"Let us Live the Resurrection!"
 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus.  He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him.  And Joseph took the body, and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud,  and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock; and he rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb, and departed.  Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the sepulcher.  Next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate  and said, "Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, 'After three days I will rise again.'  Therefore order the sepulcher to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away, and tell the people, 'He has risen from the dead,' and the last fraud will 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 and made the sepulcher secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Easter Casket
A number of years ago, back when I was experimenting with visual aids in my sermons, I borrowed a real, actual, full-sized casket from a local funeral home--to drive home the message of Easter. That's was before I realized the Word of God needs no visual aid--and is the more powerful, when simply proclaimed and heard. When my good friend and colleague, Pr. Tyg found out what I was doing, he came down so that we could "explore" the casket and see how it worked. Chalk it up to the fact we were younger then, and curious. As we were looking at it, we had the bright idea to actually take turns getting in, and closing the lid--well, to see what it was like. How dark would it be? Would any light creep in? We would imagine being buried six feet underground. We were young and curious. However, knowing each other as we do, before getting into the casket, we made a pact that there would be no joking around, no locking the lock on the lid, so that we would be sealed into the casket, because first, being sealed in a casket would be a whole different thing than just "trying it out"--and second, because we didn't have the little tool that is needed to un-seal the casket, once sealed. And, as you can see, we both kept our word, and so, here I am.
Sealing Up Death
How odd it's always seemed to me, that there is a lock on the lids of caskets, to actually seal them up. Is it to keep someone in, or out? Or, does it have a more primordial meaning? Might the locking seal on caskets touch on our ancient fear of death, and our all-too-human desire to seal up death, to lock it away, to compartmentalize death so that it can't get out and cause us pain and grief? Maybe in the beginning it had some practical purpose--but now, I see it as something of a metaphor for our human, especially modern attitude toward death. Because death interrupts our lives, because death robs us of our days, because death is seen as a tragedy, because we fear that death will come to us at a time and place not of our own choosing, we humans, especially we American humans, prefer to seal death up so that it can't get to us, and we can go on about our business. Surely, that's why so many of us ignore the fact of our own death, why we fail to prepare for the eventuality of death, and hesitate to even, ever discuss death with our loved ones. Sorry, can't talk about it, because it's all sealed up where we can't get to it.
Sealing Up Jesus
While tomorrow, we will have as our Gospel reading St. Luke's account of the resurrection of our Lord, one of the two options for tonight is Matthew's account, not of the resurrection, but of the burial of Jesus. In each of the Gospel accounts, there is some description of the stone being rolled in front of the tomb, but in Matthew's gospel, there is much greater detail. There, we read that Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus' body, laid it in a new tomb, and rolled a great stone in front of the door of the tomb. But it seems that wasn't enough, so that the next day, the chief priests and Pharisees gathered before Pilate and, worried that Jesus said He would be raised after three days, asked Pilate to make the sepulcher even more secure. So, Pilate allowed them to take a guard of soldiers, and they went to the tomb, and Matthew tells us, "they made the sepulcher secure by sealing the stone, and setting a guard."
Now, isn't that interesting? The great stone had already been set in place--and we read in the Gospels that it was so heavy the women were concerned about having it removed after the Sabbath so that they could properly anoint and prepare Jesus' body. But still, the stone itself wasn't enough so that the chief priests, Pharisees and soldiers actually sealed the stone in place--and then, guarded it! And we wonder whether they were trying to keep the disciples out, or Jesus in! In the great history of salvation, here was humanity, trying once and for all to seal God up, to entomb God's Son, so that He could--so that He would no longer interfere with human life, and human wishes, wants and desires. Once again, humanity thinks it can seal up death--close it up, roll a stone in front of it, and be done with it. Jesus came and confronted men and women with the reality of death, and the possibility of new life, resurrected life in Him. And we children of this world arrested Him, tortured Him, nailed Him to a cross to die, and buried Him in a tomb--so that He would bother us no more--so that we could go on living without having to think about, or consider, or confront the reality of our own mortality. And isn't that what many of us continue to do, year after year, day after day? We live as if we will live forever; we ignore death completely; when death draws near, we are troubled that death has come calling for us--when we thought we were immune, safe, secure--had death all locked away.
And yet, that's why Jesus was resurrected. That's why Jesus exploded from the tomb, alive again! Not only to confront us with our own mortality, but to comfort us with the promise of life, after death. The great passage from Ezekiel, about Israel, all dried up and lifeless, without hope for the future, ends not with death, but with the promise of the Lord God, who instructs Ezekiel to prophesy, saying to the people, "Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; I will put my Spirit within you and you shall live...then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord."
This is why Jesus was raised from death, not to wander the earth as a specter, keeping us frightened of death, haunting us with His ghostly presence--but to promise us, to assure us that what came upon us through the sin of the First Adam, death--would now be undone by the New Adam, Jesus, resurrected to break open the seal on our caskets, to prove to us, not the reality of death, but the reality of life. St. Paul writes in our reading from Romans, "therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his." And this new life, is not just life after death, but new life now--as the hope of never-ending life, gives us reason and purpose for the living of these days. St. Paul writes in First Corinthians 15 to explain the nature of death and resurrection, culminating in his proclamation that "Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory--victory over death, through our Lord Jesus Christ." And then Paul concludes, "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord, your labor is not in vain."
Unsealing Death and Life
This is why God the Father raised Jesus from the dead--because the truth is, when we think we are sealing up death, we are really sealing up life. Being afraid of death causes us to be afraid of life, being afraid of living fully, not as human beings, but as children of God. Like the women in Luke's resurrection account who went to the tomb and found it unsealed and open, we can be terrified by the reality and uncertainty of death, unsure how to live, unsure what to make of life, with death always hovering around us. And how are we to live, now that the tomb is open, death is overcome, and because Jesus lives, we will live!
How Are We to Live?
The women, having experienced the open tomb, remembered Jesus' words, and returned, and told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. This is how we are to live--telling all this to all who will listen. We are to live, not afraid to spread the good news of death and resurrection--proclaiming the actual, factual resurrection of Jesus from death, as St. Paul encourages us, "being steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain." We are to always abound in the work of the Lord, announcing to those who live in fear of death, the hope and promise of resurrection. We are to be steadfast, immovable as we proclaim that Jesus who was crucified, is risen. We are to live as the resurrected people we are--we are to live fully, as those who have died in Christ, and been made alive in Christ. We are to live courageously and boldly, knowing that as Christ has been raised from the dead, we, too, can live in newness of life. So, let us live, not afraid of death--not ignoring death--not bound by the reality of our own mortality--but let us live, full of the life of Jesus Christ, in us--not dead and buried, not sealed up in a tomb, but risen--as He promised when He said, "that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again." Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Let us live the resurrection!
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.