Monday, 28 March 2016

Easter Empties: Thoughts and a Link Including a Short Easter Homily with Reference to John 20

Empty became an Easter theme for me over the last few years. Empty cross, empty tomb, often running on empty, myself, by Easter Sunday morning because of all the Holy Week activities, the intensified emotional and spiritual disturbances  that always seemed to brew up (the period leading up to Christmas was the same), and the, for me, often draining push to make the Easter celebrations as rich and full as possible. It was wonderful and fraught, exhausting and exhilarating all at the same time—rather like the lead up to opening night for a stage show. 

I can certainly relate to the following liturgical fragment some wag conceived on the subject: 


And today I also discovered another riff on the empty theme from Matt Marino's most excellent THE GOSPEL SIDE blog on Easter's Empty Promises—empty cross, tomb and burial clothes. Read it all here

Yesterday, presiding again at StB on Easter morning, I got to continue on the theme as follows: 

Jesus wasn’t in the tomb when Mary Magdalene went there early on that first day of the week while it was still dark. She thought someone had taken his body. She ran to tell Simon Peter and the other disciple. It must have been very disturbing, especially after what they’d all just been through in the previous week from hell. The tomb was empty.

In 2006, the Archbishop Of Uganda, the Most Rev. Henry Luke Orombi began his Easter Message like this (I’ve shared this before, but I love it, so I’m going to share it again):
When we are told the water tank for the Archbishop’s Palace is empty (which it often is!), we say, “That is not good.” When my wife, Mama Phoebe, discovers that the food store is empty, we say, “That is not good.” When my driver tells me that the fuel tank in my vehicle is empty, I say, “That is not good.” 
If you are like me, most of our associations with the word ‘empty’ are negative. We think, “empty is bad, and full is good.” 
Yet, Easter challenges that assumption, because it is an empty cross and an empty tomb that are central to our faith. The resurrection from the dead of Jesus Christ sets him apart from all other human beings throughout history and especially all other religious teachers. Buddha is dead. Confucius is dead. Mohammed is dead. Jesus and Jesus alone has returned from the grave, never to die again. Jesus is alive today! Empty is good!
Empty didn’t appear to be good to Mary in our Resurrection Gospel reading this morning. Mary Magdalene must have felt as if she was “running on empty” in a bad way as she ran to tell Simon Peter and the other disciple that Jesus was gone and the tomb is empty. Jesus wasn’t there (except he was, but they couldn’t see him yet). But Jesus is here for us now (except we can’t see him either). And then when Mary did see him, she didn’t recognize him (John 20.14). Amazing. She must have known him so well—every line on his face, every mannerism. He even spoke to her to ask her why she was crying and who she was looking for (John 20.15)—as if he didn’t know. She thought he was the gardener. She still didn’t recognize him. Until he said her name.

And suddenly, empty was good. Wonder of wonders, because the tomb was empty Jesus could fill the dark, empty void in Mary’s grieving heart with the goodness of his presence and she knew the empty tomb was a good thing; a very good thing, indeed.

“I have seen the Lord!” was the next thing she said to the disciples. Her heart was full. Empty, she had discovered, was good.

The tomb was empty because Jesus had conquered sin and death. The empty tomb means the world is full of the resurrection power of God Almighty. The tomb was EMPTY. Jesus is FULLY and wonderfully raised from the dead.

Jesus is here now. The tomb is still empty, so this church isn’t. No Christian church is. This church is full. Jesus fills it by his Holy Spirit. He just does, because he is God which means he is omnipresent, that is, he is everywhere at the same time. Not only that, he is omniscient, in other words, he knows everything—past, present and future. Jesus is also omnipotent, or all powerful. Those three attributes mean that Jesus can be fully present to everyone, everywhere, all the time, but especially in his church.

He is here. Like Mary, I might not recognize him. He might look like a gardener, or one of you, or like bread and wine, or like a church full of flawed people like you and me. “Now you are the body of Christ” wrote Paul to the Christians in Corinth, “and individually members of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27 ESV) So are you. You and I are all the body of Christ, the Church, in the world and individually members of it. This is the best place in the world to look for Jesus and to listen for when he might say your name as he did for Mary. This is the best place in the world to bring our empty bits for him to fill with his Holy Spirit—this is the place to bring any of our empty, grieving hearts, like Mary’s, to be filled with the goodness of his presence in the worship and in the bread and the wine. If this is where Jesus is, this is the best place in the world to be as often as possible.

Alleluia! The tomb was empty. Empty is good. In Jesus, God the Father has made empty good enough to run on. Running on empty is good because of Jesus.