My friend Ernie McDougal preached the Easter Sunrise service at Little United Methodist Church in Little, West Virginia. I wanted to share what he had to say here. Especially since I’m in an academic MDiv program, it is easy to get so “head-based” in my studies that I can wander from the heart of my faith. Whenever theories about Christianity take the place of relationship with Jesus, I know I’m going off-track. It’s good when a friend can preach a reminder; even better when it’s on Easter Sunday. Here’s what he had to say about John 20:1-18, and the empty tomb:
What does it mean to you? For Mary it meant joy. The joy of knowing that her Lord is alive. The story of Jesus appearing to Mary is said to fulfill the promise made by Jesus in John 16:20-22:
“Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain but your pain will turn into joy. When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”
I believe this to be true, but, I also believe that it is perfect example of how lost and hopeless we are without Jesus. You see for me, the empty tomb and the story of Jesus appearing to Mary means hope for me. The way that I read that story, and imagine Mary feeling, is exactly the way I felt about life before Jesus found me. I’m not saying that every moment of every day of my life was pure hopelessness and misery. If I stood up here and said that I would be a liar because I had many happy experiences as a child, an adolescent, and as an adult. I’m talking about when I had truly gone too far, past the point of no return, and was truly lost and could not find a way out of the darkness. I was lost and hopeless, like Mary in garden, when she thought the man that she was convinced was her Lord had truly perished upon that cross and been taken from her. To top it off, now someone had even taken his body from the tomb in which he had laid to rest. She was lost without him, weeping in mourning of her Lord. Then suddenly, her Lord was standing right in front of her and her tears turned to joy. I still get lost from time to time, but, the difference is that I know now that even when I have no idea where to turn, I can always turn towards Jesus and he will be there, right in front of me.
The fact that Mary found an empty tomb that morning also means that I am never alone. Many people fear death and what awaits them “on the other side.” Do I fear death? Not knowing how it will happen is a little scary but, then again, knowing might be even scarier. If you really consider that concept for a minute you get what I mean. However, no matter how scared or not I am of dying, I know that even in the event of leaving my physical body behind and literally entering into the Kingdom I am still not alone. In fact, Jesus has already been there and prepared a way for me. Not only has he prepared a way, he has also prepared a place for me. He will stand with me before the Father and nothing else will be required of me.
Jesus’ ascent and return to the Father enables the disciples to share fully in his relationship with God. What is true of Jesus’ relationship with God (“my Father”, “my God”) is now true of the disciples’ relationship with God (“your Father,” “your God”). Those who believe have become children of God (John 1:3).
You see, for me, the empty tomb means that I am not empty. I have all that I need, now and forever. The empty tomb is the world for me without Jesus, just an empty tomb. When Jesus arose and found me I was standing there lost, alone, and so afraid I was no longer living life. I was like Mary at first, I didn’t know who had found me. Then I heard him speak and the darkness became light, my tears became joy and I forgot my anguish; because I had been brought forth, resurrected with him. The empty tomb means HE LIVES. The empty tomb means I LIVE.