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He is Going Ahead of You
The Rev. Dr. Baron Mullis
April 20, 2014 - Matthew 28:1-10

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He is Going Ahead of You
Matthew 28:1-10      

Rev. Dr. Baron Mullis
Morningside Presbyterian Church
April 20, 2014

 

There are few things as stark in life as an open grave.  It is one of those universal experiences of human life to experience loss… if you haven’t yet, someday you will. 
I realize on Easter Morning, perhaps we don’t want to encounter the open grave, and yet we do. 
It seems almost a bait and switch to start off with the low, melodious strains of the cellos, then to break into the sound of the trumpet, and the raising of our voices and be reminded that we’ve come here to look at an open grave.
Open graves ask ultimate questions, don’t they?
Death comes equally to us all, and makes us all equal in its coming, said John Donne.
We certainly remember that from the end of last Sunday… the palms were waving, the hosannas were practically shouting themselves, but four short days later, it was the upper room, and scant twelve hours later, it was the cross.
Matthew’s Gospel narrative takes great pains to be sure that we understand where the Jerusalem road leads.
Matthew wants us to understand what Jesus undertook as he walked down the Jerusalem road.
Matthew wanted us to know that when Jesus sets foot on that path he does so with resoluteness and purpose – but with eyes wide open.  The trip down the Jerusalem road was a trip to death.
Open graves are the stark reminder that death is real.
Matthew wants us to know that Jesus did it on purpose.  Matthew wants us to understand the lengths to which God would go for the love of humanity. 
Matthew wanted us to know that God always keeps promises, no matter what the cost.
Easter is about ultimate things.  To see it otherwise is to miss the ultimate things.
I love the way the Moravians in Winston-Salem, NC, celebrate Easter. 
In the dark of Easter Saturday, as the world waits the coming resurrection, the Moravians gather into bands of brass choruses and, departing from their churches, take buses all over the city in the dark of the early morning and play chorales to wake the sleepers and call them to the cemetery.
(One man I know recounted the story of being new to town and unfamiliar with the Easter practices of the Moravians, and upon hearing brass choir begin their songs at four in the morning, called the cops, who quickly replied, “You’re not from around here, are you?”)
All through the early morning, the bands of the various Moravian churches play around the city, waking the sleepers and leading them in a procession to a place called “God’s acre,” where all of the bands converge in the old cemetery from the founding of the settlement, where, as the sun rises, all of the brass choirs converge to play resurrection hymns and to declare the same thing that we have come here to say, that the open grave is empty. 
You see, with each plodding step, the Jerusalem road carried Jesus closer and closer to his death,
And for a while, it seemed death was all there was.
For each of us there is a Jerusalem road where what we face seems final.
I do not need to recount those moments for you; you know them well enough.
And if that were the whole story of faith, the Gospel would be tragedy. 
And that is not what you came here today to hear.  That is not what you came here today to remember.  And that is not what you came here today to proclaim. 
We are here because there is good news.  The stone has been rolled away.  The grave is empty. 
And with that, the story changes.
For so long the story was the tale of the Jerusalem road – for so long, it seemed the path of inevitable consequences.
If Jesus continued preaching his kingdom message, the consequences would be clear.  If Jesus continued standing up to destructive powers, the end result was plain.  Jesus said it over, and over, and over again: the son of man must undergo great suffering and die.
What a ringing endorsement for following him.  What’s more, he warned his disciples that to follow him meant taking a part of his suffering.
You’re prepared for that, right?  You came here this morning to participate in the suffering of Jesus, right?  I mean, you knew that was part of the bargain when you came to church this morning, I presume? 
I mean, Christmas is free, but if you want to come to Easter, there’s no way to get there but by the graveyard. 
Why am I telling you that?  Of course you know that.  You all have seen plenty enough graveyards in your lives. 
But I’m not sure that alone would be sufficient to get me out of bed and get here, even if there were a brass band playing beneath my window.
But there is good news.  There is redemption.  There is resurrection.
But get this: then we get instructions. 
Christmas is free, but at Easter we get instructions: “Go, like he told you to, to Galilee.  He’s going ahead of you.”
You did know you were going to get instructions, didn’t you?  We’re not just here to sing about empty graves - there are directions.
Get on the Galilee road, because he is going ahead of you!
Now, I’ve never been to Galilee, I don’t know the way exactly – but I do know that if the Jerusalem road was leading us into death and destruction, then the Galilee road is leading us into a new future, a future that God has envisioned for us, a future that Jesus is going ahead of us into.
I have no idea where Galilee is, do you?
I mean, don’t get me wrong, I know it’s a geographic location in the middle east, I get that, but I don’t really think that Jesus means for you and me to get in our cars and drive down to Hartsfield-Jackson (he died to keep us out of hell, not to put us into it) and plunk down our Amex cards for the first flight to Tel-Aviv.
I don’t it’s that at all but I do think he want us to get on down the road to Galilee –
You know where Galilee is – it’s that uncertain but hopeful future into which we are all called to go carrying with us the knowledge that we’ve gathered at the empty grave.
We’re not just here to hear about an open grave, we’re here to live the empty tomb.
And that means going where he has gone.
And that can be uncertain.
But we know that he is going ahead of us.
There really are too many folks here for me to know for sure what is going on in everyone’s lives.  Some of you I know well, and some of you, not quite as well, and a few of you I’ve just met this morning.
But we all came here to hear the same thing.  We all came here to hear that the grave is empty, that once, again, just like last year, God’s love wins.
And it strikes us all differently. 
When life is great, it’s just good news.  And thank God for good news, it carries us through the day.
But when life tumbles in, this good news is the water of life.
I have no idea what some of you are going through, but I do know this: whatever it is, he is going before you.
There is nowhere you can go that Jesus is not going ahead you.
A number of years ago, my sister shared with me a story from a family that I knew very well.  I’m the middle of five kids, and this other family also had five kids, and well, that’s unusual, so we shared a bond with them.  Well, the mother’s sister had breast cancer, and after a long struggle, it became clear that her healing would come on the other side of the grave.  And so as death neared, the family was already beginning to mourn, and the dying woman called her sister over and said, “In the springtime, you will see a blue flower, and when you see it, I want you to remember that I am with Jesus and that I am okay.”
Well, her sister reassured her that she would never forget her and that in God’s care, all would eventually be well, but her sister pressed her, “Remember it.”
After promising that she would she went and told her family about it, and they all attributed it to the morphine and the need for closure.
Now, if you’ve listened to more than one sermon in your life, you know where this is going – the springtime came and the very first flower to push through the decay of winter was, you guessed it, a blue crocus down by the mailbox at the end of the driveway.
After a few weeks, the woman gathered her children together and said, “You know, it’s sweet, but I’m on to you.  Which one of you planted the crocus?”
Four out of five protested their innocence, but finally, the fifth pleaded, “Yes, I came over one day while you were at work and I did plant a crocus.”
“I knew it,” she said, “You don’t have to do that.  I know your aunt is with Jesus now.”
“Wait,” her son said, “I planted the crocus, but I planted it in the backyard where you’d see it out the kitchen window.  And I planted it too late.  It didn’t bloom this year.”
Stories like this happen from time to time, they’re not all that uncommon – Tom Long tells a similar story, and his reaction is this: there was a time in my life when I would have dismissed such a story – sentimental piety.  But the longer I have lived, the more I have learned that there is more grace and mercy in God that the tiny tweezers of our imaginations can possibly hold.
Or we could say that when we look at life through the lens of Jesus, we start seeing things. 
We start seeing the incomparable, indefinable mercies of God in all their fullness.
We start to see that wherever we are going, whatever the Galilee road holds for us, He is going ahead of us.
That is how John Donne, who wrote of death that it comes to us equally also wrote, “One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.”
You see, Easter has two words for us.
The first is a word about death.  We cannot come to the empty tomb without going through the graveyard.  That’s where tombs are, empty or otherwise, and to pretend that life doesn’t carry us to those graveyard moments when we must look at the end of something and acknowledge it as real is to be pedantic and facile.  Part of living life as an adult is knowing the reality that sometimes things don’t work out the way we want them to.
It’s hard, but it’s real.
That is why one of my favorite theologians, William Sloane Coffin, declares that any church worthy of the name must declare Sunday out and Sunday in the good news that Jesus Christ is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, and that there is more mercy in God than sin in us.
He concludes, “We may not know what lies beyond the grave, but we know who is there.”  And that leads us to the second word of Easter, and it is a word about life.  When we look down the Galilee road with all its promise and uncertainty, we may very well not know what lies there either. 
Life is uncertain.  Its vicissitudes can push us this way and that.  The life of a Christian is no more marked by certainty that that of a non-Christian.  The road signs on the way to Galilee are no better marked than the road signs on the way to Jerusalem.  But just as in death, so in life, we may not know what lies there, but we know who is there.
Go on to Galilee as he told you, the messenger said, He is going ahead you.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.
 

Last Published: November 21, 2014 11:45 PM