used to be. You remember that you had something then that you may not have now, and you want to reclaim this. Our hearts cry out for that new creation and that new life – something only the risen Savior can give. And here is the best news of all: that risen Savior who gave his life upon the cross did this for you! That risen Savior who rose again from the dead did this for you! You are immeasurably more important and of far greater value than you can possibly realize, so much so that God would give the life of his only Son for you. Remember this!

Luke’s account of Jesus’ resurrection is actually in three distinct parts, all found in Luke chapter 24. We only hear the first part in today’s Gospel lesson, and sadly, we do not hear “the rest of the story” in any of the Gospel lessons in this Easter season. So I encourage you to go home and read the other two parts in Luke 24. Here’s the amazing thing: all three parts deal with remembering! Part 1 (Luke 24:1-12) is the women at the tomb, but they do not see Jesus. There is no resurrection appearance of Jesus. What the women does see are “two men in dazzling apparel” (Luke 24:4). The angels call on the women to remember what Jesus told them, and they do. Part 2 (Luke 24:13-35) is Jesus’ appearing to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, but they do not know that it is Jesus. He calls them to remember all that was written about him in Moses and the Prophets (Luke 24:25-27), and finally does reveal himself to them in the breaking of the bread, but only momentarily before he vanishes. The disciples know that it is Jesus and turn around to go back and report this to the brethren. Part 3 (Luke 24:36-49) is when all the disciples are together that same night on Easter evening, huddled together behind closed doors in confusion, fear, and worry. Jesus comes into their midst, and invites them to touch and see that it really was he himself, and then he ate a piece of broiled fish. As before, Jesus challenges his disciples to remember all that was written about him in the Scriptures, and said to them: “’Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations…’” (Luke 24:46-47). All of these three parts of Jesus’ resurrection occur on the same day – the first Easter, from early dawn until late into the evening.

The truth is, like those first disciples, sometimes we have to be reminded in order for us to remember. First the angels reminded the women of what Jesus said – then they remembered! Then Jesus reminded the disciples of what the Scriptures spoke about him – then they remembered! And that’s how it works: the risen Jesus cannot be separated from his Word! To have one is to have the other. And this is why we do what we do week after week in worship. We remember, we recall, we re-tell the saving Word of God in Scripture because that Word of God makes known to us the living Word of God, the Word-made-flesh, Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead for us and for our salvation. He comes into our lives today when we are huddle behind closed doors in confusion, fear, and worry. He comes with his blessing of peace, as he does today in his life-giving Word and in his Holy Supper. We need to be reminded of this saving truth again and again.

Recently, I received a letter from my alma mater, Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. Dr. Dale Meyer, seminary president, wrote the following:

The devil does not mind our preaching that Jesus rose from the dead on the first Easter – just as long as we talk about it as 2,000-year-old “ancient history.”
The “old evil foe” likes it when churches refer to the Resurrection as something that happened a long, long time ago in a far, far away place. He also is fine with the miracles of Christ, the salvation promises of the Scriptures and the work of the Holy Spirit – as long as all of it is centuries old and the Bible a museum-worthy relic.

Is that all Easter is – just a remembering of what happened long ago and far away? Is Easter just “ancient history,” or worse, just a myth, legend, or fable? Is Easter just “an idle tale” (Luke 24:11), like those first disciples who refused to believe the truth of what Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary and the other women told them? As Paul tells us: “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19). If our remembering only takes us back, but does not bring anything forward into today – into the here and now – then truly, “we are of all people most to be pitied.” We have to be reminded! We have to be reminded that what happened on that first Easter morning continues to impact lives today, turning people from the old life of sin and serving self to a new life of joy in serving others in Jesus’ Name. We have to be reminded so that we may remember. And remembering all that Jesus has done for us through his suffering, death, and resurrection, we may rejoice. And rejoicing, we respond by joining Jesus on his mission out into the everyday places of our lives. That is where the risen Savior is right now – out ahead of us in our neighborhoods, communities, places of work and leisure, and schools. In the midst of a world wracked by terrorism, violence, and bloodshed; in a world where there is much talking and little listening; in the midst of uncertainty and anxiety about the future, let us remember and never forget: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.