Last Sunday ended with these words:
"Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him. Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.
The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, "Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, `After three days I will rise again.' Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, `He has been raised from the dead,' and the last deception would be worse than the first." Pilate said to them, "You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can." So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone."
The stone blocking the tomb was sealed. It was sealed against any deception that might be perpetrated on the people. Like a letter with a big blob of wax imprinted with the seal of the sender, like a triple locked door of an apartment in the inner city, the stone covering of the door of the tomb received a seal of the Roman Empire. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary saw it and the guards saw it. It was over - death was final - no going back. It was the end.
How often in our lives do we have times when we are as stuck as that tomb? Hearts sealed tight - holding ourselves in so we won't be hurt any more than we already are.
As a Larry Warren of Knoxville, TN says:
"A time of when all you could do was weep ... triggered perhaps by
Words from a doctor "I'm sorry the tests confirmed that it is malignant."
A phone call in the night "There's been an accident, come to the emergency room right away."
Words from your employer "We are going to have to let you go."
Words from a parent to a young child "You know honey that Mommy and Daddy have not been getting along lately. We have decided to get a divorce."
These are times we pull the cave around us and seal the doors against everything. Words intended for hope and comfort seem empty and meaningless. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary come to the this place on that Easter Sunday 2000 years ago. They come with hearts sealed against hope, hearts heavy with grief and hands heavy with the things of death.
In the creative chaos of the moment they discover that it is not the tomb of rock that contains death and despair - that thief of hearts - Jesus - has slipped out into life and is now knocking on the sealed tombs of their hearts. Knocking, asking, seeking to be allowed into our places of despair and death and hopelessness. Calling us out like so many Lazurus' - be unbound, come follow me. Death is conquered. Christ is Risen.
It does not always happen in an instant - often it takes the word of someone who has been in this place before us. Christ speaks through those who have taken this journey and come through to a new place - a place of life and hope. Sometimes it is the healing of nature - Don Clendenin puts it like this:
"Despite the shadows of death that darken our world, if you look carefully you see Easter resurrection breaking out everywhere. In the boisterous laughter of a child rollicking with the family dog. In the bright orange poppies, red azaleas, yellow daffodils, pink dogwoods, and white apple blossoms that paint the neighborhood in an extravaganza of spring-time color. In a leisurely dinner with neighbors. In the human creativity of art and architecture, film and music, painting and photography. In the self-sacrificial goodness of so many people the world over. Magic is in the air."
Or in this poem by John Niehardt, 1908
Once more the northbound Wonder
Brings back the goose and crane,
Prophetic Sons of Thunder,
Apostles of the Rain.
In many a battling river
The broken gorges boom;
Behold, the Mighty Giver
Emerges from the tomb!
Now robins chant the story
Of how the wintry sward
Is litten with the glory
Of the Angel of the Lord.
His countenance is lightning
And still His robe is snow,
As when the dawn was brightening
Two thousand years ago.
O who can be a stranger
To what has come to pass?
The Pity of the Manger
Is mighty in the grass.
Undaunted by Decembers,
The sap is faithful yet.
The giving Earth remembers,
And only men forget.
We do forget - but today we are reminded - as St. Paul says in his letter to the Romans - nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Jesus goes ahead of us - he is the beginning, the path and the end of our journey.
The seal upon our hearts that he offers is reflected in this passage from Song of Solomon
"Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If one offered for love all the wealth of one's house, it would be utterly scorned. Song of Solomon 8: 6-7