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United Church of Christ

533 Route 28, Harwich Port, MA 02646 | Phone: 508-432-1668

EMPTY!

Pilgrim Congregational Church
Rev. Peggy O'Connor
Luke 20:1-10
"EMPTY!"
April 20, 2014

Transcript

In the predawn darkness of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene rose, got dressed and went to the tomb where they had placed Jesus' body three days earlier. When she arrived at that place she saw that the huge rock that had sealed the tomb was gone, leaving the tomb was wide open and empty!

Last night, a lot of people set their alarm clocks for 5AM. Some hit the off button and went back to sleep this morning but most rose, brushed their teeth, combed their hair, got dressed and set out for the beach to celebrate the news of the empty tomb.

Rising in the predawn hours and coming to the empty tomb, ties us to Mary and the first Easter morning in a visceral way. But our experience and her's are quite different. We come with cries of Alleluia on our lips ready to proclaim what we know the empty tomb means... Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. We come to church...whether on the beach or in this sanctuary to celebrate the good news of the resurrection. But Mary went to the tomb to grieve the death of Jesus. When she saw that the rock was gone she ran to tell Peter and cried out in anguish...The tomb is empty...Someone has taken his body!

What can we learn from this story of the first Easter? What can it tell us that will help us in our lives in 2014? How is it story relevant to us today?

First, I believe that we need to look beyond the story itself. The plot is simple but it only gives us the surface or broad strokes of the story. Mary goes to the tomb...sees the rock is gone and is afraid...runs to tell Peter...he and another disciple rush to the tomb...see that it is empty, save the linen wrappings...and they all go back to the house wondering what it all means. But there is a lot more going on that those facts. And the "fact" that we don't see them or that we gloss over them IS important.

The Easter story, I believe, is all about what we don't see. It is about the emptiness of the tomb but not the fact that it was empty. Rather it is about our inability to see anything but the emptiness. This story asks us to grapple with that fact that we can only see what we can imagine and we can only imagine what we can see. Our sight limits us in ways we are unaware of.

The PBS program NOVA has been running a series on animal intelligence and their senses. The series has looked at many different species and their ability to see with their eyes; to see using sonar; to see at night; and to see with their noses. Dogs, as you may know have billions of scent receptors in their noses, which allow them to capture the smell of something or someone buried under ground, under snow, and even under 20 feet of water. It boggles the mind to think of this. Even the most sensitive human nose is grossly inferior to the least sensitive dog nose.

When I walk my dog at night she often picks us the scent of something and will freeze in her tracks looking into the dark. I peer into the dark with her but can see nothing. Most times, after a minute, I urge her on. This has, more than once, brought us to a close encounter with a skunk. I always say I will trust her in the future but after a time with no skunk sightings I begin to rely on what I can see and once more urge her on...until the next skunk.

If we cannot see something we doubt its existence. And if we cannot imagine the thing that we cannot see, we are likely to insist that it does not exist. When Mary saw the tomb was empty she said Jesus was gone. Of course he wasn't gone but she could not imagine the resurrection, which meant she could not see anything other than what she physically saw... emptiness. We cannot see what we cannot imagine.

I think it is fair to say that we all know our ability to see as a gift, however we do not wake up every day thanking God for our sight. But should a friend begin to lose their sight we become thankful. And if our own sight is threatened, we would think of it as a great loss.

In the April 2 edition of Christian Century, author and college professor Barbara Brown Taylor, wrote about a Frenchman, Jacques Lusseyran, a blind resistance fighter who wrote about his experience. Born sighted, Jacques, who wore glasses as a child, was playing with his friends at school one day when he tripped and fell, hitting his head on the teacher's desk and driving his glassed into his eyes. At the age of seven he was permanently blind.

The doctors and nurses, without saying anything directly, communicated to him how tragic his accident was. They suggested he be sent to residential institute as he would be unable to do much in life. But his parents refused. His mother learned Braille with him and insisted that he go to school just as he always had. Both of his parents accepted what had happened and were determined they would help their son have a full life.

Shortly after the accident Jacques parents told him to be sure to tell them when he discovered something new. He had no idea what they were talking about, and perhaps they didn't either, but ten days later he made a discovery that changed his life. He became aware of light...not light from outside of him...not the light we see with our eyes...this light originated within him. He said, "This was something entirely new...all the more so since it contradicted everything that those who have eyes believe. The source of light is not in the outer world. We believe that it is only because of a common delusion. The light dwells where life also dwells: within ourselves."1

Barbara Brown Taylor says that she first thought he was talking metaphorically but came to realized "he was speaking of a real experience of light that had nothing to do with his eyes".2

What this Frenchman had discovered through becoming blind is that sight has many limitations. It fools us into thinking we see things clearly and completely but he leaned that by being blind he could see things in more detail. He uses a table as an example. When we see a table we see its color, length, width, what kind of legs it has, and if we have the knowledge, what kind of wood it is. But if you are blind, you must feel the table to see it and in the feeling you find all of the dips, dents, and bumps of the table. You feel the number of boards in the table and perhaps find where it has been repaired so well that it eludes the eye. And if you have been blind for a while, you may have learned that by knocking on the table you can tell what kind of wood it was made from.

Our sight fools us into believing we can not only see things clearly and quickly but that we can understand them. We gain what Taylor calls a "cheap confidence" that a quick glance is all we need to know what is what. Our sight fools us into thinking that it is through sight that we know where we are going and where we are going. Our sight fools us into thinking that we need light to see and it deceives us into fearing the dark and doubting that there is any light within. But the empty tomb supports what Jacque describes. In the darkness...in the empty tombs of life...deep within ourselves there is great light.

But I am not telling you anything that you do not already know. How many nights have you laid awake because of some worry only to fall asleep and in that complete darkness have a dream that offers a solution? How many times have you been afraid...possibly of a medical procedure or something else...and for want of anything better closed your eyes and said a prayer... and in that darkness felt the fear slipping away? If you meditate or do yoga or pray daily, you know what I am talking about. When you close your eyes and turn within...where it is dark...the light of new insight and so much more opens to you and in fact the dark is no more.

Mary went to the tomb and saw it was empty...and that is all she saw. For a while she ran around looking for Jesus but then she returned to the tomb...no longer searching for where someone had hid him she sat by the tomb and remembered him. Then, in the man she mistook as a gardener, she found Jesus. Easter tells us that Jesus isn't somewhere we have to get to in order to find him. He hasn't gone away...he hasn't left us or been taken from us...he can't be...because he is always right here...in you and in me. The light of Jesus Christ dwells within. Now that is something to say Alleluia about.

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1 Against the Pollution of the I
2 Christian Century, "Light without sight A different way of seeing",Apr 2014, Vol. 131 No. 7.

Posted: Sunday April 20, 2014

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