Our liturgy tonight operates a bit like a movie whose mode of telling stories is in flashbacks. We start the movie with the scene we just heard. Several women are gathered around the empty tomb, their mouths agape, and their minds racing. And then, the flashbacks begin.
Mary the mother of James recalls that ancient story of creation. That empty tomb reminds her of those words – tohu wabohu – the formless void. She vaguely remembers what God said about creating humankind in God’s image. And she hears those words repeated over and over again, “It was good; ki-tov”
Meanwhile, another woman flashes back to when humankind’s sinfulness so angered God that God flooded the earth. For forty days, Noah knew the nothingness of that empty tomb in front her. But she also remembers that covenant God made with Noah – that never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth. Perhaps there is a rainbow in this tomb, and not only the watery floods that she sees.
Joanna looks into that empty tomb and remembers another time her people faced desperation. She flashes back to the rushing Egyptians who have pinned her people to the Red Sea. She remembers the panicked screams of her people toward Moses. She remembers how God saved them then – how God created a way out of no way. She wonders whether the empty tomb is not unlike that empty seabed – the one that the Israelites used to get to freedom.
Another woman stares into that vacant tomb and she remembers a different tomb. She remembers the death and hopelessness of those bones in that valley – the thousands of devastated lives. But then she remembers what God told Ezekiel. She remembers the rattling of those bones coming together, and the way the breath of God, the ruah of God breathed life into those bones. She wonders if she hears the faint ruah of God now coming out of that empty tomb.
But Mary Magdalene remembers a different story from Zephaniah. She hears the words of that song in a fresh way today. “Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion.” Is this the day that God will save us? Can her beloved Jesus be not missing, but raised? Might Jesus be the one who will restore her fortunes? She longs for God to be saying to her, “Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem.” “Please let this empty tomb be an occasion for rejoicing and not for more pain and suffering for my Lord,” Mary Magdalene prayers in her heart.
And then the movie brings us abruptly back to the empty tomb, the sound of silence like so many times before in their history. The appearance of emptiness threatens their fragile, exhausted psyches. Their unspoken memories fail to comfort them because they are unable to utter a word of remembrance and assurance to one another.
As outsiders watching this movie, as we watch those looking into the tomb, we begin to connect the various flashbacks. The answers are there before the angels need to say a word. God loves us and creates us in God’s image. And we are not only good – but we are very good – wehineh-tov. God promises to never destroy us again as God once did. God promises liberation from oppression. God promises restoration to our bodies and spirits. God promises to bring us home. God promises and God saves us time and again. And now, with this Messiah who has finally arrived, God saves us once and for all. What has felt like a defeat is now the reason to rejoice. The smiles that spread across our faces are exact mirrors of the smiles that spread across the faces of those women at the tomb. The smiles are smiles that happen as we connect the varied flashbacks, remembering our salvation history, and this final act of salvation through the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. That tomb is not a formless void, but the holy site where all our salvation narrative culminates. That empty tomb is in fact not empty at all. That tomb is full of life. Tonight is a night for alleluias, for songs of joy, and for dancing. The light shatters the darkness this night, and we celebrate the greatest victory of all time. Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed!!