>The following was preached at the Easter Sunrise service at Veedersburg UMC on Sunday, April 12, 2009.  The text for this week’s message is Mark 16:1-8.

We’ve walked through a small portion of the history of salvation this morning.  Beginning with Abraham’s prophetic words that God would provide the lamb, walking through the story of the Exodus from Egypt, hearing the promises of the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel, and learning from Paul’s letter about the need to let our old self die and be raised as a new creation with Jesus.  This all is just a glimpse of what Scripture has to tell us about the history of salvation.  There are literally hundreds of other passages that can be pulled in to help us understand how God has worked to reconcile and redeem humanity.  But it all boils down to today’s gospel lesson.  An empty tomb – that is the crux of the whole situation.  If that tomb was not empty on the third day, then none of this matters.
If that tomb wasn’t empty on the third day, the women would have anointed Jesus body with spices.  After about a year, they would have returned to the tomb, collected the bones, and placed them in an ossuary box with the bones of other members of his family.  The world would have gone on a lot like it did before Jesus’ ministry began.  Things wouldn’t have changed.  The disciples would have gone back to their lives as fishermen, or tax collectors, or whatever it was that they were doing before they were called by Jesus.  That’s what happened when those who declared to be the Messiah were killed.  Their followers gave up, and went back to their regular lives.  That was life in the first century.  But that’s not what happened.
Mark tells us that the women were just having a conversation on the way there, and they were wondering who was going to roll away the stone that was set in front of the tomb.  This type of grave was very different from anything that we know.  It was probably carved out of the rock.  The entrance would not have been very high.  In fact, in John 20, it says in a couple of places that somebody “stooped down” to look into the tomb.  To cover the entrance, there would have been a rut dug in front of the entrance, and a large stone would be rolled down the rut in front of the entrance.  Some people who are smarter than me, figure that the stone may have been about four and a half feet in diameter.  I’ve never studied geology, but I do know that stones that size are very heavy and difficult to move, especially if they will have to be pushed up a slight incline.  
The women were thinking of the logistics of what to do when they got to the tomb.  It seems as though they brought everything they needed except a way to get into the tomb.  But when they arrived at the site, they discovered that the stone had already been moved away.  This major obstacle that they were going to have to figure out some way of moving was already taken care of by the time they arrived.  According to Mark, they don’t think anything of it, and they go into the tomb to carry out their duty of anointing the body of Jesus.  But when they get inside, Jesus isn’t there.  Instead, there is a young man wearing a white robe, and he tells them the most incredible thing: Jesus is not there.  He’s alive.  He has risen.
The women no longer had to worry about who would roll away the stone.  It had been done.  And now, with the proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection by this young man, who was a messenger of God no doubt, an even bigger stone had been rolled away.  This was the stone that blocked humanity from entering into a full relationship with God.  The sin that kept humanity away from a holy and awesome God was removed.  New life was made possible, and humanity was no longer forced to lay in its tomb.
What I find perhaps most remarkable in all of this is that they’re surprised.  Given all the times that Jesus taught the disciples that he would rise on the third day, you would think that maybe they might have an air of excitement on this morning.  Yes, they were probably scared of what would happen if they were found.  Yes, they were probably wondering what they were supposed to do next.  But if they listened to Jesus’ teaching, they would have known that something significant was going to happen on that morning.  Maybe it’s because the idea of a person being raised from the dead is so outlandish.  Maybe it’s because they had something else in mind when they entered Jerusalem at the beginning of the week.  Whatever the reason, there was no sense of expectation on the part of the disciples.  Jesus said on at least three different occasions that Mark tells us about that he would rise from the dead after three days.
But, really, let’s not be too surprised.  How many of you here have been told something that seemed outrageous and unbelievable, only to find out that it was the truth?  That’s what today is all about, isn’t it?  It’s about hearing the story of the unbelievable once again, and moving closer to understanding what it all means.  The women go to the tomb, wondering who will roll away the stone.  They didn’t expect anything out of the ordinary that morning.  They expected to walk in and find the body of a friend, a son, a teacher.  They didn’t expect him to actually be risen from the dead.  If they did, why were they going to anoint the body?  But the stone was rolled away from the entrance, and their world changed.
The women listen to the message of the young man in the tomb.  Mark tells us that they fled the tomb, terrified and afraid.  The other gospels tell us that they end up running to the disciples and telling them that the tomb is empty.  The disciples are bewildered.  They don’t know what to think of this either.  Shortly thereafter, Jesus shows up.  Jesus appears in the midst of the disciples as they are sitting around in a locked room.  The stone was rolled away, the tomb was empty, and their world was changed.
After all these events, the disciples spend more time learning what Jesus had been trying to teach them all along.  They spend forty days with Jesus, soaking it all in one more time.  And then, when the Holy Spirit comes upon them at Pentecost, they can no longer hold it in.  They travel all over the known world, telling everybody that come into contact with that the stone was rolled away and the tomb was empty.  And the world was changed.
Wherever people stand when it comes to Jesus, one cannot deny that something happened that morning in Jerusalem.  The world changed.  The whole direction of history took a sharp right turn.  People can dismiss the story, disbelief that anything supernatural happened, and ignore the message of the gospel altogether.  They can say that it was wishful thinking by the religious zealots of the day, that it was all a lie made up by some disillusioned fishermen, that Jesus lives on in his teachings, but that’s all.  But they cannot deny that the world changed.  And perhaps that is the best evidence of all.  Lives are still being touched by this message.  In the 2000 years since the message was first proclaimed by a young man in a white robe, nobody has ever produced the body of Jesus, which would have put an end to Christianity before it ever left the ground.  The stone was rolled away.  The tomb was empty.  And the world was changed.