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Come & See the Empty Tomb

Sermon 344 St. Martin’s 100 3/31/24

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.’ So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’ Matthew 28:1-10

Hannah’s Bedtime Stories The bedtime routine in the Arning household is pretty straightforward by this point—enough so that our 2-year-old daughter knows once it has started there is no getting off this slow-moving train towards bed. And like most 2-year-olds, she is now telling Megan and I what we need to do during this routine!

My favorite part of our nightly routine by far is story time. Hannah will sit in my lap, and off we go to fantastical adventures in faraway lands. Dragons flying high or guarding their treasures, a blue coyote trying to outsmart an old, wise bird of the desert, or a magical ship that sails on the open seas.

Hannah is entranced by them, but so am I. Many of the stories I do read to her have some lesson that becomes apparent by the end—a moral to everything that preceded it in the story. I haven’t introduced her to the Aesop’s Fables or the Brothers Grimm, but that’s coming.

Instead of me just telling her, “Patience is a good thing for you to have,” or “Kindness will go a long way,” or “Bravery is a noble virtue,” these stories paint a picture of a world that is strangely foreign but oddly familiar. We can see a bit of ourselves in each of them.  That’s what makes them interesting.

The stories our ancestors told long ago held the imagination of young and old. Myths, these great stories that told of gods and their dealings in heaven and earth were passed down through the generations.

Every culture has its own myths that tell of how we got here, what to make of the present moment, and where we are headed after this life.

Read through some of the myths told by the Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks, or Norsemen and you’ll find plenty of differences but also many similarities.

Heroes that go off to faraway lands, damsels in distress, gods who compete and battle in heaven and earth, and all the many ways people are affected by the gods' activities through storms or droughts.

And oddly enough, resurrection appears in a number of myths from around the world. What are we to make of the ancient stories told of resurrection in light of Easter? Jesus’ resurrection is kind of why we’re all here today. Is it just another myth? A nice story and that’s all?

A Myth Became Fact A man who knew a thing or two about myths was C. S. Lewis. Around 1944, Lewis one day had a memorable conversation with a friend of his named Cornelius. As friendships sometimes go, there are times when a good friend might say to you, “It’s time to grow up. You’ve been messing around for far too long. It’s time to drop it and be an adult now.”

This was essentially Cornelius' message to Lewis on that fateful day, but the thing he was encouraging Lewis to grow up and move on from was religion.

These silly stories are fine for children, but modern people know better than to really believe them. You gotta move with the times and put the Bible on the same shelf as the fables and fairy tales you read to your children, or the myths of those bygone civilizations. Sophisticated, modern people shouldn’t believe in all that, Cornelius was telling his friend.

Lewis mulled over that conversation for a while, and in true fashion, he wrote a short essay addressing his friend’s concerns—and honestly, I think it is one of the best things Lewis ever wrote. 

Lewis, as a lover of ancient literature, reminds us that myths are not untrue but rather they point us to a deeper truth. Typically, when you and I think about myths we automatically think that it’s fiction/fake, but Lewis was saying there is something real about them, even if they aren’t literally true.

Myths connect us to a reality that is just beyond our grasp. They tap into something real; something that is ancient and transcendent.   

And so, the story of God dwelling with his creation, dying and rising again has many mythical qualities. Read about the Egyptian god Osiris or the Norse god Balder, the son of Oden, and you’ll see some similarities.

In response to his friend, Lewis conceded that at its bare bones, the Christian story is a myth but, “The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact.”

What makes Christianity unique is that Jesus is the one God who actually comes out of the pages of mythology and lives, breathes, dies, and is resurrected. The other gods can’t do that, they can’t get out of the pages. They are bound to the books in which they reside.   

Jesus takes the abstract idea of resurrection—this thing that no one seriously thought could be done—and he does it in space and time, in human history “under Pontius Pilate”, and in a way that could be seen, recorded, and testified to by eyewitnesses.

The gods of the old world don’t do that because they can’t do it—they are mere idols made of human hands in comparison to the One True God, the maker of heaven and earth. Jesus is the myth that became fact, and the world has never been the same.

The Christian message makes some outrageous claims if you think about it. We claim that the author of creation entered into our story. While also saying that the hero, foretold in ancient mythology, jumped out of the pages and became a living, breathing person.

That would be like claiming J.K. Rowling literally entered her story and was admitted to Hogwarts, and Harry Potter was walking around Memorial Park. Authors cannot go into their stories nor can characters come out.

Christians say that Jesus does both.

Come and See None of this was on the minds of the two Marys as they headed to the tomb on that Easter morning. They weren’t walking to the tomb whispering, “I wonder if he’s there or not.” You and I don’t go to cemeteries guessing if our loved one’s body is there—they ain’t getting anywhere by themselves!

For those women, yeah, Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead, but there was no one to raise Jesus. The unique flame that Jesus brought into the world had been thoroughly snuffed out by the Romans on Good Friday. These faithful women were coming to honor the dead, nothing more.

But they are greeted with a shocking angelic invitation: come and see.

What the angel invited them to look at in the tomb was not a nice story, a tale of love conquering evil. No, it was, “Come and see the empty tomb. He is not here for he had risen!” It was a factual statement more than anything else.

To the pagan, like the Roman guards who ran away in fear, this news would’ve been perplexing because resurrection happened to the gods, and usually occurred following the seasons changing. A god might die in winter and be reborn in spring. That there was an actual man, that people personally knew who had risen, well, that made no sense.  

And for the Jews, many of whom certainly believed in the resurrection of the body, they would’ve been baffled because this wasn’t supposed to happen until the end of the age. Bodily resurrection signaled that God was making the world right again, and that his eternal purposes were being fulfilled. For this to happen in the middle of history, not as the final act of history—well, that too didn’t make any sense.

But the simple invitation to come and see changed those women’s lives forever, and it changed the world along with it. This was not merely a myth or a future hope for God to work in history and save his people.

No, it was happening to them in the here and now, on a day like today.  And it indicated that our relation to death had utterly changed. Our relationship to God had most certainly changed. And the one they saw crucified just days earlier was the true King of Israel and the world. 

We are beginning a sermon series today entitled Come and See. We believe this simple invitation changes lives through the power of the gospel. If you think about your own life, and the people who have impacted your faith the most, there was likely an element of this invitation. 

“Come and see what the Risen Lord has done for me. Come and see how he has formed me as a person; as a family member, a friend, co-worker, teammate, or student.”

But this invitation begins with “Come and see the empty tomb,” before anything else.

Jesus-of-the-Empty-Tomb changes lives and whole communities through the grace and power of his resurrection. I know that to be true for St. Martin’s and Riverway, and so many of you here tell me how you have met the Risen Lord in this place.

If you’ve never received an invitation like that, I want to personally invite you to come and see the power of Jesus’ resurrection pulsating through this place and through these people. You will never be the same.

But there’s one more thing that can’t be left out. What I love about Matthew’s telling of this story, is that the angel directs the women to go tell the others and head to Galilee; they’ll meet Jesus there. But as they head back, Jesus can’t help himself, he appears to them. He’s as excited as they are about this great news.

But interestingly, where the angel had an invitation for the women to come and see, Jesus has a command to go and tell. “Go and tell my brothers that I’ll meet them in Galilee.”

 The women are not only witnesses but now messengers of the gospel, sent by the Risen One himself. He has bestowed on them the greatest honor and highest calling. “Go and tell.” Once you’ve seen the Risen Jesus, and felt his presence, the call to tell others naturally follows.

And what an amazing story we have to tell.

Where there is death and decay in our world—and in ourselves—God brings new life through his Spirit. Where there is pain and sorrow, Jesus offers a hope that only he can give; just look at his nail-scarred hands. 

And what was thought to be a mere myth, God made a reality and brought us along with him [in the grand story of salvation.]

Alleluia Christ is risen!  



Easter Sunday. Year B. Matthew 28:1-10. A Myth Became Fact, C.S. Lewis (1944). Photo by Pisit Heng on Unsplash.

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