“The Empty Tomb Gives Fullness of Life” (Luke 24:1-12)
A cemetery can be a peaceful place. People generally speak in hushed tones. There is plenty of neatly manicured grass. There is that familiar springtime smell after a lawnmower has done its work. But everyone knows that this is not the place for a picnic or a softball game. This is hallowed ground. All those graves are full of the remains of someone who once was alive and who was loved. We place flowers on those graves in memory of our loved ones. But flowers soon wither and decay, just like the bodies buried beneath the ground where the flowers were laid. The sweet smell from their petals soon becomes the musty smell of decomposing material fit for the compost bin. As peaceful as a cemetery can be, it is still a place of death … even above ground.
A cemetery is full. Full of bodies. Full of memories. Full of loss. That’s why a cemetery is also a place of emptiness. There is a hollow feeling in your heart because you so desperately miss the person you had to say goodbye to … or never had the chance to say goodbye to. A huge void was created in your life when that person died.
When you visit your loved one’s grave, you would never expect it to be open and empty. You would never expect to see a huge, gaping void … a pile of dirt beside the hole … the cover of the burial vault removed … the lid of the casket open … and no body.
That’s what happened to the women who came to the tomb of Jesus in the early hours of the morning on the third day after his death. On Friday before sundown, they had followed Joseph of Arimathea to a new tomb cut into the rock in a garden near the place where Jesus was crucified. The women saw how Joseph and another secret follower by the name of Nicodemus had laid Jesus’ body on the stone slab, wrapped it in a linen shroud, poured on a pile of spices, and shut the tomb with the large stone rolled into its place in front of the entrance. Now that the Sabbath was over, the women wanted to return to complete the burial process which was hastily done on Friday. But when they arrived, the stone was rolled away. The body of Jesus was gone. The tomb was empty.
Jesus had told his followers that he would rise again. But this was just too much for them to believe. People say that the people living two-thousand years ago were much more superstitious than we who live in the 21st Century. But we’re more alike than you might think. They knew as well as you and I know that people just do not come back to life by themselves after they are dead. This goes against all the laws of nature. Some may argue that people today are brought back with CPR or defibrillation. But not after they’ve been brutally tortured, nailed to a cross, bled for six hours, pierced with a spear, left in a tomb, and wrapped in a cloth beneath 75 pounds of burial spices. The women had a hard time believing it until the two dazzlingly-dressed young men declared to them, “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.” The apostles had a hard time believing it when the women told them what had happened, their words seeming to them like “an idle tale.” Peter ran to the tomb to see for himself and “went home marveling at what had happened.” And even after they had seen the Risen Jesus for themselves, Luke later tells us that “they still disbelieved for joy” (Lk. 24:41). They just could not believe their eyes. Would you? It took a while for it all to sink in. It took a while for their pessimism and despair to turn to confident joy. It wasn’t until the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon them and the resurrection of Jesus became the central point of their preaching.
The fact is that Jesus is alive. He is risen. The tomb is empty. The only thing left were graveclothes and the pile of spices left by his friends. Let these be emblematic of all that was piled upon Jesus in his crucifixion. The graveclothes of your sin, the rebellion of sinful humanity against the holy God, and its deadly consequences of separating us from God’s grace and mercy were piled upon Jesus at the cross. And left in the tomb.
In Holy Baptism, what happened at the tomb happened to you. St. Paul says in Romans 6, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Rom 6:4-5). Jesus bore our sin at the cross and buried them with him in the Garden Tomb. Jesus rose to life again, victorious over death … the direct consequence of sin that began all the way back in the Garden of Eden. He shares his victory with you in the waters of Baptism. Through water and the Word, he gives you faith to believe that he “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). Through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus, you are declared “not guilty.” Your sins are forgiven. And you, too, will rise again on the Last Day when Jesus returns and calls you forth from the grave, never to die again.
The tomb is empty, and the message of the empty tomb brings fullness of life. A life lived apart from Christ is a life of emptiness. People try to fill their lives with meaning through pop-psychology, smorgasbord spirituality, and evolutionary explanations. But all these are true “idle tales.” Others try to fill their lives by amassing wealth and material goods or entertaining diversions … not all of which are necessarily sinful. But ultimately, all these things will wither and decay. In the end, a life lived apart from Christ is a life of emptiness.
In a world full of death, the empty tomb means a life filled with life. Jesus said he came so that you “may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). He became flesh and dwelt among us, “and from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16).
In a world full of conflict, the empty tomb means a life filled with peace. Through the death and resurrection of Christ, you are at peace with God. You are forgiven and reconciled with him. And you are empowered to live at peace with one another, to forgive and reconcile with those who have hurt or offended you, even those you would call your “enemies.” “Love your enemies,” Jesus said, “and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44).
In a world full of sadness, the empty tomb means a life filled with joy. Psalm 16:11 says, “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Christ dwells in your hearts by faith (Eph. 3:17). Moreover, the Risen Jesus is especially present today for you in Word and Sacrament. You are invited to sit at his right hand as you kneel at this altar this morning and eat and drink his very Body and Blood.
In a world full of pessimism and despair, the empty tomb means a life filled with hope. As a baptized believer in the Crucified and Risen Savior, your citizenship is in heaven. Civilizations all around you may crumble and decay, but you are promised life in a kingdom that will never end. In Ephesians 1, St. Paul reminds us about “the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:19-23).
The tomb is empty. Your life is full.
The tomb is empty. On the Last Day, yours will be, too.