Readings: Isaiah 65:17-25; John 20:1-18
There was once a man who, through a new marriage, became the father to a young boy. Their relationship was neither alien nor affectionate. The only thing they had in common was their undying love for the woman they shared. This man was thoughtful. And the boy wanted to trust him, but didn’t know how.
The days passed and the weeks did too. The man wished to do something special for the boy. Then, on the night before Easter, he placed a rabbit in a cage. And set the gift next to where the boy ate breakfast. When morning came, the man and wife woke the boy. And the boy jumped out of bed in search of an Easter treat.
The boy rummaged about, he looked in closets and under beds. He pulled back curtains and lifted cushions off the couch. He opened drawers and cupboards and explored every square inch of their humble home. The boy did not give up. Neither did the man.
The man smiled as the boy’s face came alive with hope. Together they shared the anticipation. For the first time since the marriage, the two felt connected. Their hearts were perfectly in sync… as their eyes moved, in tandem, towards the bow that had been placed on top of the cage. Then, at the same time, their countenance fell.
The man looked at the wife. The wife looked at the man. And the boy looked under the table. For what was there the night before was now no longer. The cage was empty. The bunny was gone.
The boy looked up. The man looked around. And the wife looked at the cage. There was no sign of foul play. No tampered lock, no secret escape hatch. But yet, no bunny at all.
Not in the kitchen. Not in the drawers or cupboards. Not behind the couch or curtains. There were no little bunny clues leading back to the messiness of the boy’s room. It was as if there had been no bunny at all.
The man tried to reason with the boy, but the boy doubted the man. The man tried to rationalize the mystery, but the boy wouldn’t hear.
The day gave in to night. Their relationship resumed, neither alien nor affectionate. The next day turned to the next. The man sat in his chair, and the boy sat at his place at the table. It was then they felt a presence fill the room. Unexpectedly and in unison, they lifted their heads and looked towards the open door.
With the same beat of their hearts, their smiles linked and their curiosity connected as they watched the bunny hop away into the light of the sun. Together, the man and boy raced in excitement; chasing after the Easter gift they both desired.
From that day onward, the cage would remain empty. But their hearts would overflow like never before.
Here we have a story about a bunny, an Easter bunny if you will, that, on Easter morning mysteriously goes missing. As a result of the cage being empty, the man and the boy are given a new way to pursuit what they truly wanted. Joy, together, as a family.
Easter is a time when we gather together, as a family, to celebrate the joy of the resurrection of God’s beloved Son. Because of his empty tomb, our lives will never be the same.
John’s Easter story begins not with a rabbit, but with a woman. It’s early in the morning and Mary Magdalene is on her way to visit Jesus’ tomb. John wants us to know that it is still dark outside when she walks through the graveyard. He doesn’t say what she is doing there, all alone in the dark, but we know from the other gospels she is going to anoint Jesus’ body for burial.
I wonder if Mary was there, in the darkness of morning, because she had trouble sleeping. It’s hard to sleep when your heart is broken, isn’t it? I imagine her mind was racing; trying to make sense of all that had gone down over the week. But that was just the beginning. When Mary gets to the tomb she notices something amiss. The rock that sealed the entrance has been moved, and Jesus’ body is missing! He is gone without a trace.
To the 21st century Christian, this is our Good News. This is the Easter present that we long for. We read this story and know God has raised Jesus from the dead. We see an empty tomb and we know God’s promise to us has been fulfilled. Because the tomb is empty, death no longer has power over us. This is our Easter joy!
We also know this is not the end of the story, but the beginning of something greater. For us it is reason to celebrate. But for Mary, it was just one more disappointment added to her weary heart.
And so she does what so many of us might do in this situation. She runs away. She seeks someone she can trust. Someone who can relate to what she is going through. That person is Simon Peter.
When Simon hears the news, he and another disciple race to the tomb with Mary following. Notice they don’t simply run, but race one another to the tomb as if every second counts. If you watch enough crime shows, you know the first 48 hours are crucial to figuring out the ‘who-done-it.’ But as they arrive on the scene, they are stupefied. They have no idea what to make of the emptiness that they were seeing and feeling.
According to John, they had yet to understand this empty tomb is the fulfillment of the Scriptures; perhaps Isaiah’s prophesy. It was hard for them to see this as the beginning of a new heaven and new earth. Instead, they see the empty tomb and freak out.
They know what could happen to them if the authorities decide to investigate. They would be the prime suspects for sure. It’s easy for us, today, to sing our hallelujahs because we know the outcome. But the disciples were scared. And still in shock.
The cross has robbed them of their joy. And now, the empty tomb has robbed them of what little they had left…their hope. When I put myself in their shoes, all I can think about is how empty I would feel without Christ in my life.
But we know the empty tomb is God’s gift to us. Because the tomb is empty, we have hope, we have joy, and we have God’s love pouring over us. But lets face it, these things are hard to see and feel when your heart is broken. Just ask Mary.
John’s story concludes with the two disciples leaving Mary behind. As she sits there crying, a strange presence fills the tomb. But she doesn’t recognize that Jesus heard her weeping, and came to comfort her. She confuses him for someone else. But when Jesus calls her by name, “Mary” her joy returns. She sees God in a new light.
Mary is the first to find the tomb empty. And so it is Mary who will be the first to see the wellspring of the new creation, the dawn of the new world revealed in the resurrection light of Christ. She will be the first to receive the joy of the Spirit that many of us have experience.
Just as we were given God’s eternal grace when Jesus emptied himself upon the cross, we too receive eternal joy through the resurrection. Because the tomb is empty, we too can walk through the darkness, through the shadow of death, with nothing to fear. Because the tomb is empty, our cup overflows with God’s love, and goodness will follow us throughout all our days.
Because the tomb is empty, we no longer have to be anxious, or worry about what we will eat or wear, or where we will sleep. Jesus gives us new bread to eat, and new wine to drink. We too will wear crowns of glory and dwell in the house of the Lord forever, all because Jesus broke through death and pulled us into eternal life.
Because the tomb is empty, all who mourn will be comforted; the poor in spirit will enter the kingdom of Heaven; the merciful will receive mercy, the pure in heart will see God, and the peacemakers will be children of God.
Easter is a time to celebrate the joy of the empty tomb that allows us to live free of slavery and debt, to be freed from sin and doubt, and to be free to give all that we have knowing we shall also receive our portion freely from God.
Therefore there is no better time than Easter to abandon our dark tombs. And fill up on joy. It is a time to open our cages and run free with God’s Son throughout this life… into life everlasting.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”