Jeremiah 31: 1-6 131
Matthew 27: 62-66; 132
28: 1-15 48
The Stone that Sealed His Tomb
(Easter Sunday Sermon)
Rev. Kit Billings
March 31, 2002
Recently I spent some time in the little imaginary coffee shop in my mind, to think about the central theme of the New Testament. I asked the Lord to join me in a cup of Java, and to help me see into the truth of my earnest query. Then suddenly a blessed thought crossed my mind, as if a kind waitress came by to check on us, and then spoke these thoughtful words,
"Though He were dead, yet shall He live, and rise again on the third day!"
Why might Christ's Resurrection represent the kernel of Good News offered in the Gospels? What is it about it that infuses a brilliant and warm sense of goodness into life everywhere? Easter deals with these questions. May I now ask you two more?
Have you ever found yourself in a spiritual place…a place inside of you…where you truly doubted whether the Lord was PERSONALLY PRESENT with you…whether God was Personally loving and caring for you at a particular moment or period in your life? Ever question if Jesus' Divinity is REAL??
If so, then You are FAR FROM ALONE! You probably do not remember the name Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin nor should you. But during his day he was as powerful a man as there was on earth. A Russian Communist leader he took part in the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, was editor of the Soviet newspaper Pravda (which by the way means truth), and was a full member of the Politburo. His works on economics and political science are still read today.
There is a story told about a journey he took from Moscow to Kiev in 1930 to address a huge assembly on the subject of atheism. Addressing the crowd he aimed his heavy artillery at Christianity hurling insult, argument, and proof against it. An hour later he was finished. He looked out at what seemed to be the smoldering ashes of men's faith.
"Are there any questions?" Bukharin demanded. Deafening silence filled the auditorium but then one man approached the platform and mounted the lectern standing near the communist leader. He surveyed the crowd first to the left then to the right. Finally he shouted the ancient greeting known well in the Russian Orthodox Church:
"CHRIST IS RISEN!"
En masse the crowd arose as one man and the response came crashing like the sound of thunder: "HE IS RISEN INDEED!"
Whenever a human being, or an entire society, struggles deeply with one or more of these internal doubts or false ideas I mentioned at the outset, we can say that he has spiritually allowed the Lord God to be sealed up inside his own personally built "tomb" inside the mind. That is, when we allow ourselves to feel and believe that Jesus isn't what He said He was…when we allow ourselves to be fooled for whatever reason to think that the SPIRITUAL TRUTH of Easter isn't true. That is, that the GLORY,…and JOY…and MEANING of Easter isn't real.
The questions I began with underlie the spiritual basis of why it was that Jesus Christ was not only placed within a tomb, but also why He was sealed up carefully within it that Friday evening as Passover began. The Jewish religious leadership could sense so poignantly that Jesus Christ was too much for them to handle. In Jesus, God was just TOO CLOSE to them…His Love and His joy was setting people free from the shackles of all their rigid ritualism and religious legalism.
They were afraid inside of losing control, and losing egotistical power. The Pharisees and the Scribes are in this story, in part, to help us see a reflection of them within our hearts and minds today.
All of our Lord's closest and Most loving friends and Disciples (both men and women) believed that He was truly Dead after He breathed His last on the cross. They were wounded inside believing that their loving, wise and inspiring Master was gone, even though He made it clear to them again and again that He would "rise again on the third day."
They were all experiencing one or both of these basic feelings based on their belief: SADNESS and FEAR. The women felt much more sadness than fear obviously, while the male disciples were experiencing tremendous fear. Sometimes our Fears may take on a Rather Dark quality, which try to actively and, perhaps, maliciously SEAL UP the Lord within a Mental Tomb.
The truth about these dark forces in God's Word, which is supported by our comprehensive New Church theology, is that THE HELLS ARE REAL. They had their grip on the Jewish Church by and large back then. The Hells really enjoy fear, that is, they love it when they can manipulate us into feeling afraid inside. The spirits (or people) of that realm also love cultivating depression and meaninglessness. The spirits of Hell love it because it makes it easy to control others by means of these psychological demons.
And they have Many Various forms of Fear to Use against us. Such as when we're passionately afraid to let too much love from God inside our hearts due to terrible low self-esteem, and so we try to make darn sure that the Lord won't reach us. Or when we're actually, deep-down afraid of humbling ourselves, afraid of losing that "sense of control" in life by wanting to hold God in a small, dark and dingy place inside our minds. Sometimes people just plain don't like God, and DEEP DOWN they're afraid of Him…then they attempt to mentally and spiritually seal God up the way the Pharisees attempted to seal in Jesus with a mortar like substance.
Let's make note of that fact: Not only was there a huge stone used, but they COMPOUNDED the seal by using mortar as well. Do you ever find such a grand and masterful burial of Jesus being done within your own heart and mind?
Our human fears come in many forms. Some of them are the fear of losing my earthly possessions; the fear of not being the most powerful nation on earth; of losing my earthly power; the fear of losing my health, of dying, of NOT BEING LOVED ENOUGH.
The oh so active and sometimes cleaver and intelligent spirits (or people) of Hell know what tools work well to help them cultivate their goals. Some of them enjoy working primarily through our will and affections to spread their agenda of fear in life. While others love the use of another tool: LARGE FALSE IDEAS. Large rocks or boulders represent BIG, BASIC thoughts we have about things. Large rocks correspond to true ideas or thoughts when they enable us to stand strong on a spiritual truth of some kind.
One example of this would be the Ten Commandments, which are spiritual and Divine Laws that give people something solid to stand on every day-spiritual principles and truths that never give way no matter how strenuous or difficult life gets. Or when we internalize the truth that I should love others as I truly want to be loved. And then there's Peter's confession regarding Christ as Messiah: "upon this rock I will build my church," the Lord said.
However, massive stones may also correspond to or represent HUGE FALSE IDEAS (or beliefs) as well, depending upon the context in which they are used. And when they do, they can function as a barrier to SPIRITUAL TRUTH, JOY, PEACE AND STRENGTH. Easter is here to allow the Lord's angels to come, if needed, in an "internal earthquake in your mind, and roll away your "spiritual stones of falsity."
Mary Rose Betten, Catholic lay leader and playwright, was directing a children's Easter performance and overseeing the casting so that each child felt comfortable with his or her role. One boy insisted he wanted to be the rock in front of the garden tomb. "Wouldn't you like to have a speaking role?" she asked him. But he would have no other. The presentation went smoothly. Once again, she asked the boy why he wanted to play the rock. His smile beamed at her and he said, "Oh, it felt so good to let Jesus out of the tomb."
On Easter Sunday, our Lord and His armies of angels want to alleviate barriers of "spiritual stone!" God wants to roll away such stones of falsity from our minds. Why you ask? So that God might foster His peace. "Do not be afraid," Jesus said. "I am here. I am Risen."
Then the Lord told those spiritually glowing women to go and tell His disciples what they had seen, and that He would see them again in Galilee. Now, today, we each need to allow our God-given reasoning powers--our rational mind--represented by the male disciples to be instructed and led by our deep love and feelings we have inside about the Lord, which the women in this story symbolize.
After Christ rose from that grave, after He got up from that cold slab of concrete and took in the strange air around Him, smelling of fresh herbs and spices, and then gradually walked out of His tomb into the sunshine and the beauty of the garden was there all around Him…after Jesus our Lord came back to life, now fully Divine and Glorified, His FULLEST MINISTRY would soon begin. For then He began making personal and inspiring visits to people who felt WITHOUT HOPE, trodden with fear, lost in depression, afraid to fully live and love.
The Lord, with His Divine Love, could now reach all of His blessed human children on earth better by appearing in Person, or within the warm thoughts and personal touch of others.
Joyce Hollyday tells the story of a schoolteacher who was assigned to visit children in a large city hospital who received a routine call requesting that she visit a particular child. The teacher took the boy's name and room number, and was told by the teacher on the other end of the line, "We're studying nouns and adverbs in this class now. I'd be grateful if you could help him with his homework, so he doesn't fall behind the others."
It wasn't until the visiting teacher got outside the boy's room that she realized that it was located in the hospital's burn unit. No one had prepared her to find a young boy horribly burned and in great pain.
The teacher felt that she couldn't just turn around and walk out. And so she stammered awkwardly, "I'm the hospital teacher, and your teacher sent me to help you with nouns and adverbs." This boy was in so much pain that he barely responded. The young teacher stumbled through his English lesson, ashamed at putting him through such a senseless exercise.
The next morning a nurse on the burn unit asked her, "What did you do to
that boy?" Before the teacher could finish her outburst of apologies, the nurse interrupted her: "You don't understand. We've been very worried about him. But ever since you were here yesterday, his whole attitude has changed. He's fighting back; he's responding to treatment. It's as if he has decided to live."
The boy later explained that he had completely given up hope until he saw the teacher. It all changed when he came to a simple realization. With joyful tears, the boy said: "They wouldn't send a teacher to work on nouns and adverbs with a boy who was dying, would they?"
This wonderful story invites us to celebrate the gift of life even when all we seem to see around us is pain and disappointment and brokenness. It shows us that on the other side of pain, there is RESURRECTION! It reminds us of what is possible whenever there is hope.
Jesus Christ rising again to new, Glorified life symbolizes the great power of His Divinity to rule over hopelessness and fear! His Divine Love is truly more powerful than anything else in existence.
It was a "violent earthquake" from Heaven that rolled back that enormous stone. The angel that did the work was DAZZLING! The power of truth shining from his very being was likened to LIGHTNING. He came to let Jesus out!
God's Divine-Human Presence in life was unstopable…and that angel was the privileged worker of that Power. Nothing would keep Jesus down. Will you do the same? Isn't it time that all of us, and the whole world, let Jesus Christ out of His tomb?…for good! God is saying that He is here…right here beside you…as the Risen and Glorified Christ, bringing His Divine Love and Wisdom right into your life whenever you truly want it.
HAPPY EASTER EVERYONE!