Pastor's Weekly Newsletter

Each Friday, Dr. Daniel Hagmaier posts his weekly newsletter. Catch up on what's happening and plan ahead.

JOHN 20:1-10|EMPTY PLACES

EMPTY PLACES

JOHN 20:1-10

EASTER – APRIL 1, 2018

 

YOU WOULD THINK WHEN THE GOSPEL WRITERS CAME TO THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF JESUS’ STORY, THEY WOULD TELL IT WITH GREAT ENTHUSIASM AND FANFARE.

 

INSTEAD, THEY TELL IT IN A WHISPER.  PERHAPS, BECAUSE IT HAPPENED IN THE DARK.  SHHH… PERHAPS, BECAUSE THERE WAS NO ONE AROUND TO WITNESS IT.  PERHAPS, THEY WERE SIMPLY AWE-STRUCK BY IT ALL.

 

THIS JESUS WHO WAS DEAD IS NOT DEAD ANYMORE.  HE HAS RISEN.  HE IS NOT HERE.

 

NO CHOIR OF ANGELS!  NO SUDDEN EXPLOSION OF LIGHT IN THE SKY!  NO POMP AND PAGEANTRY; JUST THE SOLE FIGURE, A SILHOUETTE, OF MARY MAGDALENE FINDING THE STONE ROLLED AWAY, AND THE TOMB EMPTY.

 

THE GOSPEL WRITERS CAN’T EVEN SEEM TO GET THEIR FACTS STRAIGHT.  WAS IT JUST MARY, OR OTHER WOMEN TOO?  DID PETER AND JOHN SHOW UP OR NOT?

 

WAS THERE ONE YOUNG MAN OF LIGHT, PRESUMABLY AN ANGEL, OR TWO?

 

SOME OF THE GOSPEL WRITERS SPEAK OF FEAR AND CONFUSION ON THE PART OF THE AFTER-THE-FACT-WITNESSES; OF THEM TELLING NO ONE WHAT THEY HAD SEEN, OR NOT SEEN, AS THE CASE MAY BE!

 

MATTHEW SPEAKS OF “FEAR AND GREAT JOY.”

 

THERE’S NO AGREEMENT AS TO THE ROLE OF JESUS HIMSELF.  DID HE APPEAR AT THE TOMB, OR ONLY LATER?  WHERE?  TO WHOM, AND HOW?  WHAT DID HE SAY?  WHAT DID HE DO?

 

YOU’D THINK, IF THE GOSPEL WRITERS WANTED TO TELL THE STORY IN A WAY TO CONVINCE THE WORLD THAT JESUS INDEED ROSE FROM THE DEAD, THEY PRESUMABLY WOULD HAVE DONE IT WITH ALL THE SKILL AND FANFARE THEY COULD.

 

BUT THERE IS NO SKILL, NO FANFARE.  THEY ARE NOT TRYING TO TELL IT AS CONVINCINGLY AS THEY CAN.  THEY ARE TRYING TO DESCRIBE IT AS TRUTHFULLY AS THEY CAN.

 

THEY SIMPLY TELL IT LIKE IT IS.  THE NARRATIVE IS FRAGMENTED, SHADOWY, WHISPERY.  LIKE THAT FIRST MORING.  LIKE LIFE ITSELF.

 

THE SYMBOL OF EASTER IS THE EMPTY TOMB.  WE CAN’T DEPICT EMPTINESS.

 

THIS IS WHY, FOR THE MOST PART, THERE ARE NO EASTER PAGEANTS, NO KID’S EASTER PLAYS, NO COLORFUL CAST OF CHARACTERS.

 

EASTER DOESN’T COMPEL US TO EXCHANGE GIFTS THE WAY CHRISTMAS DOES.

 

IT’S WHY WE PROBABLY KNOW FAR LESS EASTER SONGS BY HEART, THAN WE DO CHRISTMAS CAROLS.

 

IT’S WHY THE FEW EASTER PAGEANTS THERE ARE, TEND TO FOCUS ON THE LAST WEEK OF JESUS’ LIFE, HIS ARREST, TRIAL, AND DEATH, WITH THE RESURRECTION SORT OF, TACKED ON AT THE END.

 

IN THE ROCK OPERA GODSPELL, IT ENDS WITH JESUS BEING CARRIED AWAY BY HIS DISCIPLES, AND AN EMPTY FENCE.

 

IN JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, CHRIST ON THE CROSS IS LIFTED UP ABOVE THE RAFTERS, THE CURTAIN CLOSES; END OF STORY; ONLY TO REOPEN A MOMENT LATER, WITH THE EMPTY CROSS IN PLACE.

 

IT’S HARD TO DEPICT EMPTINESS.

 

SOMETIMES, HOWEVER, WHAT’S MISSING, WHAT’S EMPTY, HAS AS MUCH, IF NOT MORE, MEANING, THAN WHAT’S THERE.

 

HAVE YOU EVER SEEN A FLIGHT SQUADRON FLY THE MISSING MAN FORMATION FOR A PILOT OR FLIGHT CREW WHO HAS BEEN LOST?  IT IS THE EMPTY SPOT IN THE FORMATION THAT YOUR EYES GO TO, AND WHICH GIVES YOU CHILLS TO YOUR CORE.

 

A MOMENT OF SILENCE, EMPTY OF WORDS, OF VOICES, THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE NOT MAKING A SOUND, CAN BE AS MOVING AND POWERFUL AS THE MOST ELEGANT ORATORY.

 

AN EMPTY DESK – SEVENTEEN OF THEM TO BE EXACT – AT MARJORIE STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL, SPEAKS VOLUMES TO THE MEANING OF LIFE, AND LOSS.

 

PARENTS OF COLLEGE STUDENTS FRETTING AWAY OVER THEIR “EMPTY NESTS” FEEL A MIX OF LOSS AND SADNESS, ALONG WITH PRIDE AND ADMIRATION, THAT THEY HAVE GIVEN THEIR CHILDREN WINGS TO FLY!

 

“ABSENCE MAKES THE HEART GROW FONDER,” WE SAY; BUT IT ALSO MAKES THE HEART GROW LONELY:

 

  • THAT FIRST NIGHT OF EMPTINESS IN YOUR BED, THE DAY YOUR SPOUSE DIES;

 

  • THAT FIRST BIRTHDAY, THANKSGIVING, OR CHRISTMAS TABLE WITHOUT THEM, THEIR CHAIR AS EMPTY AND HOLLOW AS YOUR HEART;

 

  • THAT EMPTY PLACE IN THE PEW WHERE YOUR DEAR FRIEND USED TO SIT, NOW UNFILLED, EXCEPT BY AN UNSEEN SAINT IN THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS;

 

THE EMPTY TOMB, AND WITHIN OUR TRADITION, THE EMPTY CROSS, BOTH ARE SYMBOLS OF THE RESURRECTION.

 

SOMETIMES, IT’S WHAT’S NOT THERE, THAT MEANS THE MOST.

 

HOWEVER, WE DON’T LIKE EMPTINESS; THINGS MISSING; BLANK SPACES; UNFINISHED STORIES; SILENCE – SO WE TEND TO FILL THEM UP.

 

SILENCE – WE FILL WITH WORDS AND MUSIC; EMPTY PLACES – WITH LOTS OF STUFF; EMPTY HEARTS AND MINDS – WITH THOUGHTS AND MEMORIES;

 

EMPTY CROSSES, TOMBS, AND GARDENS – WITH APPEARANCES BY THE RISEN CHRIST.  WE FINISH THE STORY.

 

NOT SEEING – WAS EVIDENTLY NOT ENOUGH – AND EITHER JESUS KNEW IT, OR THE GOSPEL WRITERS KNEW IT;

 

AND SO, TO BALANCE THE EMPTINESS OF THE TOMB, THEY FILL THEIR GOSPELS WITH APPEARANCES BY THE RISEN CHRIST; OR HE DID;

 

IN THE GARDEN, IN THE UPPER ROOM, ON THE ROAD TO EMMAUS; ON THE MOUNT OF ASCENSION.

 

THEY, WE, CAN’T LEAVE THE EMPTINESS ALONE; PREFERRING APPEARANCES, AND PROOF; SOMETHING TANGIBLE; SOMETHING WE CAN SEE AND HEAR, AND IN THE CASE OF THOMAS, TOUCH;

 

WE WANT PROOF; WE WANT CLOSURE; WE WANT OUR EYES, AND EARS, AND SENSE OF TOUCH TO PROVE TO US: JESUS IS RISEN!

 

SHOW US THE BURIAL SHROUD OF TURIN – PROVE TO US HE HAS RISEN!

 

EMPTINESS IS NOT ENOUGH.  UNTIL IT IS.  UNTIL IT’S ALL THAT’S LEFT.

 

BECAUSE EVEN AFTER CHRIST’S APPEARANCES, AFTER A WHILE, HE LEAVES, AND THE DISCIPLES, AND WE, WILL BE LEFT ALONE AGAIN.

NO MORE JESUS, EXCEPT IN SPIRIT, AND THEN WHAT DO WE DO?

 

HOW DO WE FEND FOR OURSELVES?  HOW DO WE LIVE, LEFT TO OUR OWN DEVICES?  HOW DO WE MOVE ON, WITHOUT HIM?  WITHOUT THEM?

 

ONE OF THE LAST PROMISES THE RISEN CHRIST MAKES, EVEN AS HE IS LEAVING THEM ALONE, IS THAT HE WILL BE WITH THEM ALWAYS.  US TOO!

 

IT’S THE HOLY SPIRIT WHO WILL BE WITH US, ACCORDING TO JESUS.

 

SO, FROM THEN ON IT IS THE SPIRIT OF THE LIVING CHRIST IN US; WITH US; AROUND US; ABOVE AND BELOW; BEFORE AND BEHIND; BESIDE US;

 

SO, OUR EMPTINESS WON’T SEEM SO EMPTY, AND OUR SPIRITS LESS HOLLOW; INSTEAD, FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST.

 

AND HEREIN MAY LIE THE SECRET TO EASTER.

 

THE PYRAMIDS OF EGYPT ARE FAMOUS BECAUSE THEY CONTAIN THE MUMMIFIED BODIES OF ANCIENT EGYPTIAN KINGS.

 

JUST THIS PAST WEEK, IN THE NEWSPAPER, THERE WAS AN ARTICLE ABOUT HOW THEY WERE JUST ABOUT TO FINISH A TEN YEAR RENOVATION PROJECT ON THE TOMB OF KING TUT, TO THE TUNE OF 20 MILLION DOLLARS, I BELIEVE.

 

WESTMINSTER ABBEY IN LONDON IS RENOWNED, BECAUSE IN IT RESTS THE BODIES OF ENGLISH NOBLES AND NOTABLES;

 

MOST RECENTLY, THE REMAINS OF STEPHEN HAWKING, RESTING JUST AROUND THE CORNER FROM SIR ISAAC NEWTON, AND CHARLES DARWIN.

 

MOHAMMED’S TOMB IS NOTED FOR THE STONE COFFIN AND THE BONES IT CONTAINS.

 

ARLINGTON CEMETERY IN WASHINGTON, D. C. IS REVERED, FOR IT IS THE HONORED RESTING PLACE OF MANY OUTSTANDING AMERICANS.

 

BUT, THE GARDEN TOMB OF JESUS IS FAMOUS BECAUSE IT IS EMPTY!

 

AND HOW COULD HE BE WITH US – IF STILL IN THE TOMB?!

 

WE TEND TO SHOUT IS: HE IS RISEN!  WITH THE RESPONSIVE REFRAIN: HE IS RISEN INDEED!

 

“BUT TO PROCLAIM THE RESURRECTION THE WAY THE GOSPEL WRITERS DO,” FREDERICK BUECHNER SAYS, “YOU’D HAVE TO SAY IT IN WHISPERS: CHRIST IS RISEN.”  LIKE THAT.

 

“FOR WHEN WE DO, THE WORLD LEANS IN, AND KNOWS WHAT WE SAY, IS WORTH HEARING.”

AND IN THOSE TIMES OF GREAT EMPTINESS IN OUR OWN LIVES, IT IS THE CALM, GENTLE WORDS OF OTHERS IN THE NAME OF CHRIST;

 

WORDS THAT COME IN WHISPERS; THAT WE REMEMBER AND CHERISH MOST.

 

LIKE THE GOSPEL WRITERS BEFORE ME, I FIND IT HARD TO POINT YOU TOWARD THE EMPTINESS OF THE TOMB; AND PREFER TO TELL YOU WHERE JESUS IS, INSTEAD OF WHERE HE ISN’T.

 

I CANNOT RESIST THE TEMPTATION THIS MORNING OF TELLING YOU, THAT IF THE TOMB IS EMPTY, IT IS ONLY BECAUSE THE RISEN CHRIST IS HERE WITH US.

 

AND NOT JUST HERE, BUT ELSEWHERE AS WELL; A GOOD THREE-POINT SERMON ON THE PRESENCE OF CHRIST.

 

IF THE TOMB IS EMPTY, WHERE IS THE RISEN CHRIST?

 

  1. HE’S WHEREVER HIS PEOPLE ARE WORSHIPPING.
  2. HE’S WHEREVER HIS PEOPLE ARE SERVING.
  3. HE’S WHEREVER PEOPLE ARE SUFFERING.

 

YOU SEE, IT IS OUR NATURAL INCLINATION TO NOT BE SATISFIED WITH THE EMPTINESS OF CHRIST’S TOMB, WITHOUT TRYING TO SAY: IF NOT THERE, THEN WHERE?

 

AND THEN DEFINE THE WHERE.

 

FORGET WHERE’S WALDO.  WHERE’S JESUS?  AND WE CAN’T HELP BUT GO LOOK FOR HIM BEHIND EVERY STRUCTURE, HIDDEN AND REVEALED.  IN EVERY CROWD.  IN EVERY “BARNYARD” AND “CIRCUS” OF LIFE.

 

BUT ONCE MORE, HAVING KNOWN EMPTINESS, LONELINESS, SILENCE, AND VOID IN OUR OWN LIVES;

 

MAYBE, JUST THIS ONCE, JUST THIS ONE EASTER MORNING, WE ALLOW THE EMPTINESS OF THE CROSS, OF THE TOMB, TO SPEAK TO OUR EMPTINESS;

 

TO SPEAK TO US IN A WAY THAT THE FULLNESS OF LIFE, THE BUSY-NESS OF LIFE, THE CLUTTER OF LIFE, THE NOISE, NOISE, NOISE CANNOT.

 

BE STILL MY SOUL!  THE LORD IS ON THY SIDE;

BEAR PATIENTLY THE CROSS OF GRIEF AND PAIN;

LEAVE TO THY GOD TO ORDER AND PROVIDE;

IN EVERY CHANGE HE FAITHFUL WILL REMAIN.

BE STILL MY SOUL! THY BEST, THY HEAVENLY FRIEND

THRO’ THORNY WAYS LEADS TO A JOYFUL END.

 

 

 

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Pastor Daniel writes and posts a weekly newsletter that keeps members and friends of the congregation up-to-date. His earlier newsletters are also online, so if you missed something, check those past editions.

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