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What do you see in the tomb?

wild flowers inside old work boots, we are called to put ourselves in the shoes of others

Sermon by Rev. Joel Crouse

Easter Sunday

March 31, 2024

Acts 10:34-43

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Mark 16:1-8

Christ is Risen!

Doesn’t it feel good to say that at last? It has, after all, been a long, weary Lenten season. Grey, wet days. The days seem too short to get everything done. The sun, on those days when it appeared at all, was cold and dull in the sky.

But now – now we can feel the change coming. The days last longer, the colour is coming back to the lawn, the trees are coming back to life. The other morning, I watched a red cardinal and two sparrows playing what looked like tag in my neighbor’s maple tree. Why, BBQ season seems just around the corner! Easter could not arrive at a better time. We are done with bad news: bring out the colored eggs and the lilies. The time for somber thought is over; God wants us to have a party.

But hold on. Have we forgotten something? Have we skipped over a certain chapter of the story? It seems we might have jumped right from grief to joy in an instant – as if we leave Jesus on the cross and turn around, instantly to find him safe again in Heaven. It’s understandable, really. After all, it is bad enough that we have to endure Good Friday, and all the shame that comes from that day. It’s a relief to get to the salvation of Easter. So we rush through that one scene in the middle: we skip over the dark tomb, the place of death where the stone is rolled back, and the women find emptiness. We are relieved when the angel stops them only for a moment and then sends them off again, to spread the Good News. Now that is the part of the story we want to hear. Alleluia! Jesus is Risen!

But…force yourself to look again. Push away the flowers growing by the entrance. Shade your eyes from the sun, bright above your head. Peer inside, past the rolled-away rock, into the shadow: What do you see in the tomb?

If Good Friday is the day when we did nothing – when we allowed, with willful blindness and human weakness, Jesus to suffer on the cross, then Easter – Easter is the day when we must do something. Easter is the moment in every day when we choose to do something for the good of God. We cannot get to that choice by skipping over the part that makes us nervous. In every difficult act, and every hard decision, there is a moment when we must look inside the tomb and decide what we see there. It is the turning point upon which the Easter story hinges. What do you see in the tomb?

The Marys who arrived at its door, who discovered the stone rolled away, panicked when they found it empty. And who could blame them? They must have thought the body of Jesus, already desecrated on the cross, had been stolen. But they paused, and looked deeper at the scene again, because first impressions - first perceptions - do not always tell the whole story. And if ever any place needed a moment of contemplation it was this one. In pausing, they gave the angel the chance to appear, and to explain to them what had happened. They must have looked inside that empty tomb again, considering what the angel told them in clear contradiction of the laws of the world, and they chose to hear what God was saying. It was not in the rising sun of that morning that they learned the truth of the resurrection: it was by looking deep inside the tomb.

So, what do we see there? The tomb, of course, is an analogy for the choices we make – that quiet space before we decide to go left or right. Before we choose to work at a marriage or let it unravel, to forgive or never forget, to go out of our way for someone else or step over the hardship in our path and walk on. We are a society that has become obsessed with happiness – we poll ourselves about it, we calculate the economics of it, we rank which countries have more of it. Every time we do it, we get the same answer. The happiest people are the ones who give the most to charity, no matter what their bank accounts say. The happiest countries are the ones who do the best job of looking after their most needy citizens – even if it means higher taxes for everyone else. Those people and those countries do not skip to the Easter Bunny – they look into the tomb, and they look long and hard. They see the homeless, and the beaten, and the poor, and the broken. They see the shadows in themselves. When humanity so often stumbles into the crime of willful blindness, they choose to face what is wrong, and they decide to do something.

Many times, throughout the Bible, God has spoken through an angelic messenger. But on Easter Sunday, before we hear the angel, God takes us to the tomb. This is no accident. God wants us to look inside and decide what we will choose to see in the shadows. I cannot tell you what that is. It is different for each one of us. And different for us depending on the day and time in our lives. But that moment before the tomb is when we decide whether to hang back with those who did nothing on Good Friday, or to join in doing something on Easter Sunday. And that moment spent peering into the shadow of the tomb doesn’t happen only today: it is how the resurrection speaks to us every day of our lives if we pause long enough to hear the angel.

God understood us better than we understand ourselves. We cannot be happy if we do not come clean with the sadness that exists around us, or inside us – otherwise how can we know what happiness is?

Perhaps, in the shadow of the tomb, you will see how one part of your life is ending. You will recognize the true cost of a careless mistake. You will see where your failure to act led someone to be hurt. That is hard – surely as painful as it must have been for the women who found the broken body of the Messiah gone, unable even to give him a proper burial. But pause for a moment. Look more deeply into the shadow. And Listen. The resurrection of Easter teaches us that there is more to hear: in every ending there is the promise, always, of a new beginning. In that careless mistake there is the opportunity for reparation. In our failure to act, there is the chance to do better the next time. But we get there only if we are brave enough to see what waits for us in the tomb.

Alleluia! Christ is Risen! Be joyful when you speak those words and know that God guides us from the tomb to forgiveness and love. A place to start over. But don’t miss the true moment of the resurrection. Don’t rush off too quickly. Understand that God has given you a chance to look without fear and doubt inside the tomb – to see the joy that may be hidden in shadow - and to know that you will have the strength to face whatever answer awaits you there. That is the true secret of happiness at Easter.


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