Last Sunday, we celebrated Jesus’ less than triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. The children and youth marched down the center aisle waving palms. I heard a few say “Hosanna!” A lot has happened in the life of Jesus this past week.
The gospels tell the stories of the events of Jesus’ last night with the disciples. Jesus washed the feet of the Disciples shared one last meal & prayed in the garden. Then, he was betrayed, arrested, and tried. On Friday, there was a worship service where we as a community gathered to remember that last day when Jesus was crucified and his burial in a garden tomb.
There’s one last journey to take. We join Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women on a somber journey down to the tomb where Jesus is buried. The women toted spices and ointments not knowing that he had already been given a proper burial by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. Heavy on their hearts, they also brought broken dreams and unfulfilled expectations. They carried their Messianic hope to the tomb to be buried next to Jesus. Jesus was supposed to summons in the glorious new Jerusalem and reign as the heir of David’s throne. Instead, he was crucified.
We can relate to their experience. We prepare for an active healthy life. We prepare for marriage and maybe children and grandchildren. We prepare for trade school, college, or work. We build a house and make it a home. We save for the future and plan for retirement. We prepare for what we expect out of life. We dream about the future and we hope for the best.
Then, life happens. We have an accident and are seriously injured. We don’t get the support we needed. Unemployment knocks on our door and our savings is depleted. A spouse leaves our side and we are left to raise children on our own. Financial loss forces us to make tough decisions. We receive a devastating diagnosis.
Our hopes have been shattered. We grieve our plans for the present and our vision of the future. We sit in a pile of ashes that once was our dreams. We don’t know what to do. We can’t express our pain, so our souls cry out in anguish. We can’t fathom the thought of hoping and dreaming again. We are caught up in a present hell.
The women arrive at the tomb to find the stone rolled away. The stone was rolled away not so that Jesus could walk out but for the women to enter with their brokenness. They needed to be able to get in. Jesus didn’t need a way out. We needed a way in.
And, now, one more thing! Jesus’ body was gone!
Can you imagine standing in the cold, dark, damp tomb trying to hold the pieces of your broken dreams and unfulfilled expectations? They must have been so confused asking themselves: “What’s going on? What’s happened? Why is this happening to us?”
Just as the women were about to shed the last thread of hope, angels came to stand beside them. The women trembled with fear. Perhaps they were afraid of more bad news. “Why? What next? What else could go wrong?”
But, these angels didn’t have more bad news. They had Good News, Easter News! “Surprise! He’s not here!”
This story doesn’t surprise us, not the way these women were surprised. We know the story. And, we still cherish it. God’s grace is the resurrection. It is a story that assures us of grace. God amazes us with glory beyond what we could have ever expected. Our surprise isn’t the empty grave; our surprise is moments of grace. Pastor Barry reminded us at the cross walk on Friday that grace is getting what we don’t deserve. When God shows us favor beyond what we could have hoped for that’s grace. We don’t deserve grace. We can’t store it up like treasures in Heaven. We can’t earn it by good deeds. God’s grace is free and abounding for all.
Moments of grace come in many forms. Grace is that phone call you receive when you need a friend. Grace is the $20 you find in the pocket of an old coat when you’re not sure how you’re going to make it ‘til next pay day. It is an extension when the deadline is looming and there’s too much work left to do. Grace is someone else remembering what you forgot. It is unexpected flowers or kind words. It is your favorite song on the radio when you’ve had a bad day. It is an overwhelming peace when you should be nervous. It is another chance after many unsuccessful attempts. Grace is a moment that seems like a smile from God.
How has grace surprised you?
Grace can come in the form of unanswered prayers too. The chorus of Garth Brooks’ song reminds us:
Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers
Remember when you’re talkin’ to the man upstairs
That just because he doesn’t answer doesn’t mean he don’t care
Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers
I think the greatest recent moment of grace that I have recognized is the plane crash in Virginia Beach on Friday. The miracle is that there were no casualties and only minor injuries. The crew and the bystanders and tenants were all spared. By God’s grace, they were spared. They are no more deserving than anyone else, but God showed up with grace aplenty.
When has God shown up unexpectedly in your life?
These moments of grace are the surprise that assures us that Christ has risen! We expect the resurrection, but not grace. The resurrection doesn’t surprise us, but grace does. You can imagine if we’re surprised by God’s grace in our lives, how much more were these women surprised by the angels in dazzling white clothes. The angels remind the women that they shouldn’t be surprised and should have even expected this.
On more than one occasion, Jesus foretold his death. Throughout the narrative of Jesus’ departing hour, the resurrection is foretold as much as his death. My seminary preaching professor Rev. Dr. Wes Allen suggests that the Gospels tell one story of salvation. Without each event, the story is not complete. The last night, the crucifixion, the resurrection… altogether is all a work of God’s grace. They should have expected the grace of God in the empty tomb.
In Chapter 9 of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus was in private praying with his Disciples. Jesus questioned the group about who the crowds thought he was and Simon Peter confessed that Jesus was the Messiah. After this, Jesus tells them what is coming and strictly warned them not to tell anyone. Verse 22 And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”
They should have expected the grace of God in the empty tomb.
The angels asked the women to remember information that Jesus told his Disciples in private. That means these women were in the inner circle of the Disciples and had gotten the inside scoop. And they should be among those closest to Jesus. They provided for Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. They were at the cross when Christ was crucified when the 12 Disciple guys had abandon him, they found the empty tomb, they’ll be there when Jesus appears to the Disciples after the resurrection, and they’ll be there when Jesus ascends to Heaven.
These were faithful women included among Jesus’ closest friends. We can count ourselves among those close friends of Jesus. But, there’s a big difference between these women gathered in the empty tomb and us gathered in this room. We already know the empty tomb means Jesus has been resurrected. We’ve seen the risen Lord and we’ve heard the Good News. We’ve experienced grace.
Now, our challenge is to expect grace in our lives. It is bold. But, as people of faith, we believe in grace and miracles. We believe God is active in the world and in our lives. Whether life is going well or not, expect God to show up in a big way. Expect grace.