Monday, April 21, 2014

When Empty is Good

They go the tomb and it is empty. Empty. Things that are empty are not usually positive- the empty gastank, the empty bank account, the empty refrigerator. Empty is a place of fear, of not enough- that its not enough, or we’re not enough. Empty just by watching your faces tells me feels like doubt, or fears. They go to the tomb and hear- not here. And whether “not here” is like that voicemail message when we wanted help or that spot where someone used to be, “not here” tells of feeling alone, and of loss and sadness. Empty and not here- often means what we don’t see. The women come desperate for meaning and first encounter empty and “not here.”

But then they are rocked with something more. And encounter what happens when empty turns out to be a good thing. It’s mystifying and not fully there. They don’t get to see Jesus but they hear one thing.

But they hear he has risen and to go and tell.

And somehow it is enough

To leave the tomb and move forward instead of remaining paralyzed like the guards. No amount of words can fully capture what that glimpse and truth would mean.

They leave with that and a promise they will learn more on the way.

It’s not everything but it’s good news. And they don’t leave just with the same ration of fear and sadness, they leave with fear AND joy. Both.

Sometimes people tell us that to be a believer means that when we face the unknown or mystifying we just need to have faith.

Not so says the resurrection story.  

Having fear is not the absence of faith. Instead God sent a messenger to help us see the difference between stunned and stuck. Even when we feel like we’re moving but we’re not sure how.

Somehow some of the fear has been left behind in that tomb with the old grave clothes and yesterday.

And it’s replaced with a seed of faith and joy

That there really is new life in this story

There really is more than we see.

Because God has acted and Christ is risen and though we don’t understand all of it, we really will be given what we need on the way.

And as the story is shared, and other things are seen and heard, each who encounters will come to faith, but differently. Just like us. That somehow we see that what seems empty is good.

Recently there was another moment where empty is good- it was last Sunday when we had our first Sunday as one unified worshipping flock. And at the end of communion, the napkin the holds the bread was empty! There were enough of us here that I got the last little tiny bite. Empty! Praise God! I think that moment was one where we gathered in fear and joy and wondered if it would all be OK. And God delighted us with more to strengthen our faith together. That bread napkin was empty! And it was good.

There’s a third time that empty is good. It’s when this place is empty. When we who have been forgiven fed and filled, leave. Because the sharing of the gospel is happening out there along the way. I hope and believe and am filled with joy as I continue to see new faces here- young and old, from everywhere. And I don’t think they’re here because they suspect we have it all together. I think it’s because we are willing to share how we have encountered the good news and invite people to come and see with us on the way.

Some of you have come this day brimming with good news in your lives, and some have come hoping to hear Alleluias that maybe will start to feel true. Still others may wonder if the experience will match the greatness of expectations, or fear that you won’t pull off the perfect Easter day.

Each time we gather and share the story of Christ and share in resurrection, we share those glimpses we see on the way that strengthen us all. Those messages that allow us to look into that tomb and leave behind some of the fears.

And in place of that spot, the emptiness is filled with joy, and with faith. And that’s why I want to invite and encourage each one of you here to keep walking on the way, keep coming again to speak of things that looked empty but led to new life. Of the mysterious power and love of a God that wants to fill our empty places and replace our fears with joy.

God wants to help as us see in the way Brian McClaren has stated it-“that it is enough to faithfully and simply tell the story- of women at dawn, of men running half believing, of rolled stones and folded grave clothes. Of a supposed gardener saying the name of a crying woman, and sad walkers encountering a stranger on the road home. Of an empty tomb and overflowing hearts….(and) God comes to give us wisdom to know that the best we can do is stand in awe. Christ’s work on the cross and that empty tomb surpass all our flowers and flourishes on this day of mysterious hope beyond all words.

May we be less conscious of achieving the perfect decorations, or the finest music or wondering if our emptiness shows. May we instead be drawn more deeply into the confidence in in the Risen Christ whose presence here trumps it all.  God is a God of new life and never-ending possibility. Forgiveness and grace and love for us.

May we this day be surpassed by the simple but undeniable joy of standing together and daring to proclaim the good news- Risen Indeed! Alleluia! That death is not the last word. Violence, hate, condemnation, betrayal and failure are not the last word.

No. Each of them are left behind like rags at that tomb. And from that tomb arises Christ- Alive! For us! Forever!


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