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April 16, 2017

Sermon Matthew 28:1-6 “He is risen as He said”

“He is risen as He said”

Matthew 28:1-6

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

Every grave has a story.  Every tombstone tells a tale.  Take the graves of Colonel Gorcum and Lady Aefferden, for example.

When they met and fell in love, back in 1842, she was 22 and he was 33.  And for the next thirty-eight years, they lived together as husband and wife.

But in 1880, at the age of 71, Colonel Gorcum died and was buried.  Eight more years passed, and Lady Aefferden also died at the age of 68.

But there was a problem.  You see, Colonel Gorcum was Protestant and Lady Aefferden was Catholic.  And in that little town of Roermond in the Netherlands, Protestants and Catholics couldn’t be buried side-by-side.  So right between them stood a wall, separating their graves.

So what could they do?  They built tombstones higher than the wall, with granite hands reaching out across the wall.  Today, a hundred and thirty years later, locals still call it, “Grave with the little hands.”

Or think of Richard and Catherine Dotson who were laid to rest in the wooded hills outside of Savannah, Georgia nearly 150 years ago.  Each was born in 1797 and together they enjoyed fifty years of wedded life.

But in 1877, Catherine died, followed by Richard in 1884.  And both were laid to rest on the family farm.

Time passed, and the city of Savannah grew.  In fact, it grew so much, city planners wanted to build an airport smack in the middle of their family farm.

There was just one problem.  Richard and Catherine were buried there.  And after quite a bit of back-and-forth between the family and the city planners, all agreed to leave them buried where there were, right beneath Runway 10.

In case you’re wondering, you can visit their graves with an escort (it is a runway, after all!)  However, leaving flowers is not an option.

Every grave has a story.  Every tombstone tells a tale.

But of all the graves and of all the tombstones that have ever been or ever will be, the greatest of all is the one we celebrate today.

Please turn with me in your Bible to page 1061, as I read the words of our text.  I’ll start at chapter 28, verse 1:  “Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.  And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.  And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.  But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here, for He has risen as He said.  Come, see the place where He lay.’”

For three long, incredible years, they had followed this worker of miracles, this Teacher from Galilee.  They were amazed by Him.  They were changed by Him.  And they were sure He was the Messiah, the One God promised would come.

But now, after His anguish in the garden, His betrayal and arrest, His defenseless agony before Pilate and the soldiers, and six lonely hours on a cross, He was dead, buried, and gone.

The lips that once taught multitudes were stilled in the silence of death.  The head once anointed with oil was bowed with a crown of thorns.  The eyes that wept over Jerusalem were glazed in death.  The hands that blessed little children and the feet that walked on water had been nailed to a tree.

He was dead, the tomb was sealed, and all hope was gone.

That was Friday.  Now it’s Sunday.  And together the women set out, at the break of dawn, to anoint His cold, lifeless body.  All was quiet and dark.  The spices bundled in their arms weren’t much, but it was the least they could do to honor the One they loved.

And as they made their way out to that cool garden tomb, they prepared themselves for the hardest task of all—to move the stone.  There were three of them, but they were women.  If only Peter, James or John had come along.

But when they came to the tomb, they stared in utter shock and disbelief.  The stone was rolled away.  “What have they done with Jesus?” they asked.

The closer they came, the more their knees knocked and their hearts trembled.  And mustering all the courage they could find, they approached the unguarded, open tomb.

And as they looked inside, their absolute worst fears had come true.  Jesus’ body was gone!  And stranger still, a young man wearing a brilliant white robe suddenly appeared at their side.  They stared at him in disbelief, not knowing what to say or do.

Yet in that moment, he spoke the most profound truth they would ever know.  “Don’t be afraid,” he said.  “You’re looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified.  He’s not here.  He’s risen, as He said.  See where His body was laid.  Now go and tell His disciples and Peter, that He is going ahead of you into Galilee.  There you will see Him, just as He told you.”

And moving as fast as their legs could carry them, they ran to tell the others.  And just as Jerusalem began to awaken, people stopped and stared at the sight of three women, dressed in black mourning clothes, running at full speed, bearing strange, wonderful, amazing, fantastic, earth-shattering news.  Jesus was risen from the dead.

Jesus’ resurrection lies at the heart and center of our Christian faith.  There is no more important day than Easter day.  Take it away and we have nothing but a crucified Lord.  Take it away and we have nothing but sin and death.

That’s what Paul meant when he wrote to the Corinthians, “If Christ be not raised, your faith is in vain, you are yet in your sins.  Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.”

“But,” he said, “Christ has been raised, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

This was the first time the world would hear of Jesus’ resurrection, but it wouldn’t be the last.  In the book of Acts, the apostle Peter stood before the Sanhedrin, the very men who, just days before, had condemned Him to death.  He said:  “It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, but whom God raised from the dead, that this man now stands before you completely healed.”  And when men picked up stones to stone Stephen, he said, “Behold, I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

And in the city of Athens, before the leading scholars and philosophers of his age, Paul said it again:  “God has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the Man He has appointed.  He has given proof of this to all men by raising Him from the dead.”

There is no more important day than Easter Day.  Take it away from us and we have nothing.  But give us Easter and we have the promise of life and hope and resurrection from the dead.

Just outside of Tupelo, Mississippi, not far from the place Elvis Presley was born, there’s a plot of ground called Old Westmoreland Cemetery.  It’s little more than a handful of graves outside of an old church.

Apparently the land was donated nearly 150 years ago by Jesse and Melissa Westmoreland.  Jesse was the first person to be buried there, followed by his wife right beside him.

And in that cemetery, among the handful of tombstones, there’s one that marks the place of a child.  It reads, “Died Young.”  Another says, “He died as he lived—a Christian.”

But what captures your attention as you step into that quiet resting place is a sign that says, “Since 1874.”

And that’s strange.  You would think it would read, “Established in 1874.”  After all, when you see a sign in front of a store, “Since 1911,” you assume it’s been in business since 1911 and is still in business today.

So why is there a sign at a cemetery that reads, “Since 1874”?

As strange as it may sound, those words are fitting for that cemetery as well as any cemetery, because they perfectly describe the true condition of the whole human race.  We’re a death-sentenced generation living in a dying world.  And as long as death reigns, there will always be a need for undertakers, mortuaries, funeral homes and cemeteries.

But today, Easter day, marks the beginning of something entirely brand new.  For by God’s undeserved, unchanging, miraculous, amazing grace, death is defeated and sin is gone forever.  And with hands that once gouged out rivers and flung stars across the sky, someday our God will wipe all tears away.

And it’s all because of Easter day.

As pastor and professor Helmut Thielcke once wrote:  “If someday someone finds my skull resting in its grave, may it preach to him and say, ‘I have no eyes, yet I see Him; I have no brain nor understanding, yet I know Him; I have no lips, yet I kiss Him; I have no tongue, yet I praise Him.  I am a hard skull, yet I am softened and melted in His love.  I lie outside in a churchyard, yet I live inside Paradise.  All suffering is forgotten because of His great love for me.’”

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!  Amen

 

Heavenly Father, God of all mercy, we believe that Jesus is alive and is the Lord of life.  Through His death and resurrection, He destroyed the power of death.  Grant us the peace of Your presence that we may know You are with us.  And as You are with us, we will not be afraid.  This we ask in Jesus’ name.  Amen

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