I want to read the first part of the reading to you again, just the first sentence. “But, on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared.” (Luke 24:1) Let’s back up even further and read a few verses ahead of this one. “The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.” (Luke 23:55-56) “But on the first day of the week…” And just like that we get a sense that our story is going to change. By just one little word, “but.”
It’s as if we were told “wait” or “hold on” or even “however”. This story is taking a change. The women saw Jesus laid in the tomb. They saw it with their own eyes. They then return to the tomb to prepare his body, as was the ritual. But, the stone was rolled away from the opening. But, there was no body. But, they were confused and perplexed. But, they were greeted by a messenger. But, they learned their friend, Jesus Christ was risen, just as he said. But, they didn’t see him, and yet, they believed. But they believed because they remembered his words. And they couldn’t wait to tell the others.
“But, these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe” the women. (23:11) But Peter went and saw for himself and was amazed. And had we been there that Sunday morning, had we been among those women heading for the tomb, had we been able to look in and see it empty for ourselves, our reaction might have been a confused “but….but….??” How can this be? We saw what happened to Jesus. We heard what happened to Jesus. Honestly, our logical, scientific minds might struggle to make sense of any of this at all. A man isn’t supposed to come back to life after being dead for three days. But, Jesus did.
Darkness cannot keep Christ away. Death cannot keep Christ away. The devil cannot keep Christ away. Nothing in this world can keep Christ away. And just when we thought the story was over. Just when the curtain was torn in two. Just when grief started to set in. God, through Jesus Christ, with the power of the Holy Spirit changed the story. God interjected a “but” a “wait a minute” into our story. And because of that, we are saved. Because we serve a God who keeps promises, we are saved. Alleluia, Christ is risen!
But, maybe you’re thinking there’s a catch. Certainly this Jesus, who was dead and who was raised again so that all may have eternal life, didn’t actually die for you and for me, right? Maybe you don’t think you’re forgiven. Sure, you hear the words of forgiveness. We even heard them earlier in the service. “Jesus Christ loves you and frees you from your sins by his blood.” And when you hear that do you think “yeah…everybody but me!” Because I don’t know about you, but I have a terrible time forgiving myself. I know where I have sinned. I know where I have come up short. I know where I have failed in not only not loving God but not loving myself. I fully understand and comprehend what happened to Christ on the cross. What I don’t understand is how someone can love me that much. I always want there to be a catch. I want to find the passage in the Bible that finally finally points out to me that this amazing sacrifice was for everyone except me.
And instead, I find “but.” With the uncertainty and the confusion of the women at the tomb, my heart starts to listen; maybe yours does too. With the empty tomb and with the resurrection, with the good news that Christ is risen indeed, we might just start to believe that this act, this one amazing act is for us too. But, this is for you too. But, there are no exceptions. But, you can’t change the story! No matter how you think you’ve failed or fallen short, in the resurrection, God triumphantly proclaims, “but no!! This is for you too!”
It’s okay to be skeptical. It’s okay to struggle with this belief. Here’s the thing: your forgiveness and the amount that God loves you does not hinge on your belief! With every “but” we may give God, God answers us in return, crushing our doubt. “But, I haven’t been to church in years!” You may say. And God answers “But, I love you anyway.” Maybe you say “but I don’t know if I can believe that a dead man can come back to life. How is that even possible?!?” And God answers “but here is Jesus, crucified and resurrected for you anyway.” Maybe in a moment of vulnerability you whisper to God “but I struggle with love. I have family members I don’t talk to. Friends that I have abandoned. Relationships that have severed and ended. I don’t even know if I can love myself.” And in the bread and wine, the body and blood of Jesus Christ, God comforts us and says “but, this is love. This bread, this wine, is love, broken for you and shed for you.
God had the power to change the story. God sent us Jesus. While on this earth, Jesus taught, and fed, and cured, and healed, and walked, and prayed, and stood with those on the margins. He was sent to save creation. He was sent to be a king and a messiah. On the cross, people began to doubt. No king dies like that. No messiah is executed with nails. And then God changed the story. But, a king like Jesus did die for us. But, our messiah, Jesus Christ, had his blood poured out for our sins. God had the power to change the story for all who were gathered at the crucifixion, all who gathered at the tomb, and all who went out preaching and teaching in Jesus’ name. And God has the power to change your story too.
When you give yourself over to God, when you invite the Holy Spirit to stir in your life, when you believe, even if you don’t see, when you look into an empty tomb and cry “alleluia”, you are admitting to yourself and to the world that God has the power to change your life. When you think your life’s path and journey is set, God steps in and says “but…” and offers you something better and more amazing than you could have ever imagined!
Brothers and sisters in Christ, it gives me great joy to share with you that our story has been changed. Death is no longer. Our sins cannot and will not define us. Love had the final word. But, love had the final word. Alleluia! Christ is risen!!