“Come, See Where He Lay”
One day in Chicago, two men were walking along a noisy street
amid the sounds of motors running, tires squealing, horns honking,
loud construction equipment, and people hollering. One of the men,
an avid camper and outdoorsman, suddenly stopped. He listened
intently for a moment and then walked over to a nearby window box
and pointed to a chirping cricket. “How on earth could you possibly
have heard that cricket in all this noise?!” shouted his friend.
In reply, the outdoorsman removed a quarter from his pocket
and dropped it on the sidewalk. Immediately, half a dozen or so
passers-by turned and looked. “You see?” he loudly replied. “We hear
what we are listening for!”
It is a point well made. We all live in the same world, but we
have different ways of perceiving it, and different ways of hearing
what’s happening in it. Some hear only the thunder, only the obvious.
Others live expectantly, listening and looking for evidence of the
presence and power of the Lord. The difference is in us, how we
choose to experience life.
The resurrected Christ was seen and heard by those with the
eyes and ears of faith. It was, by the biblical account, on the first day
of the week, early in the morning. We see weeping women at the
gravesite: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome –
the wife of Zebedee. They had loved their Lord in life, stood by him in
his suffering, and clung to him at the cross…and now his apparently
lifeless corpse is the object of their affectionate mourning. And so, in
the grayness of dawn they have left their cottage to come to the
tomb. But they have overlooked one significant fact: The grave would
be blocked by a great stone. This would be sealed with an imperial
signet, and it would be posted with one or more guards. So how will
they get inside to cover the body with burial spices? Who will roll
away that massive stone? Not waiting long enough to figure out an
answer, they press onward toward the sepulcher, and coming upon it
they exclaim, “Look! It’s already rolled away!”
And since Christ’s resurrection, so it has been with many other
great stones: the difficult, heavy stones of doubt that sometimes
block our faith and our faithfulness; the stones that stand over the
graves of our loved ones and seem to insist that their demise is
permanent; or, the stones that will one day make the same claim
about each of us. But when Jesus’ stone was rolled away, all other
stones were also removed! Until that moment, however, the mood
was one of fear and despair. The entire world, unbeknownst to most,
was momentarily lost…dead. Love was eclipsed for three days, and
hope hung lifeless on a cross atop a hill. Jesus, the Christ, was dead.
The place where our Lord lay was in the tomb of Joseph of
Arimathea. Most of us have visited the gravesites of many honored
friends and family members over the years. We have gone to trim
back grass or weeds, to plant shrubs or place flowers, and even to talk
to our departed loved ones and remember the value of their lives
until our eyes grow misty and overflow with tears. The gravesite is all
too often where our heart’s treasure and our memories are
enshrined. These women had gone for that very experience. “Come
and see where the Lord lay,” invited the angel. This was the tomb of
the dearest friend they’d ever had. He had loved them so much, they
remembered, and now he had given himself up completely for them.
He really was the good shepherd, of whom he had spoken, who’d laid
down his life for his sheep. It was love that had led him to endure the
insults, the sentence of the unjust judge, the torture and cruel death,
and the humiliation of a depraved criminal’s execution. Yes, it was out
of love that he became the spectacle of humanity. Truly, “Greater love
has no one than this….”
Jesus was dead, just as all people must die. His grave was like a
subterranean tunnel – no light, no rays of sun to brighten. Surely the
depths of hell could hardly have contained its satisfaction. It had done
its best at doing its worst. But even as Satan exulted in his victory, a
voice from heaven pierced through that sealed sepulcher…the
mysterious, all-powerful voice of God. Exactly how it happened is not
recorded, of course, but at some point, the grave cloths drop from the
body, and without the help of human hands they are bundled
together and laid aside. A napkin-type covering falls from his face, and
a stream of vital fluid begins once again to course through his veins.
And the limbs that a moment before had been stiff and stilled by
death twitch and go into intentional motion. The Savior rises, slowly
and majestically. He rises in glory indescribable. He rises by his
Father’s will and power over death. He…has…conquered…the…grave!
And in hell Satan emits an ungodly scream over losing his grandest
prize. He was certain that he had won, but now he convulses and
writhes in anger…and then…terror! If Jesus could escape even death,
by what means could the evil one possibly defeat him?!
The angels of God had come down to do Jesus honor. One had
rolled away the stone to open the grave. Outside, the Roman guards,
who’d been posted with orders under penalty of death, became
mortified and pretended to be dead themselves. The very earth
rumbled for joy under the feet of its risen King. All of nature adorned
itself in its finest spring attire and joined in celebrating the
Redeemer’s triumph. And on all sides echoed the proclamation, “He is
not here, for he is risen, just as he said! Come, see the place where he
Now we have visited that empty tomb, if only in our
imaginations. Need we ask why he arose? By his death he paid our
debt; in his resurrection we received our acquittal. Had no one been a
sinner, Jesus would not have died; had Jesus been a sinner, he would
not have risen. Perhaps nowhere else does God so clearly state –
without using words – as He does with the empty tomb: “This is my
beloved Son, in whose person and work, and in whose life and death,
I am well pleased.”
Salvation’s work is finished: the debt paid, justice satisfied, the
Law fulfilled, obedience rendered, sin put away and righteousness
brought in, Satan vanquished and God glorified! It is the consent of
heaven to erase the handwriting that testified against us.
The popular British author, C.S. Lewis, once challenged his
audience to face the issues posed by Jesus, the risen Lord. He wrote:
“I am trying to prevent anyone from saying the really foolish things
that people often say about him (like): ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a
great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.’ That is
the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and
said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.
He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is
a poached egg – or else he would be the devil of hell. You must make
your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a
madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool. You can
spit at him and kill him as a demon, or you can fall at his feet and call
him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense
about his being a great human teacher – that is to bury him in the
tomb and keep him there.” Thus says Mr. Lewis.
Come, then, let’s see the places where we have laid him:
Sometimes he has been buried in the well-intentioned but confusing
wording of a creed; or wrapped up in the winding sheets of
philosophy; or imprisoned in stained glass windows, figures rich in
color but far removed from life; or buried in a Book, respected from a
safe distance; or shut up in an organization whose loftily-stated
purposes and goals, if any, bear no resemblance to what actually
happens. We have boxed him up snugly in an arena that we call
“religion” and deal with mostly on Sundays, if even then. Let Jesus
and his ideas and his unconventional lifestyle stay in these catacombs,
we say by our actions, and not get loose where they could surely
inconvenience us and make trouble for us!
But Jesus has the ability to see right through us and to break out
of all these man-made tombs. He rises to live in us, and yet…he does
not force his way in. Instead, he stands at the door and politely knocks
– gently and tenderly calling us to repentance in him and to an
abundant life in his service and in his name.
Among the currents in the Atlantic Ocean is something known as
the Great Gulf Stream. It has been called a river in the ocean, an idea
that I find absolutely mind-boggling! But the water in this Gulf Stream
is, on the average, twenty degrees higher in temperature than the
surrounding ocean. It manages to keep its waters distinct from those
of the sea on either side of it so that, I am told, the human eye can
actually trace the line of contact. It retains its own distinct identity for
virtually thousands of miles, greatly influencing the Atlantic Ocean,
keeping one-fourth of its waters in constant motion.
We Christians, who are risen with Christ, are to be like that Gulf
Stream. We are in the ocean of this world, but we are not to be
conformed to it. We have a higher temperature (that is, a higher
calling). Our influence is to be great, and always for the good. We
keep the dead waters from stagnation and in healthy movement. We
are the contemporary presence of Jesus Christ in our world. And the
implication of that statement is that we get to decide whether he is
left lying in the grave this Easter, or if instead he is resurrected. Our
faith can either be a living entity or a dead corpse. We will either be
active as fishers of men, or settle for being keepers of an ancient
aquarium. We can say to others with respect to our Christian faith,
“Come, see where he lay before coming to life again,” or “Come see
where I keep his dead body in commemoration of my fallen hero.”
“See where he lay,” or “See where he lies.” We offer a clear
indication of our choice to people every single day of the
year…whether we mean to or not, and whether they ask for it or not.
Some of you are military veterans. I am not. I have never sailed
on a battleship, dug a foxhole, aimed a gun at an advancing enemy, or
dropped bombs from an aircraft. I bear no battle scars, have made no
sacrifice of my body, nor endured any hardship of war. Yet here I am,
a free man. I enjoy the liberties of a nation that strives to maintain its
freedoms. How can this be, if I have paid no price? I am the
beneficiary of liberty bought and paid for by those who bravely waved
goodbye at train stations and airline terminals. Many of these never
returned to embrace their families again, and some who did bear
serious physical and/or emotional scars, the heavy price of freedom. I
thank God for these veterans who, like Jesus, were willing to make
the ultimate sacrifice for others.
Likewise, on that first Easter, though I never fired a shot, the
enemy was defeated, the forces of evil routed, and the victory that
was won is also mine. It was achieved for me; the price was paid for
me. Gethsemane, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Calvary…the blood,
the crisis, the defeat, the catastrophe, the death…in all of these, evil
unleashed its sharpest sword. But in the end, the hour belonged not
to the henchmen of hell but to the Lord! It was “my hour,” he said.
Peace came after that war, and his peace becomes our peace as we
embrace his victory. His victory over death, the devil, and even the
grave, belongs to us. Why, then, would we ever choose to deny this
victory and be anything else but free?
“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
Yes, come see where he lay…but know this:
Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed!)
Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed!)
Christ…is…risen! (He is risen indeed!)
God of love, the world is different today because of a dreaded
virus. But it is also different in a much more positive way because of
you! Signs of new life and new beginnings are everywhere. We rejoice
as we celebrate today, for this is the day that the stones of our lives
are rolled aside and the mantle of darkness is lifted. The virus has not
been defeated, but you have conquered even death, so we need not
fear whatever may befall. We celebrate, then, the resurrection of
your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ!
Still, we know that many of your children on this earth live with
little hope because of their brokenness, sadness, illness, and tragedy,
despite the presence of the Risen Christ. There are those of your
children – who are also our sisters and brothers – who mourn and are
troubled, who feel their lives have lost meaning. Touch them today,
we pray, with your transforming power, so that their woes may
become joy, their despair turn to hope, and their defeats become
victories. Strengthen us, too, in our resolve to make this a fairer and
more just nation, so that the scourges of prejudice, poverty, injustice,
and oppression may one day be eradicated in our land of plenty, and
we may sing in celebration that, “We have overcome!” Let it be so,
Bless with common sense and compassion those who would
govern. Give them empathy and a recognition of their responsibility.
Help the parties to come together and see how they may better serve
the people through understanding and a greater measure of your
grace. May those on both sides of the aisle who claim to embrace you,
learn how to embrace one another as well.
Lord Jesus, we are your Easter people this day, made alive by
your rising from the dead. The world around us is different today
because of you, and we are different today because of you. We praise
you, and we offer back to you now that prayer you once gave us to
say together as a family of faith:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come; they will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,
for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory
The Charge and the Benediction
Take heart and be of good courage! Our Lord has already
overcome the world; the world just doesn’t know it yet! But we do, so
we must not lose hope that we will one day see the final victory. For
May the grace, mercy, and peace of God the Father,
the rich, rich love of Jesus Christ the Son,
and the abiding presence and power of the Holy Spirit,
remain with us and live within us
until we meet again! Amen!
Be at peace, and love and serve the Lord! God be with you!
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“A View from the Donkey’s Back”
The triumphal entry of our Lord into Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday was the most famous parade in history. It was strictly a pick-up procession, starting from the suburbs of Bethany, up the hill from the Mount of Olives from Jerusalem, and was about two miles distance from the city gate known as The Beautiful Gate. That gate has long since been sealed over, but the arches still show in the wall.
The population of Jerusalem was about 120,000 in Jesus’ time, and the city was jammed with thousands more visitors for the Passover celebration. It was a perfect time for the Messiah to come into the city. It was likely a straggly procession, with Jesus on the donkey, and the donkey’s colt plodding alongside of them; then, the cluster of disciples, and close followers either running ahead to spread palm branches or trailing along behind. Continue reading Pastor’s Sermon April 5, 2020 Palm Sunday
John 11:1-6, 11-15, 20-27, 32-45
On the property of the Parkville Presbyterian Camp, north of Kansas City, Missouri, is an old, decrepit cemetery. Imagine, if you will, the telling of the following story in hushed tones in this cemetery, very late on a moonlit night, in the midst of twenty-five or thirty spellbound junior high young people. 😉 In the center of this ancient burial ground is the sunken grave of a twelve-year-old girl, whose tragic death occurred on the very night of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. The little girl, Molly Wade, was a good, if precocious, lass, who loved to play with her mother’s beads. Jewelry fascinated the girl, and she especially enjoyed taking apart and hiding the beads of her mother’s many necklaces. Continue reading Pastor’s Sermon March 29, 2020
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I Samuel 16:1-13
“Believing Is Seeing”
There are many barren little towns in South Dakota, as you might well imagine. In one of these towns, named Wessington, there is a small Presbyterian church that did not start out as a church at all. It was the central South Dakota headquarters for…the Ku Klux Klan. In the early days of the 20th century, there were few African Americans within a hundred miles of Wessington, South Dakota, but it was the philosophy the Klan espoused that made a chapter viable there. Their sick beliefs applied, of course, to Native Americans, Jews, and to the Chinese people who were out there working on the railroads, as well as to the African Americans. Bigotry, it seems, can find a target anywhere. This is as true today as ever, although the language of bigotry, especially among politicians, is more creatively disguised and is expressed in what we now call dog whistles.