April 20, 2003: The Empty Tomb Is A Place Of Life!

Let us pray: Dear Jesus: today we celebrate Your resurrection! Today we recall with joy how You burst the bands of death and rose to life—for us! Yes, in so doing You have conquered our greatest fear and our greatest enemy. And You have made us new creations through faith in Your victory. May we live such joy every single day of our lives until that new life in heaven embraces us. Amen

TEXT: Mark 16: 1-8

Fellow Redeemed Sinners Uplifted By Christ’s Victory!
It’s called: coffin commercialism. Those who want to make a final statement about their lives can now choose a customized, personalized casket to tell their story. Business is thriving at the Whitelight Casket Company of Dallas, which has introduced the “art casket” for those who wouldn’t be caught dead in something routine. No longer does the discriminating customer have to choose between dull, boring wood or metal coffins. If you are a golfer you might choose the popular “Fairway to Heaven” model. Other popular styles include a beach scene, the New York skyline, or a model portraying a postage stamp that says in large, bold letters: “Return to Sender.”

Does that sound like a novel idea? Well, truth be told, such personalized, individualized coffins are nothing new. Many ancient cultures such as the Egyptians were masters of this “art” form. Tomb preparation began long before death. The craftsmen engineered a coffin outlining the person’s life—especially to impress the gods they would meet, or at least hoped to meet in the hereafter. Some dreamed of an everlasting picnic on the banks of the sunny Nile. Others planned on being reincarnated into a new life form. Sounds kind of like a syllabus for a contemporary college course doesn’t it? Coffin confusion still abounds—but not for us! For Easter is the rock-solid assurance that from death comes life, from the grave comes resurrection. This is God’s final answer on the subject to the confused world. But what does it mean for us today?

Although there is a church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem that supposedly is built over Christ’s tomb, in reality we don’t have a fancy tomb to go visit. No cave paintings, or golden trinkets, or towering pyramids mark His gravesite. Nothing indicates His royal power. There is only the empty tomb. That’s because God didn’t decorate His Son’s burial place with mere earthly symbols, no He decorates Christ’s grave in, with, and by—us His believing children! Christ arose from the dullness of death and despair to life! He was filled with strength and vitality! The message of Easter is that:


This morning, let’s listen to an angel try to explain all this to the saddened women and to us.


The sun was waking up their little corner of the world, but the women were tired, exhausted by the bustle of the Passover and emotionally drained by the sudden death of their Master. Look at their emptiness: arms full of burial spices to anoint the dead body, eyes full of tears, hearts full of disappointment. Listen to their low expectations: “We won’t be able to roll the stone away.” says the mother of James. “The soldier’s guarding the tomb will probably shoo us away” sighs Salome. “Why did God allow this to happen? Sobs Mary Magdalene. You know such sinking feelings. Your computer crashes. You have a fender bender. You get a call that your mom has cancer. Droopy faces predominate. But then the women look up and gasp!—the guards are gone and the stone is rolled away! They shuffle to the tomb and gasp! An angel in white greets them!

“Don’t be alarmed,” the angel says. Half-calmed, the women listen as he says to them: “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified.” That’s true. They weren’t looking for the almighty Son of God Who can do anything. Instead, they sought the humble carpenter’s Son Whom they loved. They didn’t come looking for the Lord of life, but for the man killed by political intrigue and power plays. They had seen His ugly death. They had heard His cries of anguish on the cross. As a result, they had low expectations that morning. But the angel lifts their heads and hearts up! “He is not here, He is risen!”

Like these women, our lack of faith and our low expectations disappoint our mighty God for Whom nothing is impossible. He’s ready to help move mountains, and our droopy faces don’t look past the bumps in the road. This is a natural reaction on our part. But not any more! For Christ is risen! He has left you and me an empty tomb—a place, a life, filled with high expectations!

So, stop feeling sad when a loved one is dying, or has died before you wanted it to happen—the empty tomb raises your expectations to a glorious reunion in heaven. “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” That’s what St. Paul tells us. “In Christ all will be made alive!” Stop expecting yourself to act like a second-class misfit who can’t compete with sin’s power. The empty tomb raises you up to King David’s heroic level of confidence. Again, as Paul writes: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, not on earthly things.” High expectations, indeed!

Do you think that Jesus rose up like a mummy and carefully unwrapped all that gauze that enveloped Him? Wrong! His body moved fictionless through those burial clothes. And then He visibly appeared to countless faithful. If God can do that, can’t He make your week better? Can’t He protect you? Yes, with God nothing is impossible, and the resurrection proves it!


A caterpillar spins its cocoon, takes its last look at the world, and then is sealed inside. Its creator then transforms it from a slimy, little worm that crawls on the ground to a soaring butterfly. A butterfly is a traditional Easter symbol. It is a symbol of transformation. The transformation that our bodies will undergo on judgement day. But it is also a symbol of the spiritual transformation that has already taken place, for God connects the resurrection with our baptism. The Bible says: “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” Easter gives us the sure hope of a better tomorrow. It gives us the certain hope of a better today. We are not caterpillars or butterflies, we are God’s sons and daughters who have been given the gift of life over death.

In case the women were considering staying at the empty tomb and chatting about what it all meant, the angel got them going. “Go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” Wait a minute. Why not send them to tell Herod and Pilate and knock their socks off? Why go to a few rag-tag fishermen and tag-along tax collector? Why? Because these men had fallen farther than the others. They were so close to Christ, but then they denied Him, ran away, and given up hope. They no longer thought of themselves as disciples but as traitors or underachievers. But Jesus would have none of it. He isn’t interested in revenge, but reassurance. He takes a personal concern in them—even seeking Peter out personally, and later Thomas as well. He sought the seclusion of the upper room and later Galilee to comfort them and uplift them, to restore their high expectations. In love our resurrected Lord sought to give them a life filled with meaningful contributions.

It’s no secret that this sanctuary today is filled with people who have disappointed and/or deserted Christ. But it is Easter. And that means a fresh start for us, just like it did to the disciples. It means a bright morning of a new day when “the Sovereign Lord will wipe the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people” as Isaiah says.

Have you been lacking in your worship attendance? Have you been unwilling to give up various selfish desires? Have you harbored a grudge that has limited your love? Today our risen Lord offers you a fresh start. He died for your sins and now He lives so that you might live without carrying those burdens any longer. Rise up and renew your life, too!—Empowered by His boundless love for you!

This is God’s final statement to the world, not a burial place decorated with trinkets of this earth, but a believing army of saints adorned with the treasures of heaven—His love, His power, His life! Don’t be caught dead in anything else! Amen