Summary: Standing at the empty tomb is both an acknowledgment of a difficult past, and a charge to live into the new life offered in Christ Jesus.
Well! Here we are, the moment many of us have been anticipating, or perhaps dreading, or maybe even a little of both for the last few months! No doubt, any expectations that any of us might have had about this day will be somewhat off or maybe even way off, but I pray that the excitement of new beginnings and fresh starts will fill our hearts, our spirits, and our lives, long beyond this single day. Only three months ago, I found out that I would be coming to serve alongside all you wonderful people here at Grace. While it seems like just yesterday that Al Bowles was telling me I would be moving up to Soddy Daisy, these last several months have been full and busy. As Christians, we have observed Holy Week and celebrated Easter. We have felt the power of the Holy Spirit yet again in new and powerful ways on Pentecost. The people of the United Methodist Church in this Holston area have gathered yet again for our Annual Conference. As a church in the past few months, Grace has cast a new vision: Celebrating God’s love by spreading it, teaching it, and living it. Two infants have been baptized here, six new members have been received into this congregation, and a wedding has been celebrated. You have spent countless man hours and lots of resources working to improve the parsonage. And I will offer here my profound thanks for all your hard work. It is a beautiful house, and you all have made it feel like a home already. Thanks also to all your help in getting me moved so efficiently last weekend. Also in recent months, Grace has seen the debut of its own “theme” song, written by Chris Lanier, that matches the vision. And thanks to the foresight and work of John Coniglio and others, Grace stands at the forefront of technology with live video streaming on Sunday mornings.
On a more personal level, much has happened in my own life in the last few months. As I wrapped up my time at First-Centenary church, I oversaw the confirmation of eleven young people and celebrated with them that significant mark in their Christian journey. I have closed the doors on one job, and opened the doors to a new one. In the midst of that, I have moved from the northern reaches of Walker County, GA, to the northern reaches of Hamilton County, TN. And oh, how wonderful it is to be back in Tennessee! But most significantly, just two weeks ago, I was ordained a full elder in the United Methodist Church, a momentous occasion in my life that came after six years of very hard work. Isn’t it amazing how much can happen in such a short span of time?! No wonder it seems like only yesterday that we first got word of the transition that would happen on this day! Though the days have been filled and busy, the one question that has been on my mind through this all is, “What will I say on my first Sunday at Grace?” As I reflected on this question, I decided that perhaps the best guidance for a word for the first Sunday would come from the Bible. I thought of two significant “first” Sundays in the Bible, that very first Sabbath, the seventh day of creation when God rested and admired the handiwork of creation. I also thought of that Resurrection Sunday, the day that Jesus rose again, when the disciples first saw the risen Lord.
So before us today is a Scripture normally reserved for Easter Sunday, but let us remember that the Resurrection story is central to the Christian faith. We shared together moments ago the account of the women as they returned to Jesus’ tomb on Sunday morning, the day following the Sabbath. The passage tells us the women have come to see the tomb. They have no expectations of seeing Jesus, only offering reverent worship in the place where his body is laid. And yet what they find in that place is something very different. In high drama, perhaps as a way of connecting Jesus’ resurrection to his crucifixion just days before, Matthew tells us that there was a great earthquake and an angel appeared rolling away the stone covering the tomb. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary look inside the tomb only to discover that Jesus’ body is not there! The angel interprets the event for the women, telling them that the crucified Jesus they are looking for is not here, he has risen. And then the angel further instructs the women to go and share the news with the disciples. So on this Resurrection Sunday, the first in history, as the women look on in fear and awe they likely wonder what to say. And the angel tells them, go and share the news with the disciples.