The Empty Box

Sermon for Easter Sunday, 4/17/22  
1 Corinthians 15:19-26, Luke 24:1-12

I have two sisters and a brother. My parents didn’t have much money, but they made sure we had something nice for each birthday and Christmas. The presents I remember enjoying the most, though, were the huge cardboard boxes my dad would surprise us with, ones that originally held an appliance like a refrigerator. An empty box could become anything our imaginations dreamed up – a house, a fort, a car, a cave – you name it. We’d get out markers and crayons and transform it. The possibilities were endless. I’ll come back to that.
While none of the gospels record what happened between Jesus’ death on the cross and Easter morning, we know that the disciples were in a state of shock, scattered and disorganized. Two of the women decided to do what needed to be done and go wash and anoint Jesus’ body.  They were dumbfounded and even more grief-stricken when they went to the tomb and found it empty. Surprise number one. They had watched Jesus die. No one could have survived what the soldiers did to him. So it only made sense for them to assume that someone had taken the body.
Two strangers in dazzling robes appeared and scared them half to death. Surprise number two. We think of the men as angels, but the women were not expecting anyone and may have been afraid of being attacked.
The glowing men said, "Why do you look for 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 handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again."
Surprise number three. Jesus wasn’t kidding when he predicted all this. The truth was there all along. It’s a good thing God loves us enough to be patient when we don’t listen, don’t understand, or don’t believe. God tells us repeatedly, then reminds us again. That’s also a good reason to study your Bible.
Then the women remembered what Jesus had said, and how he had raised Lazarus. Suddenly, it all made sense. I’m sure they were overjoyed and excited to go tell the disciples what they’d seen and heard.
But the disciples didn’t believe them. No surprise there. Women weren’t considered credible witnesses under the law at the time. But when you consider the strangeness of the story, it’s little wonder they weren’t believed. Still, Peter just had to run and check it out. Guess what he found.
An empty box. Suddenly, the impossible became a reality. The best gift ever!
The four gospels have differing accounts of Easter morning. Who saw the tomb first, Jesus talked to Mary Magdalene, or it was two glowing strangers, and so on. Eye-witness testimonies are notoriously inconsistent about the details, and these stories were written down years after the fact. But it really doesn’t matter.
The truth is too amazing and miraculous to be contained in a single telling.
Christ arose! He appeared to many people, ate and drank and talked with them, was even patient with Thomas when he didn’t believe what he hadn’t seen, just like the rest of the disciples before him. The story spread, and spread some more, until now there are Christians all over the world.
We stand in a long line of testifiers to the truth of God’s amazing grace and love for humanity through Jesus Christ. We should love to tell the old, old story. Even though we’ve heard it over and over, it’s worth remembering and retelling and even getting fresh goosebumps from the miraculous nature of it.
The angels asked the women something important. “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
Good question. We still make this mistake. We look for answers to today’s problems, whether in our personal lives or in our church, in yesterday’s practices. We want to stay with what we know, what seems familiar and safe, not move on to a new life. If the church is going to stay alive, even thrive, we need to let go of what we’ve always done and look for God’s new thing. We may end up doing old things in new ways, which is good, too. God is in the business of creating, renewing and sustaining, and will give us the ideas, tools, and strength we need to move forward. We need to look for the living among the living. Every moment is a fresh start. Every prayer can bring new inspiration.
God’s ways are not our ways. God makes amazing things happen that we can’t explain, can’t imagine, can’t even accept sometimes. We need to remember that, and be open to what God wants to do next. Surprises can be marvelous.
Surprise number four - Christ conquered death! As Paul wrote, he was the first fruits of those who have died, bringing in the new covenant of resurrection, sealed with his blood. Since Adam and Eve made the first sinful, bad decision in the garden to eat of the only tree God had forbidden, all humans have had to die. Christ was the first to rise, but not the last! Now we can be alive in Christ. We mourn our loved ones who go before us, but it gives us hope and comfort knowing we’ll be with them again in a place of unimaginable joy.
The angels also reminded the women of what Jesus told them before he died. We need to remember and take to heart what Jesus did and taught in order to understand the true meaning of the empty tomb. Resurrection is not an isolated concept. It’s an invitation to live as Jesus lived, praying for guidance regularly and thanking God for the answers, sharing meals with friends and with potential enemies, offering healing to those with no hope, and challenging the powerful when they betray the weak. The women at the tomb remembered what Jesus said, and they spoke this truth to the others. God wants us all to speak this truth, to tell the world about Christ, his life, his death and his resurrection.
Surprise number five - Christ gave us a perfect example! God wants us to imitate Christ, to live as Jesus lived, to love one another in sacrificial and powerful ways, and to tell his story to everyone who’ll listen. We won’t be able to do it all perfectly or even do it well every time. But our gratitude will motivate us to keep trying.
God wants us to be like an empty cardboard box, ready to be filled with love, mercy, and justice, waiting to see what’s in store and ready to share it with others. Emptying ourselves so God can fill us is difficult. We have so many worries, doubts, selfish motives, and desires!
One of the hardest things to get rid of is the bitterness of unforgiveness. Hanging on to your anger at someone, no matter how justified it may feel, is like taking poison yourself in the hopes that they will die. You’re not going to directly affect that person by staying mad, but you’ll keep yourself upset and bound up in the past instead of working for God’s kingdom in the present. Jesus looked down from the cross and forgave the men who put him there. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we say “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” That means we’re asking God to forgive us our sins in the exact same way that we have forgiven others. Think about that one for a moment.
This Easter, search your heart for any leftover bitterness and let it go. That includes forgiving yourself for anything you’ve done that haunts you. God loved you enough to send Jesus to die in your place. It may take repeated efforts over time, but forgiveness will bring you freedom and peace. Let the empty tomb remind you what Jesus did for us so we could be forgiven. Let it remind you of the empty box inside of you that God can use.
If you were a box that God tipped over, what would spill out of you? Your own junk, or the beautiful things God wants to fill us with so we can give them away? The best way I’ve found to be empty is to pray for two things: to be filled with the Holy Spirit instead of my own thoughts and wishes, and to practice gratitude to God for all God has done for us through Jesus Christ and for providing for our everyday lives. In doing this consistently, I find surprising peace and joy! God wants to refill your empty cardboard box and make a new and wonderful thing. Are you ready to play?

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