Sermon planned for Easter Sunday, April 20th, 2014.
Do you remember the last hard day's work you did? Do you remember the last Sunday night, where you had to go to bed early so you'd be ready for another Monday at the job? What were those Sunday nights like for you? I'm sure, for many of you, Sunday night was a great time. You looked forward to going to work. You enjoyed your job. Sunday night was a time to consider if everything had been properly prepared. But I'm also sure that, for some of you, Sunday night was dreadful. The weekend was over. You had to go back to work. Perhaps you didn't like your job. Maybe your co-workers made life miserable for you. Or maybe it was your boss. Sunday night is a time of mixed emotions for many.
For Jews, this was what Saturday was like. The Jewish community held their Sabbath on Saturday's - it was thought of as the last day of the week - the day that God rested from all his work creating. God seemingly wanted a day off after work too. But what did God do on his 'Monday', the day after the Sabbath? What did God do the day after he rested from creating all things? Was their other work for God to do? For us, his creatures, there's always more work to be done, it seems. Mondays are always busy. You got to get back into the saddle and get to work. Well, maybe not for all you retired folks - but I'm sure you remember the days when Sunday evening meant preparing for work. For the Jews in our world, Sunday feels like our Monday - Sunday, for them, is the day after the Sabbath rest. Sunday's the day to get back into the swing of things. That's what that first Easter Sunday was like - it was a day to get back to work.
So when Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James came to the tomb on that first Easter morning, they were in that mental space. This was their Monday - their first day back at work. After a day of doing nothing - this was their first order of business. Although this day was quite unlike any other. They had their work cut out for them. They were going to go and attend to Jesus' body. To take care of it. To finish the burial preparations. After having him placed in Joseph's tomb, in quite a hurry, perhaps they needed to complete the preparations they hadn't finished on Friday night. But while they were on their way, they experienced a violent earthquake - something quite uncommon for that area of the world. I guess wasn't just these women that were back to work - God, the mover and shaker of the earth and the heavens, was also back at work; and the earth shook.
Sabbath was over, and another week had begun. And on that first day of the week, when everybody was putting their hands to work, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James found no body in the tomb. They found no work for their hands. They came to the job, but found no work to be done.
Their only desire was to serve their Lord in this final way, by offering a kind gesture to his body. We do that too, nowadays. When our loved ones die; we want to offer them a final act of love. We tend to their bodies as best we can. We choose a casket. We pick out a suit or a dress. We offer a final kindness of sorts. These two women went to the tomb coming to show, in their own way, a final act of devotion - a final work of love. But there was no work to be done. The body was gone. The tomb was empty.
Who had taken the body? What had the earthquake meant? Why were the guards at the tomb frozen still, silenced by something they'd seen perhaps? But what? Can you imagine the fear that gripped them? The frustration perhaps? You want to show your beloved one final act of kindness, and then even that is withheld from you.
And then there were these shining angels, who met the women - and the women were afraid. The gospel of Matthew says that these angels had the appearance of lightning, and their clothing was brilliantly white. That's hard for me to picture - but I once was in a thunderstorm where lightning struck about 20yds away from me. It was frightening. These strange angelic beings told these women to not be afraid - a common greeting whenever humans see angels. Fear not! And the angels confirmed what they saw - a tomb empty, the stone rolled away. The body of Jesus missing. They had come to work - that's what you do on the day after Sabbath - but there was no work to be done.
It seems like the only one doing any work on this day was God - the one shaking the ground with a violent earthquake. And in a way, like that first day of Creation we read about in Genesis, God was again making something new out of nothing. Out of a dead, crucified Jesus, God has given us a risen Savior! Out of cold pierced flesh, God had raised our Lord Jesus to new life!
Verse5: "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are here looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay." The stone had been rolled away, and the tomb was empty. When they sealed that tomb with the stone - that was the last meaningful piece of human labor, in my opinion. It was the period at the end of the sentence. It was the final act of human effort - which all human effort boils down to in one way or another. When that stone was rolled in front of the tomb, it was as if all the hours of menial labour had been summed up in one final period. The final sentence of human effort had been uttered! And that word was a very loud NO! to God. It was the final word of rebellion to our Creator. You come down to us in flesh? We'll kill you, throw you in a tomb and lock you up.
You see, it was when we were at our very worst that Jesus forgave us our sins. While we were still his enemies, Jesus reconciled us to God. While we rebelled against him, threw him up on a cross, and then tossed him into a cave. When we rolled the door shut on our relationship with God - it was then that God chose to offer a final word as well. When we offered our final act of rebellion by shutting God up into a tomb, God offered us his ultimate act of faithfulness. He took the period off our final sentence. The angels rolled the stone away. And in the face of our final act of rebellion, God offered the ultimate act of love and mercy. In the face of our Sabbath, where we finally took our rest from our Creator, God offered us another first day of the week!
At dawn, on the first day of the week, these two women found an empty tomb. They came to serve, but they had no work to do - because the body was gone. They had no work to do, because all that needed to be done had already been done. God had raised Jesus from the dead. That's the ultimate act of work that makes all other work secondary. Our Mondays will never be the same. Our 'regular life" will never be regular anymore - because God has worked resurrection!
The Christian life is the "work" that's left after Easter Sunday - it's the leftovers of all that's left to do, when there's nothing left to do, because all that's really needed to be done has already been done in Jesus Christ our Lord, in his death and resurrection! The Christian life is all there's left for us to do. To offer praises. To give our allegiance to Jesus. To wash one another in baptism. To break bread together, and drink the cup in remembrance. To love our enemies. To offer forgiveness to our offenders. To share the gospel with strangers. To give our lives in love for our neighbour. To feed the hungry. To visit the prisoner. These are the beautiful stones left on the seashore - these are the beautiful bits of work that are left for us to do, now that there's nothing left to do, since all that needed to be done, had already been done on Calvary and in the empty tomb. May all of us see and breathe in that space; may we live, work, and rest in that space created by God's ultimate work of love - the resurrection of our Lord Jesus. May we take joy in our Mondays - in the work that's leftover for us to do, when there's nothing left to do - because all has been accomplished - He is risen! He is risen indeed! Amen!