Call to Worship
We are not eyewitnesses to an event, as were Mary and the disciples.
We have not journeyed through a dangerous city to seek answers or consolation.
We have not seen angels gathering at the rim of this day or wept in the garden this morning because we could not find the body.
But we join the worship and praise of God this morning to attest to a story that has not lost its power over twenty centuries of change and conflict.
We worship because those before us carried this story as if it were precious gold; cherished it as if it were the key to a hidden wisdom.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, let us make room in our hearts for celebration and awe.
What you are about to hear again, has the capacity to change the world.
Our worship this day attests to the rising up of life from the tomb of despair, and to the uncontrollable power of God.
It is Easter morning again: and we will celebrate.
Surprising God, when everything was dark, and it seemed the sun would never shine again, your love broke through. Your love was too strong, too wide, too deep for death to hold. The sparks cast by your love dance and spread with resurrection light. Gracious God, we praise you for the light of new life made possible through Jesus. We praise you for the light of new life that shined on the first witnesses of the resurrection. We praise you for the light of new life that continues to glow in our hearts this day. We pray that your resurrection light of life, hope, and joy, will burst forth from within us each day; and that we will be bearers of that same light into the lives of others. In the name of the risen Christ, we pray. Amen.
Scripture Lesson/ Matthew 27:62-28:10 (NRSV)
62The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate 63and said, “Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’
64Therefore 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.” 65Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.” 66So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.
1After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” 8So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to tell his disciples. 9Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
I find it puzzling that you would want to hear from me. I’m a rather large, but common rock. You can find us just about anywhere. Usually, we stay put…occupying the same space, patiently waiting and enduring, for eons with only the weather doing anything to change us. We’re simply part of the scenery. Other than geologists, most people just take us for granite. I guess you’ve probably heard the one about the detective and his apprentice who discovered an interesting rock while looking for clues. Examining the rock with his magnifying glass, the apprentice pondered aloud, “I wonder if this is igneous or metamorphic? To which the astute detective declared: “It’s sedimentary, my dear Watson.” Sorry about that…I don’t run into very many people to talk to.
I will say that, unlike most rocks, my story is quite remarkable. As I said before, I’m a common, garden variety of rock. I’m not like one of those rare, precious gems that get fashioned into fine jewelry. They’re a bit uppity for my tastes but still, in the hands of a fine jeweler, they do look amazing. Over the millennia, I had come to accept my lot in life. I was a rock and, unless I was quarried by someone who had found a distinct purpose for me, I would simply stand by and painstakingly watch erosion take its toll on me. But the story I must share with you this morning turned my world literally upside down.
One morning, as I was snoozing in the sun, a small lizard sitting on my shoulder enjoying the invigorating rays, a couple of men came towards me and began chipping away with hammer and chisel. They were removing some of my rough edges. I don’t know why the disapproved of my appearance. If I could live with it, what concern was it of theirs? I’d never asked for a facelift. But I could tell that I was becoming smoother, more uniform in shape, ever rounding out the jagged edges until I came to resemble something like a large wheel. To be honest, I thought the men a bit daft. I am far too heavy to be a used as a wheel, even for the largest of oxcarts or wagons. Besides, most wheelwrights have moved on from stone to wood. But the longer these men worked, the more wheel-like I became. They kind of flattened me out on top and on the bottom but the sides were as round as a pancake.
After all those eons of inertia, my thoughts began to run wild with all the things for which I might be used. Perhaps I was going to be used as a milling stone, using my weight and girth to help crush wheat into flour for bread. Or maybe they were going to use me as part of some sort of construction project. Maybe as the base of a monument or statue. Now that would be a position of class. But then I thought about the children climbing all over me and, the pigeons! Oh, please, not that. After a short while—believe me, as someone who has been sitting around a long time, almost anything seems short—the men had completed my facelift. They called over some other men and tilted me up on my rounded rim. Oh, boy! I was as excited as I was dizzy. You know, the kind of feeling you get when you’ve sat for a lengthy period of time and then get up suddenly? They started rolling me from where I had been all my life toward an opening in the side of a small hill in some sort of garden. It was a slow roll because I am so heavy, which allowed me to look around at my new surroundings. There was a table-like slab of rock inside that I assumed was constructed to hold something. I was really confused by what I saw but another huge stone that had a shape similar to mine spoke up and told me that the chamber was called a tomb, a room where a body would be placed after a person had died. Before I had the opportunity to lament this dreadful use, the other stone told me that I was quite fortunate because that freshly constructed tomb belonged to a wealthy and influential man named Joseph who was a member of the ruling religious council. My thoughts were interrupted as the men rolled me past the opening and leaned me against the side of the hill. I was on a slope with some other stones wedged under me to keep me from rolling on my own. Positioned that way, I could be easily rolled back toward the opening and it would be difficult to roll me back up the hill and away from the opening once I had been put in place.
So, there I was, resting in one place and waiting. At least there was a bit of new scenery to enjoy. My mind continued to wander. One question that kept bothering me was why they needed a stone in the first place? I mean, why would a tomb need to be sealed? It’s not likely the dead person was going to get out. All I could think of was that the stone was intended to keep others out rather than the dead in. I guessed that animals or children or other curiosity-seekers might wander in for various reasons—which would be awfully disrespectful of the deceased inside. That must be the reason—my reason—my job was to keep people out.
As I continued leaning, there were rumblings of rumors coursing through the underground, so to speak. Graveyards are full of that kind of thing. Stories were passed that there were crucifixions taking place that day. The Romans liked to use very public capital punishment as a way of discouraging the riffraff. It crossed, get it, “crossed,”—it crossed my mind that that this surely wouldn’t affect us. After all, criminals almost never get buried, especially in such a fine tomb as this.
Just about noon, the sky got really dark—I mean, eerie dark, not just “slightly overcast with a chance of showers” dark—I mean dark, dark! It lasted for about three hours. This was just odd. I felt tremors, vibrations in the ground around me. Suddenly, I felt the earth beneath my lower flattened rim begin to convulse. And then it happened, a full-fledged earthquake! The ground shook and bounced against the side of the hill so hard that I nearly fell over on my face. The stones wedged to hold me in place shook with me but were able to hold their ground which, in turn, kept me from tipping over. It was as if the heavens and the earth were having some sort of violent allergic reaction to the events of that day.
Eventually the sky cleared, and the dust settled. But I felt as uneasy then as I had during the darkness and the quake. The silence that followed seemed just as eerie. There was a tension in the air that cried out for release. There was an unnatural quality to that entire afternoon that placed everything on edge. My thoughts raced; my imagination afloat on a vast, churning sea of mystifying speculation as to what was happening. To a stone who was used to calm and stillness, I was completely confused. Dare I say it, this rolling stone wasn’t getting any satisfaction.
Just as my knotted nerves were starting to unravel, I noticed a couple of men and two women coming towards me. The men were carrying a heavy load. As they got closer, I could see that Joseph and another Council member named Nicodemus were carrying a body wrapped in a linen shroud. The underground rumor mill was murmuring that the body must have been from the crucifixion. That seemed unusual. All that time, energy, and expense to prepare a tomb for himself and now Joseph was giving it up to provide proper burial for someone who had been crucified?! Usually, they just throw the bodies of criminals down the hill or dig a shallow trench to be used as a common grave. The underground continued to vibrate excitedly, sharing that Joseph gave up his grave for a man named Jesus. Well, no sooner had the body been placed on the shelf in the tomb, Joseph and Nicodemus removed the small stones that held me in place and guided me into place, allowing gravity to do most of the work. I stopped abruptly when I hit another rock that served as a barrier at the other in of the sloped track. I had stopped directly in front of the tomb’s entrance, sealing it shut. It would take gargantuan effort to remove me from my position there.
A few minutes later, some guards showed up. Apparently, someone was worried about the grave being robbed. The guards were there to make sure everything remained in place. That was rather insulting. I’m a large heavy, strong, sturdy rock. If I can’t keep people out, then no one can! Fort Knox has nothing on me. They wedged additional stones on either side of me to make sure that I couldn’t be rolled. Now that’s silly. I’m not going to roll uphill on my own, and there’s no place to go downhill. Someone obviously didn’t pay attention I physics class.
I tried not to be upset with their apparent lack of confidence in me. After all, it was my job to R.I.P.— “rest in place.” A stone, being used as I was, expects to rest in the same place forever. I did overhear the two women who were lingering there, speaking in hushed tones so the guards couldn’t hear, that they would be back in a few days to finish preparing the body for burial. It was considered unclean to touch a dead body anytime, much less on the Sabbath, so they would have to come back after the Sabbath. Goodness, unless they brought some extremely strong people with them or had some sort of engineering technology available to them that I was unaware of, I considered their efforts to return and access the body compassionate, but futile.
But then again, I told you that my story was remarkable. Time passed and it was early on the morning of the third day. I was resting peacefully in my new position when I started shaking again. Oh no! Here we go again… But this time, it was different. There was another earthquake all right, but then I saw a creature Like I’d never seen before. Now, remember I’ve been around almost as long as time itself, but this was some different kind of creature. It dropped out of the sky and reached over and pushed me uphill as if I were made of flax. It didn’t even remove the stones wedging me in place. I was both shocked and a bit embarrassed. I didn’t realize I could get pushed around so easily. But that’s what happened. I had been moved effortlessly uphill, leaving the entrance of the tomb exposed like a giant, gaping mouth poised to guzzle in the first morning rays of the sun. I wasn’t the only one in shock, either. Remember those guards who were supposed to act as security? They shook like thin papyrus flapping in a stiff breeze. And then they fell over as if they were dead. All of this happened so quickly—and this creature who had rolled me aside flew up and sat casually on top of me as if nothing out of the ordinary had taken place.
If you find that hard to believe, you haven’t heard anything yet! As I was being rolled away from the tomb’s entrance, I caught a quick glimpse inside. No, you won’t believe this, but I’d swear on my mother’s grave (what am I saying—my mother is a grave!) that it’s the Gospel truth. I was there, so if anyone would know, it would be me. What I saw inside was…nothing!
Now, wait. Don’t smirk as though you think I’m crazy. What I’m telling you is that there was nothing inside the tomb. There was no body inside it. The body was gone. The linen was there, but the body wasn’t inside it. What’s wrong with this tomb? First, Joseph gave it up for Jesus, and now Jesus has given it up too?! I became the only “part-time” tombstone in the history of the world. Or at least the stone with the shortest career. For me, it was literally an earth-shattering event—but I know that it’s earth-shattering for you, too. When huge stones are effortlessly rolled away and the dead walk again, I’ve come to realize that nothing is impossible. Maybe that’s what the celebration you call Easter is all about. Easter says that neither my limited expectations nor yours can contain the limitless God who surprises us with new life. Easter reminds us that despite all our efforts to the contrary, sin and death do not have the final say. Easter boldly declares that the best news the world has ever heard came from a graveyard. I guess you could say that now, I’m just a tomb with a view…
In the joy and hope of this Easter morning, we sing Alleluia with the fullness of hearts. Christ is Risen! Love is stronger than Death! Alleluia!
In the joy and hope of this Easter morning, in the midst of our worship and celebration, we know persons dear to us who find themselves carrying heavy burdens.
We pray for those places and peoples in our world where death and domination rule, where the rich and powerful ignore the poor, where war and violence never ends, where children are hungry, where parents grieve because they cannot provide, where accidents happen, and death often abounds senselessly.
You who roll away stones and call the dead to rise, we pray for the liberation of those held hostage by addiction and chronic illness. We pray for the release of those who struggle in the dark tombs of depression and hopelessness. We pray for the deliverance of those trapped by the bonds of fear and anxiety.
In the joy and hope of this Easter morning, we realize the depth and breadth of what it means to be your Easter people. For we are the ones who are called to go into the places in our lives and world to work for justice and life for all in your Creation. It is up to us to bear witness to the promise of resurrection, to hold those in despair, and believe for them, that Love is stronger than death.
In the joy and hope of this Easter morning, O God, give us the courage to bear your living Love in every corner of our lives, so that your peaceable realm will be so, here on earth, as it is in heaven. In the name of the Risen One, who gifted us with these words:
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
Go now as God’s chosen witnesses to testify that Christ has been raised and that we are raised with him.
Do not look for him among the dead, but be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
And may God raise you from all that would entomb you.
May Christ Jesus call you by name and go ahead of you.
And may the Holy Spirit empower you for all that is good.
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord. Amen.