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A sermon delivered by Robert Browning, Pastor, Smoke Rise Baptist Church, Stone Mountain, Ga., on April 24, 2011.

John 20:1-18

What does the Easter story have to say to broken hearts? We must remember the first Easter did not begin with a celebration, but in sorrow and grief. Just when Mary thought her heart could not break anymore, it was crushed when she saw the stone rolled away from the entrance to Jesus’ tomb and discovered his body was missing. Naturally, she assumed someone had taken it.

How could anyone be so insensitive and cruel? Hadn’t they done enough to Jesus already? Would this drama ever end? No, it would not and Mary would be glad.

You know the Easter story; how Mary rose even before the sun came up to go to the center of her grief. I wonder if she went to bed that Saturday night. If she did, I am confident she slept little, if any. It is hard to rest when your heart is broken.

She had just lived through a week filled with surprises and was no doubt longing for a time of peace and quiet before anyone else arrived at the tomb. Surely, nothing unusual would happen early that morning which would interfere with her solitude. Little did she know the biggest surprise was yet to come.

She arrived at the tomb only to discover the stone at the entrance had been rolled away. To her dismay, Jesus’ body was missing, which meant someone must have broken in and taken it.

She did the only thing she knew to do at that time. She ran to tell Simon Peter, the leader of the disciples, what she had discovered. Immediately, he and the beloved disciple, John, ran to the tomb to find things as she described. Without any answers, they returned home, but Mary lingered at the tomb.

As Mary stood weeping outside the empty tomb, she had an encounter with two angels and then a man whom she thought to be the gardener. Both asked why she was weeping and she told them she was disturbed because someone had taken the body of her Lord. She volunteered to retrieve it if she was told where to go. It turns out that she did not need to go anywhere. The one whom she was seeking was standing beside her and she recognized him after he spoke her name.

After they embraced, Jesus told Mary to go tell the disciples what she had experienced, which she did. “I have seen the Lord,” she said to them as she told them all he had said to her.

It is hard to find a more beautiful story in scripture. I love the tender way John has written and preserved it for us.

What part of this story grabs your attention today? As I pondered this question last week, I was drawn to Mary crying outside the empty tomb. John is the only writer to mention her tears, which doesn’t surprise me. The close relationships Jesus developed with others were important to John and he was not timid about describing the strong feelings that developed.

Why was Mary crying? The answer is obvious. A bad situation was made worse by that empty tomb. It was impossible to hold back the tears.

What has broken your heart lately? Have you lost someone or something dear and precious to you? Have you been to the cemetery of broken dreams recently?

What does the Easter story say to broken hearts? It speaks a powerful message of hope. Shattered dreams will not have the final word in our lives if we let God help us heal and move forward.

“Easter is about more hope than we can handle,” Craig Barnes writes. He’s right. Easter assures us there is no situation that our faith cannot embrace and change for the better. If God can reach into a sealed and guarded tomb and give life back to his crucified son, He can help us with any problem we are facing.

Barnes also writes, “No one is ready to encounter Easter until he or she has spent time in dark places where hope cannot be seen. Never forget the discovery of the risen Christ occurred in darkness and still does.”

Easter hope was born out of hopelessness. From the darkest night came the most beautiful morning, and this still occurs as we open our lives to the transforming power of God’s Spirit.

I must tell you, though, Easter hope is not about returning to some place, but charting a new course. It is not about getting something back, but creating something new. It is not about restoring normalcy, but discovering a new way of living. It is about believing God when He says, “Behold, I make all things new!”

According to Old Testament scholar, Dr. Walter Brueggemann, the most distinguishing characteristic of God is His ability to make something new. “The entire Bible bears witness to this gift of newness from our God and His son, Jesus,” Brueggemann declares. “The forming of the worlds, the liberation of Israel, the anointing of David, the deliverance of the exiles, the summons to disciples, the silencing of the storm, the call to Lazarus, all attest to God’s ability to give newness to a world filled with endings.”

For this reason, in ancient Israel, grief was always linked to hope. Believers never had to settle for things as they were and give in to despair like those that believed nothing happened apart from them and no one was at work but them. As people of faith, they never came to the end of the road. Always and at all times, there was more, even when it seemed improbable or impossible.

I believe this is the message of Easter, too, and I cannot think of one we need more. Easter is about starting over when you thought all hope was gone because, as Christians, grief is always linked to hope, just as it was for our ancient ancestors. We, too, believe in a God which makes all things new.

Perhaps this is the message you need to hear today. Your beloved mate of many years died or your marriage dissolved. You have lost your job and don’t know which way to turn. You are facing limitations because of health issues and are not sure what the future holds. Your best friend moved away or betrayed you. You have made some bad choices and are reaping the results while wallowing in guilt. Like Mary, you have been crying because your heart is broken.

I know one who is calling your name. He cares about you and wants to help you move forward. Will you embrace our Lord like Mary did and let him lead you in new directions? Will you let him create something new in your life? Will you let him dry your tears and give you more hope than you can handle?

I certainly hope so and encourage you to share your story with those who can’t sleep because their heart is broken. This kind of good news is too good to keep to yourself.

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