“The Empty Tomb: A Place of Remembering”

Luke 24:1-11

{Prayer}

            It’s easy to get overwhelmed at Easter with the choir, the lilies, the praise, the celebration of Christ’s victory.  It’s easy to get overwhelmed.  But when you listen to Luke tell the Easter story, he focuses your attention on one thing … remembering.

            Think of it.  The first Easter was a whirlwind of activity and emotion.  Women come to the tomb with spices to anoint Jesus’ dead body and they find that the tomb is open and Jesus is gone.  They come across men who dress like lightening.  And when these men talk, they know what these women are there to do. “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”  They know what has happened.  “He is not here; he has risen!”  And they even know what has been said and done in their past.  “Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and on the third day be raised again” (Luke 24:5-6).  These men know these women even though the women have never seen them before in their lives.  And in the midst of all the commotion, what does Luke focus our attention on?  Luke, when he puts it all together, calls our attention to one simple act … “They remembered his words” (24:8).  That’s what Luke wants us to know this morning as we celebrate Easter.  On that first Easter morning, when Jesus rose from the dead, in the midst of the wonder, the fear, and the worship, His people simply and faithfully did one thing … “They remembered his words.”

            God on Easter morning sent angels to the tomb to help His people remember, and this morning through His Word, He helps us to remember as well.  God has made the empty tomb a place of remembering for us this morning in order that we might truly rejoice in what Christ does for us on Easter.

            But what kind of remembering is this?  You see, memory does many things.  Have you ever noticed how a person can come into your life and with a few simple words change everything?  They simply say, “I remember when you used to …” or “Do you remember when …”  And in that remembering, things begin to change.  That’s the power of memory.  But how do things change?  Well this morning, I would like to consider two ways in which remembering changes our lives.

            On the one hand, remembering can take us away from our present and lead us to a world that is past.  We often encounter this at funerals.  Members of the family gather by the casket and someone comes and simply beings to remember.  “I remember when people would come, he’d love to tell his fishing stories.”  “Yeah,” says another, “and he never talked about the one that got away.  Nope.  He always caught the big ones.”  “They got bigger each year.”  “Yeah, and in the end, they go so big you couldn’t take pictures.”  And soon, you see these people taken away from the present to another place, a place where shoulders relax, weary faces brighten, and you can laugh … even at a funeral.  Such is the power of remembering.  It can take you away from the present.

            On the other hand, there is another kind of remember that does not take you away from the present but brings you more fully into it.  You see this type of remembering all the time with grandparents.  The day they hold their first grandchild.  You bring your daughter and place her in your mom’s arms.  At first, grandma is nervous as it’s been a long time since she held a baby.  She holds the child awkwardly, afraid she will hurt her.  But after a moment, she remembers what this was like.  She cradles the child’s head, rock hers, whisper silly things to her.  She leans down and kisses her forehead and then looks up and begins to talk about what it was like when you were young.  This time, memory is not taking your mother away from the present.  Instead it is brings her more fully into it.  Through memory, she is able to delight in the joy of holding her granddaughter in her arms.

            Two types of remembering, one which takes you away from the present and one which brings you more fully into it.  The question I have for you is this … what kind of remembering happens at Easter?  What happens when God comes among us today, and through His Word, helps us remember?  Does He take us away from our present or bring us more fully into it?

            For the women at the tomb, remembering the Lord’s words brings them more fully into the present.  With the words of Jesus, they begin to understand the strange new world that surrounds them.  Empty graves and men who dress like lightening.  Angels who have been with you all your life.  These things make sense.  Jesus talked about a heavenly kingdom.  The world is God’s and God’s kingdom has come. 

            But what about the pain of the crucifixion? Was it all a mistake?  No, Jesus had told them that his betrayal and death were parts of God’s will.  God so desired to save all people that He gave His one and only Son to bear the punishment for their sin.  And now, that punishment is gone.  Diving vengeance is over and the open grave gives a glimpse of heavenly joy.  Angels talk to humans.  Humans speak to one another, sharing a message that saves every man, woman, and child.  “God loves you!  In His love, He gave His life for you.  And now He lives and reigns forever as your God!”  Suddenly, life for these women has become worth living and so they run from the tomb to live fully in God’s grace.

            Remembering can bring us more fully into the present.  But the world tells us differently.  Our culture shakes it head at us Christians.  When we remember Easter, our culture acts as if we have entered into the realm of imagination and that we have lost our touch with reality, with the present.  They say, “A Savior rising from the dead?  A world filled with sin and the devil and angels and demons?  That’s a world with outdated morality and strange views of creation and answers to questions which people no longer ask.”  They go on saying, “Too much of this and you’ll no longer be able to function.  You won’t be able to enjoy the good life.  You will not get ahead in business if you try that ‘love your neighbor’ kind of stuff.” 

            That’s the world’s reaction.  But this morning, we’ve learned that God’s ways are not our ways.  His thoughts are not our thoughts.  When He causes us to remember the resurrection, He doesn’t take us away from this world and lock us up in some religious belief system which has no connection to the present.  No, instead God sets us free to experience life today in His kingdom with deeper meaning.

            Some people think that in order to have a vibrant Christianity, the Church need to make God relevant.  For them, God is some distant power, some deity who is far away, buried in ancient-sounding names in ancient-looking manuscripts.  They say the Church needs to bring God into the twenty-first century.  It needs to make Him relevant for people.  For them, the Church should identify the needs of the people and then look through the Bible to see what they can find about God which would fit those needs.  If the world has people who need better self-esteem, then the Church should look through the Bible and find a Jesus who can give us principles for personal development.  If people need a prayer life, then the church should produce a Jesus who has a five-step method for prayer.  Jesus becomes an ever-changing figure, the latest god to hit the market, always offering people what they need.  And this somehow makes God revelant.  I wonder about all this because I think that these people have misunderstood the ways of our God.

            God doesn’t need to make Himself relevant to people, to you and me.  He’s God, we are not.  He rules all things, we don’t.  What God does do though is make people, make you and me, relevant to Him.  That’s God’s gracious work.  He makes your life relevant to Him and to His kingdom.

            Did you happen to notice in the Gospel reading how Luke stops in the middle of the story to give us the names of the women?  Listen again, “When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others.  It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles” (24:9-10).  Luke stops in the middle of the story to give us their names because they women have suddenly become something.  They have become witnesses to the working of God.  They went to the tomb as mourners, but now they come back as witnesses.  They have names and a life experience and a story to tell.

            When God graciously intervenes and brings people into His kingdom, He makes their lives relevant.  People, you and me, we are relevant not because of anything special in us or because of something we have done.  We are relevant because you are God’s and you live in God’s world and God has a strange way of pouring out all the He has for the sake of reaching out to His world.  Our lives are filled with a meaning beyond our making and a love beyond our strength.  Our lives are in the hands of God!  In His hands, you and I become part of the way God is at work in the world.  For us, as for these women, life becomes more meaningful because Christ has risen and sends us forth to live in His world by His grace.

            Today Luke proclaims the resurrection and asks us to remember.  Remember the death and resurrection of Jesus.  In Him, you are forgiven.  By Him, you have new life.  With Him, your life is part of His unfolding kingdom.  Yes, it’s easy to get overwhelmed at Easter.  That’s because this love of God … it’s overwhelming.  Amen

            The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our resurrected and risen Lord, now and forever.  Amen.

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