“Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.”Mark 16:6NIV
NOTE: This month’s article on “empty tombs” – adapted from a sermon I gave in April 2009, (with Homiletics as my primary resource) – follows this year’s Easter theme of “The Beautiful Empty.” It’s a bit long but worth reading.
Astronomers have found a big empty place in the universe – a massive void. This hole is gigantic, nearly a billion light-years across. Inside, there are no planets, no stars, no galaxies, no gases. It’s just a huge barren spot – a whole lot of nothing. It’s between six and ten billion light-years away from us. A light-year is the unit of distance that light travels in one year. One light-year equals about six trillion miles. That’s quite a distance. As mere mortals, we can’t even begin to comprehend a hole that gigantic and that distant.
At Easter, we encounter another kind of empty place … the empty tomb. That the tomb is empty is an enormous, world-changing reality. On Easter morning, Mary Magdalene and two other women encountered a surprising void when they showed up at the empty tomb, one that was as astonishing as any vast emptiness at the edge of the universe. It was early when they arrived, and after meeting a young man and hearing about the resurrection “they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (Mark 16:8)
Can you imagine how empty Mary is feeling at this point? She has already suffered the crucifixion of her beloved Jesus, and she’s mourning his death deeply. In her grief, she goes to his tomb to pay her respects; but when she arrives, she finds nothing but a large empty place. What Mary didn’t know was that you must pass through some empty tombs on the way to resurrection life.
We know what empty tombs feel like, don’t we? Each of us, at some time in life, comes face to face with a massive void … a big empty place that weighs heavy on our hearts and invokes fear in our lives. It happens when we give our heart to someone special who outright rejects our gift; when we study and pursue a profession, only to find we hate our work; when we create something beautiful, and discover that no one’s interested; when we try to resist a temptation, but then give in to it again and again; when we transition to a new job, then promptly lose it due to downsizing; when we put money into a home, only to see our equity disappear; when we retire from a long career to a severely diminished pension; when we lose a spouse to cancer, and find ourselves all alone in the world.
These are huge barren spots – massive voids in our lives. The same with Mary and her companions as they are seized by terror and amazement, and they retreat into silence, saying nothing to anyone. Their world feels like a billion light-years of empty space. Nevertheless, it’s to their enduring credit that they take some time to ponder this strange set of events and let the disappearance of Jesus sink in and take hold.
The mysterious young man in the tomb told them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here” (Mark 16:6). This is the Easter morning good news of resurrection life; but the women can’t grasp it, at least not yet. For now, they can only re- spond with terror, amazement, and fear. After all, how can they not be alarmed when they are standing face to face with an empty tomb?
Too often, we try to pretend there are no massive voids – no empty places – in our lives. But the truth of the matter is, we’re all going to face some empty places in life, and we need to take them seriously. We can’t expect to have all our dreams materialize overnight. We all must endure heartaches and heartbreaks along the way. Sorrow, loss, fear, pain, and suffering will overcome us at times. In other words, we must pass through some empty tombs on the way to resurrection life.
Mary and her companions cope with their empty tomb as they flee from the empty tomb. They don’t surrender to the idea that if only they believe in themselves, they can do anything. Instead, they feel a wave of alarm, terror, amazement, and fear – precisely the emotions that prepare them for the startling reality of the resurrection. Thus, they discover that Easter isn’t about them – it’s about God. Easter is about God filling the empty places in our lives with new and unexpected life.
The good news is we don’t have to earn or deserve this gift of new life. What we must do is believe and be willing to follow Jesus into the future he’s preparing for us. Mary and her companions felt a disorienting mixture of amazement and fear on Easter morning, but they responded when the young man gave the command, “Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you” (Mark 16:7).
Believe in the resurrection.
Follow Jesus into the future.
These are responses we can and should make – responses that will fill the massive voids in our lives. Think again about that enormous empty place that was discovered by astronomers – a gigantic hole, nearly a billion light-years across with no planets, no stars, no galaxies, no gases – just a huge vacant spot. I assure you that the gigantic void in space is not nearly as cavernous … as a heart without God.
About 350 years ago, Blaise Pascal, mathematician, philosopher, and physicist, observed that the human heart is like an “infinite abyss.” He discovered that we human beings try in vain to fill our hearts with everything around us – education, jobs, homes, money, friends, family.
However, none of these earthly things can help, “since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words, by God himself.” Even with his brilliance and his contributions to mathematics, Pascal realized that life apart from God is empty. He found refuge in Jesus Christ alone. How about you?
If you’re feeling a void in your life, the same will be true for you. Your emptiness will not be eliminated by a new career, a new spouse, a new house, a new car, a new hobby. The hole in your life can be filled only by believing in the resurrection and by following Jesus. The good news of Easter is that Christ is risen and is waiting for you beyond the empty tomb to fill your empty tombs on the way to resurrection life. All you must do is invite Jesus into your life and receive him as your Lord and Savior. There’s no better time to respond than right now at Easter, so don’t wait. Your life depends on it. Alleluia! The tomb is empty! Christ is risen!