Saturday, March 30, 2013

Keeping Christ Dead and Buried

Luke 24:1-12
24 But on the first day of the week,
at early dawn,
 they came to the tomb,
 taking the spices that they had prepared.

They found the stone rolled away from the tomb,
but when they went in,
 they did not find the body.
While they were perplexed about this,
 suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them.
The women were terrified and bowed 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, but has risen.
Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee,
that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners,
and be crucified,
and on the third day rise again.”
Then they remembered his words,
and returning from the tomb,
they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.
10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna,
Mary the mother of James,
and the other women with them who told this to the apostles.
11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale,
 and they did not believe them.
12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb;
 stooping and looking in,
 he saw the linen cloths by themselves;
then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

        On occasion, I find myself spending some time in cemeteries.   For one thing, I’m a minister and cemeteries are where funerals end up.  But there are other reasons I sometimes find myself in cemeteries.  I enjoy researching family history.  And visiting cemeteries I’m able to get information about when ancestors were born, when they died, and sometimes something else about them. 

        Sometimes it is interesting to visit cemeteries simply to read grave stones. 

        For example, years ago I found myself and my family in Tombstone, Arizona, which is a fascinating old town.  It’s the location of the famous gunfight at the O.K. Coral, in which the Clanton gang fought Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday.  The graveyard in Tombstone is called Boot Hill and there are some interesting grave markers there.

        For example, “Here lies Lester Moore, Four slugs from a .44, No Les No More.”

        And then there is this one:  “Here lies George Johnson. Hanged by mistake 1882.  He was right . We was wrongl But we strung him up and now he’s gone.”

        In Key West, Florida, there is supposed to be a gravestone that says, “See, I told you I was sick.”

        Even modern epitaphs show up with a bit of humor.  Comedian Rodney Dangerfield, who died in 2004, wrote his own epitath for his grave:  “Well, there goes the neighborhood.”

        But cemeteries can also be scary places.  And because of that, cemeteries can be a lot of fun.

        Several years ago I took a group of young people on a camping trip and next to the camp there was an old cemetery.  Late at night, I took them on a tour of the cemetery and I taught them that one of the best ways to read an old gravestone that has worn out lettering is to take a flashlight and shine it on the grave stone.  You don’t shine it directly on the gravestone, but at an angle.  That way all the shadows help you to read the shallow lettering that is almost worn away.

        We read several grave stones and were amazed at how old they were.  People who died in the Civil War.  A few who died in the Revolution. 

        I took the young people to the oldest grave in the cemetery and asked if they could read the old lettering.  It was hard to read.

        “Get closer,” I said.

        So one of the young people got closer.

        Still couldn’t make out anything.

        “Get closer,” I said.

        And he got closer.

        What he did not know, was that earlier that evening one of the other youth advisors had gone out to the cemetery.  It was late in the Fall and the leaves covered the ground.  The youth advisor had placed himself on top of that grave, laid back and relaxed, and covered himself with leaves.

        “Get closer,” I told the poor unsuspecting member of my youth group.

        He got real close.

        Suddenly a hand popped out of the leaves and grabbed the poor kid by the shirt collar.  He yelled and screamed and got free and took off running.

        It took almost an hour to find the kid.

        I don’t think I’m going to do that again!

        Of course, one of the reasons we go to cemeteries in not just to have fun – we go to pay our respects to the dead.

        To the dead – which means these are not breathing.  They don’t walk around.  They don’t pop out of the grave and grab unsuspecting youth by the shirt.

        Which brings us to our Scripture lesson for this morning.

        On Friday, Jesus died.

        He was buried very quickly because the Sabbath was about to begin, Saturday being the Sabbath day of rest in the Bible.

        He was buried so quickly that his body was not properly prepared for the burial.  So on Sunday morning, a group of women go to the cemetery to prepare Jesus for his eternal resting place. 

        Once there they find the tomb empty.  They see two men, apparently angels, who tell them that Jesus has risen from the dead and he is alive.  They remind the women that Jesus had told them this would happen, and the women remember the teachings of Christ. 

        They go tell the men, and the men don’t believe them.

        Well do you blame them.

        If one of your friends died and a couple of days later someone tells you your friend is alive again, the likelihood of you believing them is pretty slim.

        As Luke tells this story, Peter gets up and runs to the tomb.  He bends over and looks into the now-empty grave.  Then he leaves.  He just walks away, in the words of Luke, “wondering to himself what had happened.”

        Now eventually, Peter figures out what happened.  And so do the rest of the disciples and followers. 

        Luke later wrote the history of the early church in a book he called “The Acts of the Apostles,” or simply, “Acts.”  There he tells us that Jesus walked the earth for another 40 days – over a month!  Then he physically ascended into heaven.  He didn’t die a second time, but he continues to live.

        It occurs to me that by the time Jesus rose from the grave on the third day after his death, people had started to feel comfortable with Jesus being dead and buried.  I’m not saying they were not still grieving, but they were getting used to the fact that Jesus was dead and buried.  Some of them had gone back to their fishing boats, which they had left behind three years earlier.

        There is, after all, something comforting about following a dead leader.

        A dead leader will not challenge you too much.

        A dead leader is going to be predictable.

        A dead leader is safe.

        These women were probably going to the grave, not only to prepare Christ for permanent burial, but to start a new Christian ritual.  The church already had baptism.  The Sacrament of Holy Communion had just instituted.  Now these women were about to start the newest Church ritual – the pilgrimage to the tomb of Christ.

        There are, in fact, many people who would be perfectly happy to keep Christ dead and buried.

        There is, after all, something comforting about following a dead leader.

        A dead leader will not challenge you too much.

        A dead leader is going to be predictable.

        A dead leader is safe.

        But to follow a living Christ means we’re going to be challenged.

        To follow a living Christ means life will not always be predictable. 
        It will not always be safe.

        The living Christ tells us to love one another.  But a dead Christ – well, you can ignore a dead Christ and feel free to hate at least a few folks.

        The living Christ tells us to pray for our enemies.  Well, how many of us really want to do that?  That’s not easy.  It’s not pleasant.  But a dead Christ – well, you ignore him.

        A dead Christ is someone you can honor with a little worship now and then.  But a living Christ requires your constant devotion.

        There is something comforting about following a dead leader.

        A dead leader will not challenge you too much.

        A dead leader is going to be predictable.

        A dead leader is safe.

        However – a dead leader is as useless as a car with a dead battery.

        A dead Christ will not comfort you.

        A living Christ has the power to sustain you in times of difficulty, to raise you up when you stumble or fall.

        A dead Christ cannot forgive you.

        A living Christ forgives you, and frees you from all guilt.

        A dead Christ cannot do anything.

        But living Christ, can make all the difference in your life.

        Which brings me to a question – what are you doing here today?

        Are you seeking the dead among the living?

        Are you here to pay your respects to a dead Christ?

        Or are you here to follow the living Lord?

Copyright 2013, Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved. 
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