Last Sunday, my extended family gathered by videoconference to share Easter communion. My sister Rachel Frandsen Jardine delivered this sermon from her home in Lima, Peru. It moved me as much as anything I’ve ever heard in a chapel. Thanks to Rachel for allowing me to share it here.
At Easter, we try to grasp the heart of Christianity. This season, I have found myself reflecting on the idea of emptiness. Here’s Luke’s story of the Resurrection in which the emptiness of the tomb is very important.
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words.
When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.
Joanna and Mary and Salome were perplexed when they saw the empty tomb, and Peter went away from the tomb wondering. (Luke 24:1-12)
What is the empty tomb? It’s a fact that needs interpretation. How you interpret that fact will guide your life in many ways.
Now I want to talk about another emptiness, the emptiness that I feel inside.
I feel an emptiness inside that comes from the space between who I want to be and who I actually am. Last Christmas I stood in front of my mother’s traditional nut bowl. I remember cracking a few pecans and feeling disappointed to find a withered kernel inside. I feel like that withered nut, a disappointment, and that space between who I am and who I want to be sometimes echoes very hollow.
This emptiness is a fact. I realized this when I was on my mission. I remember praying in anguish in the MTC, and feeling, for the first time, maybe, the chastisement of the Spirit, that I was belaboring the fact of my weakness too much, and I needed to move on. And on my mission, I did! It was wonderful to be imperfect but not mind. For a while, I thought I had solved the problem of feeling inadequate.
But alas, this emptiness is a thorn in my side that hasn’t been removed. So I live with the fear every day that I’ll never become the person that God made me to be because my weaknesses are just too great. (I don’t want to overstate my anguish over my weaknesses–I have plenty of moments of peace and contentment, and more often I find myself overwhelmed with feelings of gratitude for blessings rather than anguished over the fact that I don’t deserve those blessings).
So I’ve been thinking about these two empty places, the empty tomb and my empty heart. Is there a secret in the empty tomb that can help me fill my empty heart?
A person’s interpretation of the empty tomb will guide one’s life. Mary Magdalene at first interpreted the empty tomb as another element of her suffering.
Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.
Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master. (John 20:15-16)
After seeing Jesus, Mary had a whole new interpretation of the empty tomb.
The disciples on the road to Emmaus had a similar experience. At first they talked over the perplexing situation of Jesus’s death, trying to understand, but later, after seeing Jesus bless and break the bread, they understood the meaning of the empty tomb and the burning in their hearts that they felt while talking on the road.
What do Mary and the disciples have in common? Until those moments with Jesus, the empty tomb was one more reason to question, doubt, and sorrow. The empty tomb only made sense when Mary was with Jesus again, when Jesus appeared to the apostles, and walked with the disciples on the road to Emmaus.
Might I be prone to errors in interpreting my empty heart the same way Mary and the disciples were prone to misinterpreting the empty tomb? Yes.
I often think my heart is empty because I don’t have what I want. Surely, if I could just fulfill my desires, that feeling of emptiness would go away. You would not believe my to-do lists, my five-year plans, my long-term dreams. If I could just manage to climb a little higher on my ladder of success, my emptiness would be filled!
But I’m pretty sure that’s wrong. Mary and the disciples tried to fill the emptiness of the tomb with explanations, but they never felt the settled peace in their hearts until they were with Jesus.
Jesus shows us how to be filled. A self can’t be filled with busyness. Jesus gives us a hint about what should fill a self in his Sermon on the Mount when he tells us that our whole bodies can be filled with light. I long to feel God’s presence, to be filled as an overflowing cup with love. Not just the shivers of the Spirit, or the contentment of a good life, but a communion with God that permanently alters how I understand the world and relate to others. So far, my experience of communion is just temporary moments separated by much striving. But Jesus gave a promise that we could abide in love.
I’ve had only a few experiences that I could describe as abiding in love. In the hours preceding the births of most of my children, I felt suffused with an overwhelming sense of connection, love, and joy. It seemed to come from without me, fill me up, and flow through me until I couldn’t contain it. I’ve considered those experiences gifts of grace to prepare me for a new child. And then, when the baby comes, and I see her sleeping or nursing or gazing at me in my arms, what better word could describe her relationship to me than as abiding in love?
Jesus spoke these words his disciples, a prelude to the empty tomb the disciples would shortly face, his last blessing in the upper room. I hope they help us understand our own emptiness, and fill our hearts.
If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.
As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.
These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:7-11)