Sermon delivered by Randy Hyde, pastor of Pulaski Heights Baptist Church in Little Rock, A.R., on Apr. 12 2009.

Isaiah 25:6-9; John 20:1-18.         

          You are sitting in a movie theater. You’ve got your overpriced popcorn and your large soft drink, and you’ve settled in to watch the show. The previews of upcoming features are finally over, the not-so-subtle reminder for you to turn off your cell phone has flashed across the screen, and you anticipate that what you have paid to see is finally about to commence.
          The opening scene shows what is obviously a foggy early morning. A mist emerges on screen giving the atmosphere a bit of an eerie feeling. Next, we hear the sounds of the huffing and puffing of men running… of men who are obviously not in the habit of such exertion. Their hearts beat heavily with each step, and their breath becomes more labored. But they dare not stop. There is just too much at stake in what they are doing, too much excitement in what they are going to see.
          Or perhaps, we should say, in what they are not going to see.
          As the camera moves to the men who are running, it does not show us their faces. Instead, we see their sandaled feet as they kick up the sand in their haste to get wherever it is they are going. Then we are allowed by the camera to catch a view of their destination. It is a cave of some sort.
          One of the men gets there ahead of the other, but he stops, for some reason afraid to enter the opening of the cave. Maybe he doesn’t like dark places. Maybe he is afraid of what he will see. Check that… of what he won’t see. The second man, obviously older than the first (which is why he runs more slowly), arrives shortly after and barges in without giving it a thought. This is a man who often says and does things without giving it a second thought.

          The camera has now moved inside the cave, and as our eyes become accustomed to the darkness we see this is no ordinary cave. It is a tomb. There are grave clothes. See, over there, on the shelf. Oh, that’s strange. Look, they appear as if there was a body still in them. A head cloth had been used, but it is folded neatly and placed to the side. But there is no body, no corpse, just as the woman Mary, the one from Magdala, has told them.
          So it is true. Their Master… Jesus… his body is not here.
          They look at one another in astonishment, and without a word they slowly leave the tomb, to go back and tell their friends that the astonishing story Mary had first told them is in fact quite true. Jesus is no longer in the grave. What that means, where his body has been taken, what is going on… of that they have no clue. They have no clue. They know one thing and one thing only: Jesus’ body is no longer in the tomb where it had been laid just three days before.
          It is now that the opening movie credits begin to roll, telling who produced the film, who directed it, who the actors are… and as you continue to watch the screen you know that in this story you are in for quite a wild ride. An empty grave always makes for a suspenseful story, doesn’t it?
          Some six hundred years before, when the people of Israel were being held captive in Babylon, there was a prophet amongst them whose name was Isaiah. Perhaps a decade or so before these people were allowed to go back home to their native land, this Isaiah gave them a vision of what came to be known as “The Day of the Lord.” He did not promise when such a day would occur. He only said that one day God would restore his children to the land God had given them.
          First, the prophet says, God will feed his children…
A feast of rich food,
a feast of well-aged wines,
of rich food filled with marrow,
of well-aged wines strained clear.
          It is not the meal of poor people, nor even those who would be called common, that Isaiah describes. It is a banquet fit for the wealthy and privileged. God will prepare such a feast for his children, says Isaiah the prophet. Then, the prophet says…
And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.
          The Day of the Lord.
It will be said on that day,
Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him,
so that he might save us.
This is the LORD for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
          When those two men ran to the tomb that early Sunday morning so many years after Isaiah’s prophecy, do you think – do you believe they had any idea at all – that this would be “The Day of the Lord,” and that they, just common Galilean fishermen, would be right-smack-dab in the middle of it?
          Mary certainly didn’t. She’s the one who had told them the grave was empty, the one who had run to the house where they were staying to tell them the exciting, and at the same time terrifying, news. How do we know she wasn’t thinking about what the prophet Isaiah had promised? Because of the conversation that took place in the garden, the conversation between her and the stranger, the one whom she supposed was the gardener.
          After the two disciples had returned home (and we are told the younger one is that mysterious biblical figure, the unnamed disciple whom Jesus loved; and the other, the older one, was Simon Peter)… after they had returned home, Mary lingered in the garden.
          Maybe she just couldn’t find it in herself to leave. Maybe she just didn’t know what to do. Mary didn’t really have a home to go to. Jesus had taken her in when she had been demon-possessed, had given her a new life, a new family, a new home. Everything depended on Jesus. He was her center, her reason for living, and he had been crucified. And now, even in death, she had no idea where he was. Imagine how lost she must have felt. It is no wonder, we are told, that she simply stood outside the grave and wept.
          Why did the two disciples leave her there by herself? Why didn’t they insist that she return home with them? Why didn’t they take her in, as their Master had done?
          There may have been a bit of jealousy involved. Perhaps they thought she was a little too dependent on Jesus. We are told she had a bit of money. Perhaps she had provided at least some of the financial means for Jesus to conduct his ministry… which would mean that to a certain extent Jesus depended on Mary as much as she on him. It could be that the disciples weren’t exactly fond of this little arrangement that Jesus and Mary had going on.
          Maybe they were too busy trying it figure it all out to think of Mary and her needs. Or it could simply be that they were too stunned by what they had observed. Yes, there were grave robbers around, but in the minds of many Jesus was just a simple Galilean carpenter with opinions… strong opinions, to be sure, but – in the words of the prophet Isaiah –
he had no form or comeliness that we should look at him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
                                                                   – 53:2
Why would anyone want his body? They certainly couldn’t make any money off it. It just didn’t make sense.
          And if the disciples are stunned by all they have observed, imagine how Mary must have felt. She is left with nothing but her wondering and her tears. It is a very unpleasant combination: bewilderment and grief. Some of you know, don’t you? You’ve been there. You’ve been there.
          “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?”
          It is then we are given a clue as to what she was thinking. “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
          It was a borrowed tomb. Apparently a benefactor has provided it. Did the owner of the tomb change his mind and have Jesus’ body put in a pauper’s grave? Where have they taken him? If the gardener, the keeper of the tombs, had anything to do with it, all he had to do was tell her. She had the means of seeing that some other arrangements could be made. “Tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
          And that is when he called her name. So many times before she had heard Jesus call her name. He had a particular way of doing it. It could have simply been the sound of his voice, or maybe it was the tenderness that was so evident in the way he said it. It was like that Claritin Clear commercial where the layer of fog is lifted from one’s eyes. Suddenly, with just the sound of his voice calling her name, she could see clearly now. She knew who stood before her.
It will be said on that day,
we are told by the prophet Isaiah,
Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him,
so that he might save us.
          My friends, the prophet Isaiah was right. This is our God, and this is the day of the Lord. If you have been waiting for him, this is the day of the Lord, the day when the risen Christ stands before you and calls your name. There is no day like this day to give your heart to him. Come, sit at his table and partake of the feast he has prepared for you, and in the promise of the Risen Christ, say without fear, “This is my God.”
          Come to us, O Lord, with your mercy and grace. In the Risen Christ calm our fears and search our souls. Then show us the way to eternal life. In Jesus’ name we ask it, Amen.

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