Empty & Full

John 20:1-18

There is an Easter word that we are experiencing this Easter Sunday 2020 that I doubt we have ever understood to the same degree that we understand it today. That word is empty. In John’s gospel, Jesus’ first followers arrive at the tomb early on the first Easter morning and they find that the tomb is empty. It is a fearful and unexpected discovery for their sense is that someone has taken Jesus’ body.

Can you imagine? Their grief and sadness over Jesus’ death and crucifixion has now been compounded by the belief that Jesus’ body has been stolen.

We understand emptiness this year. We get it. Today we are living through a moment that none of us every thought we would see as long as we lived. It is Easter Sunday and as the images on the screen just pointed out – our parking lot, sanctuary, choir loft and every other room at First Baptist Church are empty. They are empty on Easter Sunday. They are empty on the one day of the year when logic says there will be more people on our property and church campus than on any other day of the year. Empty.

But, let me remind us that emptiness is not the last work of the Easter story in John. It could easily be the first word, but, it isn’t the last. What the women and disciples come to realize is that the tomb is not empty because Jesus’ body has been stolen. Instead, it is empty because Christ has risen from the dead. In other words, emptiness is not a cause for lamenting and sadness. Emptiness has been transformed, as only God can do, into a word of celebration. Christ is alive. In fact, as John’s telling of the Easter morning story continues, the reality of the risen Christ transitions the story from starting out focused on the emptiness of the tomb to ending with the focus now being on the fullness of their hearts, minds and souls in the midst of the reality of the living Christ.

This is the Easter message that we must hear and that we must embrace today too. The emptiness of our sanctuary, Sunday School classrooms and parking lot can easily lead us to the wrong conclusions. They can lead us, like the first followers to the tomb, to conclude that there is much to grieve and lament on this Easter Sunday. But, that would be to come to the wrong understanding of things.
Instead, what today teaches us in perhaps a way that no other Easter ever has or ever will in our lifetimes is that ultimately Easter is not about what happens in our parking lot, our sanctuary or our classrooms on this day even though those things are all very, very important. Easter is ultimately about what happens in our hearts, in our minds and in the very depths of our souls. For Easter is about celebrating the living God and the risen Christ who permeates our lives, our world and every corner of creation. Easter is about the reality that we can celebrate where ever we are. Easter is about celebrating the Risen Christ who could not be contained by a tomb and who certainly can’t be contained by a world wide virus.

As most of you know, one of my all time favorite television shows is The Andy Griffith Show. You can say “amen” to that statement if you would like. After all, I know that many of you love the program just as much as I do. One of my favorite episodes is the very first one of the fourth season called “Opie the Birdman”.

If you happen to remember it, then you know that the story revolves around Opie getting a new slingshot. One day, Opie shoots into the trees in the front yard of the Taylor house and inadvertently hits a mother bird leaving her three babies orphaned. As the story unfolds, Opie takes responsibility for the three baby birds going so far as to give them names – Winkin, Blinkin and Nod. He moves the birds and their nest into a cage on their front porch and cares for their every need of food, shelter and protection.

After a fair amount of time has gone by, Andy and Opie recognize that despite their newfound attachment, the time has come for birds to leave the cage and fly away as they are now old enough to take care of themselves. It is a moving scene as one by one Opie releases Winkin, Blinkin and Nod into the air and watches them fly away. The episode ends with Opie looking at the now vacated cage and sharing this exchange with Andy which for me is one of the most memorable sets of lines in the entire series. Opie looks at the cage and says “Paw, doesn’t the cage look empty?” To which Andy replies, “It sure does son, but my don’t the trees seem full?”

“The cage looks empty, but, my don’t the trees seem full.” Emptiness and yet fullness sitting side by side with the question being, which of the two words has the final say.

Let me end this way. The first word on this Easter might be emptiness. But, the last word without question on this Easter like the first is fullness, the fullness of a risen Christ in our lives, in our hearts and in our world even now and even on this day. It is Easter. Christ is alive. The world and our lives are full of our Lord’s presence. This is not a day about emptiness. No, this is a day about fullness. Let us rejoice and be glad. Amen.