Empty Promises–An Easter Message

John 20:1-18


Good news does not normally arrive as dark turns to dawn

If the phone rings or the doorbell chimes before the dark of night shifts to the light of day,

We know it can’t be good news

Good news waits until a respectable hour

Until showers are taken and coffee is poured

Bad news always has to be shared immediately

Whether or not we are awake or aware, before we even have time to brace ourselves for what we know will come next.

Even back in the ancient of days when people woke with the sun, it was too early for polite company when Mary came banging on the door of wherever it was Peter was staying.

When he was roused from sleep by her cries and pounding, he must have thought,

“This can’t be happening. What now?”

There had already been too much disappointment

Too much hurt

Too much pain

This was one of those times when things couldn’t possibly get any worse

And yet,

Here was Mary at his door at the crack of dawn.

There couldn’t be anything good about it.

Especially on a Monday morning

For even though it was a Sunday, it was the day after the Sabbath, when the routine work of life would begin its cycle anew.

It was very much a Monday.

Sure enough

When he finally got Mary calmed down enough to talk, she was spewing nonsense about the tomb being empty and Jesus being gone.


Nobody wants to start a Monday off with a missing body

But the disciple described as the one Jesus loved (as if he didn’t love all of them)

Took off running and Peter did the only thing he could think to do and took off after him

But the other disciple…

Let’s just call him John. We’re pretty sure it was John

There is a certain group who wants it to be Mary Magdalene, but today is not the day for debating such things.

So John beat him to the tomb.

Perhaps it was because John was more excited than Peter to see what was going on

Perhaps it was that Peter (being a fisherman) was all upper body strength and never really took time for cardio

Perhaps it is simply that it is likely that John wrote the account, and in his version, he got there first.

Whatever the reason, the beloved disciple made it to the tomb first, yet couldn’t bring himself to go in.

But Peter, when Peter finally arrived,

Winded from his run

He entered the tomb and saw the linen wrappings lying the tomb

What to make of it, he wasn’t sure.

John, deciding it must be safe, entered the tomb and immediately believed.

All of sudden everything Jesus had said made sense. He got it!

But Peter….

The Bible doesn’t tell us that Peter believed right then and there.

Maybe the grief and the running and the confusion of the empty tomb was just too much to compute

Perhaps it was too much hope to handle

Maybe the empty tomb was just too close to how he was feeling inside—empty.

Any good preaching professor will tell you,

“Don’t mess with Easter”

No need to get clever with gimmicks or alternative preaching styles

The good news stands on its own.

The tomb is empty! Christ is Risen.

And that’s all very well and good if your experience of Easter Sunday is like that of the beloved disciple at the tomb

Perhaps, you, like John, are totally feeling it today.

Christ is Risen!

Death is no more!

The darkness has not overcome the light!

Life is new all over again!

But I imagine at least some of you are more like Peter

You’ll leave here thinking, sure the music was good and the sermon (hopefully) didn’t put you to sleep, but maybe you too, will still feel a little empty.

But that’s part of the good news too.

Empty is okay

The empty tomb—as disturbing and confusing and disorienting as it was—meant that something had changed. Something good was happening, but it just wasn’t quite understood yet.

On Easter, the statement that “empty is okay” is not meant to go on greeting card or refrigerator magnet.

This is not a platitude

This is a promise

An empty promise, if you will

But not in the way the world gives us empty promises

But a promise that doubt and confusion and uncertainty are all part of the Easter experience. That emptiness is not something to be feared or avoided.

That sometimes we have to get through difficult places and empty spaces on our journey with Jesus.

But the message still stands. The truth is the same.

Christ is Risen.

Whether you are elated or exhausted

Christ is Risen

Whether you are refreshed or resentful

Christ is Risen

Whether you are shouting alleluias or yelling words you really shouldn’t say in front of the children

Christ is Risen!

He lives. He’s working in our lives and in our world.

Making good on the promise


Emptiness is never the end of the story.


–Rev. Anne Russ

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