So I asked Ben the other day, I said "Ben buddy what’s gonna happen at Easter?" and without missing a beat he says "I get my allowance back" "You get your allowance back?" "Yeah Mommy says when its Easter I’m done paying for the soccer ball I bought." The kids only six years old and he’s already buying things on credit. Visa would be so proud! But that wasn’t exactly what I was going for so I tried again "Ben does anything else happen at Easter. "Yep’ he says with a great big smile on his face "the Easter Bunny is going to come and bring me lots of chocolate." And when Ben saw the frown on my face he said " But don’t worry Daddy I’ll share some with you" Although true, again not quite what I had in mind. So I thought to myself, the third times gotta be a charm "Ben look at me does anything else happen at Easter. "Nope" Are you sure Ben, are you sure that nothing else happens at Easter. "Yeah I’m sure Daddy" So finally I just blurt out "What about the whole Jesus comin back to life thing? What about the empty tomb?" And he says "Oh yeah that!" God help us when the Easter Bunny gets more recognition at Easter then the fact that the tomb is empty and Jesus is alive.
So there was this Sunday School teacher who wanted to teach her class about the gift of new life that we celebrate at Easter and so she brought in a bunch of those Leggs pantyhose containers, do you know the ones I’m talking about they look like large eggs. She gave each kid a container and told them to go outside and to find a symbol of new life and to put it in the container. Off they went on their adventure. At the end of the class the teacher called all the students back in and collected their eggs. One by one she began to open them up to share with the entire class the symbols of new life that had been collected. After each one whether it was a flower, or a worm, or a catepillar or a leaf all the kids would ooh and ahhh. But then the teacher opened one particular egg that was completely empty, there was nothing inside it. That’s lame said one kid, that’s not fair said another, somebody didn’t do what they were supposed too. The teacher obviously irritated that someone in her class didn’t bother to do the assingment said "Alright whose egg is this" Little Jimmy with his head hung low slowly began to put up his hand and said its mine. The teacher looked at him sternly and said "Jimmy I’m disappointed that you didn’t do what you were asked to do" But Jimmy replied "But I did do it, its empty, that’s my symbol of new life, just like the tomb was empty! Class dismissed! The teacher said.
The empty tomb is the very first hint that we get that something has changed. They empty tomb is the very first detail in the Easter Story that we just heard that points us towards even the possibility of resurrection and new life. But it is so easy for us to miss this symbol of hope and life if you are not really looking for it.
Mary Magdelene just like all the kids in that Sunday School Class, Mary thought it was pretty lame when she discovered the empty tomb on that first Easter morning. She wasn’t looking for a symbol of hope and so she didn’t find one, When she discovered the empty tomb she thought that things had just gone from bad to worse, that someone had come and stolen Jesus’ body. Mary didn’t even entertain the possibility that the empty tomb might mean that Jesus had indeed been raised to new life.
Now when Mary went and told Peter and the other disciple about the empty tomb they reacted in a completely different way. Both of them took off running towards the tomb as fast as they could. They had to see it with their own eyes. And when they got there, when they went in and saw the empty tomb they believed. For them, because they were looking for it, because it was actually a possibility in their minds the empty tomb was able to be for them a symbol of hope pointing them towards the possibility of resurrection and new life.
Two very different reactions to the same empty tomb. One sees despair, another sees hope. It all depends on what you are looking for in your life. Or to put it another way it all depends on where you choose to live your life?
A colleague of mine once shared a story about the time his daughter Hilary while on an exchange program in Switzerland went skiing with her host family over the Easter Weekend. Her host family had a small chalet half-way up the alps. They took one gondola part way up the mountains, unpacked, and then took another gondola to the very top. Let the skiing begin!
At the end of her first day, after she had been mashing the mountains all day long, awed by powdery snow, cliffs and glaciers, she returned to the chalet in the valley below, exhausted and ecstatic. And she exclaimed to her host mother (who had decided to spend the day inside reading by the fire: "Wasn’t that an absolutely gorgeous day for skiing. It was so clear and beautiful, look I even have a sunburn..." she said her host mother looked at her and said "what are you talking about its been cloudy and foggy all day. I haven’t seen the sun once.
That’s when Hilary remembered: "oh yeah I forgot, I was skiing above the clouds all day." She rememebered that she had been so high up in the Alps that there wasn’t a cloud above her but that all the clouds were below in the valleys. If you’ve ever flown in a plane then you’ll know what I’m talking about.
That story is a good metaphor for our lives on this Easter day. We can choose where we’re going to live our lives. And I’m not talking about what country, or what city we choose to live in. I’m talking about the way we choose to look at the world around us. I’m talking about the way we choose to see the world we live in. I’m talking about how we make sense of all the things that happen We, too can choose whether we want to live above the clouds in the glorious sunshine and hope of Easter, living with hope and expectation that God’s love is constantly at work transforming this world or we can settle for life in the valley of cloudiness and fear where we convince ourselves that the Sun of God’s love will never break through the clouds
Until Jesus came to her and called her by name Mary Magdelene was trapped in the clouds of the valley unable or maybe even unwilling to see the signs of hope that surrounded her. She was so consumed by the darkness of her sorrow and her despair that she was unable to see the light that was shining in the darkness. The other two disciples, they were living above the clouds, trusting in the promise of resurrection and new beginnings and because of that were able to rejoice in the glorious rays of hope that shone from the empty tomb.
We are called to be an Easter people, we are called to live our lives above the clouds, We are called in the words of the Nicene Creed that we proclaim each week, we are called to be a people who look for and point others towards the hope of the resurrection in the midst of their Good Friday’s.
Amid all the tragedies that we come face to face with in our world and in our lives to be an Easter people means that we are quick to look for the presence and transforming work of God’s love amid those tragedies, We are to look for the empty tomb and to see in its emptiness the promise that a new beginning is at hand, even when most of the world believes that dream has long since ended.
Mahatma Gandhi put it this way "When I despair, I remember that throughout history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they can seem invinceable. But in the end they always fall. Think of it always...whenever you are in doubt that that is God’s way—the way the world is meant to be. Think of that and then try to do His Way.
For Christians it is the Cross of Good Friday and the empty tomb of Easter morning that shows us and promises us that God’s unconditional love will have the final word, that Life not death is always God’s way
In a downtown office building in London there hangs this wonderfully colourful poster. The sunshine is beaming through the thick trees giving brilliance to the flowers and ferns on the forest floor. And underneath is the caption. Keep your face to the sunshine, and you cannot see the shadows. That is my prayer for each one of us this Easter day, that we might be a people who keep our faces to the sunshine, that in all that we experience in our lives we might be a people who look for the Resurrection of the Dead, and the life of the world to come.