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Pilate's Story: The Haunted One, Part 6 - Go make the tomb as secure as you can

Tonite NBC is featuring a prime time

live performance of Jesus Christ Superstar.

It sounds like many people plan to watch it.

If you do, and if you know the show,

you know that Jesus is presented as merely human,

the events that make up the program

skip over the miracles

or teachings

or evidences that Jesus is God-with-us.

 

Both Mary Magdalene and Judas Iscariot sing,

I don’t know how to love him, he’s just a man . . .

and the whole thing stops

two chapters short in John 19

with his burial

and no word of resurrection.

The music stops

just when there are more songs to sing!

 

So it’s no wonder the show will be popular tonite,

because it fits with today’s take on life.

That there is no supernatural.

That life is only about what we can sense or measure.

If there is a god such a being doesn’t do miracles

and isn’t involved in our daily lives,

or is only useful as an object of discussion

or a form of therapy to help us express our feelings

at times of good or bad in our lives.

There is no transcendence,

only immanence [only the here and now],

no divine ruler by whom I am made

and to whom I answer,

‘. . . imagine there’s no heaven . . .’

 

And I can be spiritual by watching a tv program

and by enjoying some music

and doing it among friends.

 

So if you plan to watch it,

invite some friends.

But pay attention to what’s left out.

See how Jesus is reduced to his humanity alone.

But notice that questions remain:

Listen to the song,

I don’t know how to love him . . .

Share how and why you love Jesus.

Observe how we may want Jesus to just be a man,

but the whole point of his life is that

he is God with us.

And share how you experience that.

 

The Easter story gospel reading

begins with the same assumptions:

the chief priests and the Pharisees

remember that Jesus said

in three days he would rise again from the dead.

They can only imagine a natural explanation for that:

and what they imagine is deception.

The disciples will steal the body

and claim he rose again.

A purely natural explanation

because nothing supernatural is possible.

 

Or is it?

We can’t help but wonder what the

chief priests and the Pharisees are so worried about.

Pilate too.

He utters those haunting words:

Go, make the tomb as secure as you can.

We should put a big pause in our Bible reading here.

We can imagine the chief priests and Pharisees

looking at each other and at Pilate.

They don’t say anything,

but they’re all thinking:

well, how do we do that?

How do you make a tomb secure?

Pilate has seen Jesus.

He has heard the living Word of God.

He recognized his innocence.

He was silent at Jesus’ wisdom about truth.

He praised him as the true man, the true human.

He washed his hands of responsibility

in really dealing with Jesus.

He thought he was done with him.

But no one is ever done with Jesus

because Jesus is never done with us.

 

I want to say two things

about Pilate’s troubled statement.

First, this is the chorus of our age today:
Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.

This is life and it is only measured

by our senses and material experiences.

And we do best to control it as best we can.

For then there is death and that is it.

There is no divine presence that saves or redeems

cares or provides:

This world is all there is

and you can explain everything

about life with the material world and human experience.

This is the spirit of our age,

and we do well to recognize

how this spirit tries to pressure us.

But that’s only the first thing to say.

 

Because . . . something did happen anyway.

Despite a posted guard.

Despite the Roman seal forbidding

the tomb being opened.

No human plot,

no human law,

no human power

can stop the resurrection of Christ.

And because Jesus rose from the dead

no grave is ever secure again:

There ain’t no grave gonna hide you

There ain’t no grave gonna hold your body down.

 

The resurrection tells us

immanence is an invention, not a discovery.

Do you know that word? Immanence?

It means that there is no God

who is actively involved in creation or your life;

there is no God to answer to;

there is no eternity,

no heaven or hell.

To live this way

needs to be propped up, babied, nurtured

plotted and planned.

For God intrudes upon the plans of humanity.

Despite the Pharisees’ wishes

and despite Roman law,

despite guards

and despite sorrow,

Jesus who was dead is alive,

the firstfruits of our resurrection,

and witnesses saw it.

The good news is Jesus is alive.

God cannot be stopped.

 

The secular story about the world

that says everything is explained by science,

God is just an opinion or a sentiment,

and life is what you make it

is incomplete.

Graceless.

And contestable.

It turns out that

living without God is troubling.

Just look at the Jewish leaders here.

It is the Sabbath Day,

yet there they are conducting business

meeting with the Governor,

actually violating their religious law

that they falsely accused Jesus of violating.

The point is:

to make the choice to live without God

takes work, and it is a lonely and graceless toil.

 

And there is Pilate, offering those haunting words:

go, make the tomb as secure as you can:

But how can anyone do that?

I have been to a lot of funerals in my life,

I have officiated at over 150.

No one ever came later and said

let’s go check the graveside to make sure

the grave is still in there.

 

So this statement stands for all the ways

and pressures on us to

dismiss the reality of God in our lives.

To focus all our energy in living here and now

for ourselves

because you only go around once in life.

 

And why do all this?

To keep a lid on the injustice.

All of them in the room

know Jesus was innocent,

so they blame a rumor,

they say they want to do this to stop fake news,

but you know it’s all about

hiding what they did

and getting what they want

no matter what it does to others.

It’s the garden of Eden all over,

us thinking we best hide ourselves from God.

That’s how we try to buffer ourselves from

God’s presence.

Are you trying to hide from God?

 

But we can’t do that –

God acts,

God shows up.

The Lord is God-with-us,

we may refuse to acknowledge Christ’s presence,

but that doesn’t change the reality of it.

While Easter in 2018 is flowers and lilies

and bunnies and chocolate

and the birds and the bees

and a green growing season,

it is really something else altogether –

not warm fuzzies but awe and wonder:

the temple veil is torn,

heaven has been rent asunder,

the stone is rolled away and the tomb is empty,

God is out and about and on the loose

in your life:

to shape and change your for his purposes

not for your plans.

God isn’t just up there

or a thought in our heads

or one option upon many,

an object for our discussions,

God is with us

in sovereign in grace and majesty.

 

Notice the resurrection is by God’s power and grace alone.

The women aren’t expecting it as they go to the tomb;

there was no talk between them about resurrection.

The guards are overwhelmed by fear at the sight.

The angel re-assures the women, he is not here, he has risen.

They will see him alive.

 

Jesus who was crucified and is risen

is the antidote for all our doubting

and all the pressures on us

to confine our choices and desires

to earthly gain.

 

This passage contains two pictures

describing human responses to the cross.

One picture is filled with quiet tenderness,

worship, and watchfulness.

The other is filled with suspicion, fear,

paranoia, and a desire to control outcomes.

Which picture best fits

with the way you view Jesus today?

Why?

 

Jesus is God with us,

so he embodies both what is immanent,

what is nearby,

what is part and parcel to living life,

and he is transcendent, he is divine.,

he brings the reality of eternity

into our here and now.

Do you understand what I mean by that?

For those who say life is only about

what we see, hear, measure and know

well, Jesus is all that perfectly,

truly the human one – immanent –

and for those who struggle and yearn

for transcendence –

there has to be something more than this! –

Jesus is something more,

and his death and resurrection

not only promise, but fulfill that yearning.

 

The women run from the empty tomb

afraid, yet filled with joy.

This is a word of grace for us in our day.

We who live with both fear and joy also.

 

How should we respond to Pilate’s word.

go, make the tomb as secure as you can.

How do we live in the reality of resurrection?

The angel gives two instructions:

come and see –

the grace is empty, won’t you come and see,

and go and tell –

he is risen, go and tell his disciples the good news.

Come and see -  Jesus is with us and always near;

go and tell - Jesus is reigning at the right hand of the Father in heaven,

preparing to come again to judge the living and the dead

and bring to glory those for whom he is preparing a place in his grace.

 

So how do we come and see?

The scripture isn’t talking about

taking a trip to the Holy Land

to do all the tourist spots in Israel.

 

It is to be open to Jesus invading

our buffered spaces with his presence.

NT Wright:

the whole point of Easter

is that God the Creator is the Redeemer

and has dealt with everything

that messes up his wonderful world,

[including death]

and has set in motion his plan

to sort it all out, to put it all right,

to remake it so that it is filled

with his glory and beauty.

 

Ways to come and see –

to open your heart and soul to Jesus –

may be to exercise wonder in creation.

To marvel at the glory of life

but take the next step

and praise the Lord God for his

creative and sustaining work.

 

Then give thanks for a good day.

Are you struggling with your spouse,

or with one of your kids,

or with a sibling?

Start with gratitude and see

1 or 2 thankful traits or qualities

in the one you struggle with.

Tell them, and then thank the Lord for them.

 

Come and see Jesus by looking to bring

blessing into a situation:

is there a sacrifice to make here,

charity to offer,

kindness to exercise,

and a prayer to pray.

 

Act as if God is with you

even if you don’t feel it so right now.

The women at the tomb

had no thought of resurrection

yet they came to the tomb,

and there was Jesus with them,

tho it was the farthest thought

from their minds at the time.

 

We come and see when we come to Jesus

by acts of confession and repentance.

Hiding the truth about ourselves and God

doesn’t spare us guilt,

it keeps us from healing.

Peter who denied Jesus

will be restored by the risen Lord.

Thomas who doubted

will be visited and assured by the risen Jesus.

Judas Iscariot will not,

for he had taken his life:

in one of my devotional readings this week I read –

the ultimate tragedy of Judas’ life

was not his betrayal of Jesus

but that he did not hold on ‘til Sunday

to see what God would do

with his betrayal and despair.

He then would have known

that we are not on our own,

not in this life alone.

He would have known what Mary discovers,

that there is One who is with us

in death and in life.

Not just anyone,

but God who gives his life

and who is with us to save.

 

If you are struggling

know that we all believe while doubting,

not instead of doubting.

So ask your questions.

And if someone isn’t able

to hear your question well

ask someone else.

But don’t ask cynically,

or at least admit your cynicism,

ask in a way that challenges

not just the one you are asking,

but also challenges yourself

to be open to being changed,

not to fit God into your assumptions,

because your assumptions are always too small.

So Pilate is not there at the resurrection.

He lived by his control -

life is what you make it.

But we are mortal and limited,

we can’t make eternity or resurrection happen.

So he missed out on the resurrection.

 

Then go and tell.

What does that mean?

Live the victory that is the resurrection.

The women are met by Jesus.

Notice that,

Jesus meets them.

They didn’t find him, he found them,

that is grace,

and we live by grace alone.

Any time we think we have God figured out:

that we now know enough,

have heard enough,

have experienced enough,

what we have fashioned in our minds is not God,

God meets us, on his terms, not ours,

it is his way.

So pray.

This is why prayer is our first and best

act of thanksgiving to God.

Because in prayer we submit

our times into the hands of the Heavenly Father.

The Lord will provide but will not be manipulated.

Prayer says, God, come and find me,

do not let me go until you have blessed me.

 

When Jesus meets the women what do they do?

They fall at his feet, clasp hold of them,

for he is really alive in the body,

and worship him.

The women were ready to meet him,

that’s all we can do.

And worship helps us be ready to meet Jesus.

 

Worship him with his people,

do that not only on Easter, but every Sunday,

because every Sunday is resurrection Sunday.

Let worship shape you to bow before him

in the sense of being willing to do something for him.

Christian worship shapes us as communities,

and shapes our personal characters,

so that we really are worshipping the living God

made known in the resurrection of his Son.

And so that our habits of life,

communal and personal,

may little by little,

thought by thought,

act by act,

decision by decision,

be brought into line

with the new day that has dawned.

 

Worship him each day

by offering him yourself in some way.

The chief priests and the Pharisees,

the religious ones, did not.

They broke the law of God,

they disregarded what God desires,

the gave up on being holy and doing right.

So guess what,

they don’t meet the resurrected Lord.

But the women do.

 

These women, Mary Magdalene,

and the other Mary –

how would you like to be called the other Mary.

Nothing special compared

to Mary Magdalene

or maybe Jesus’ mother Mary,

just another Mary.

But she is graced,

and she will be the first missionary of the good news,

she will be the first preacher

to say he is risen, just as he said.

She will preach to the disciples the good news.

 

Maybe you’re just the other one.

You’re nothing special in your own mind.

Because you think you’re missing out.

Your life is stuck in neutral.

All you can see is what you’ve buried, lost,

failed at, what you regret.

You’re just the other Mary.

One hunch as to why

this one is called the other Mary

is that she is still alive

at the writing of the gospel,

and her life would be in jeopardy

if she was more clearly identified.

So Matthew protects her by calling her this.

Christians would know who she was,

they would know her witness,

and that was enough.

 

You and I are still alive on this earth,

so we have more worship and witness to share.

How can we go and tell?

Don’t just ask for prayers,

ask how you can pray for others.

 

NT Wright again:

We are called to be

the advance runners for this kingdom.

This means working for justice –

to put things right,

to remind our rulers and authorities

that that’s their job

and to hold them to account on it,

to be alert for the places

where injustice is done and speak up about it,

whether it’s a poor neighborhood

broken by violence,

an immigrant being bullied and isolated

on your street,

a friend trampling on others

by abusive language or worse.

 

It also means working for beauty,

to restore beauty to our towns and our countryside,

to enhance the beauty of nature

and to reflect it in fresh works of education,

art, music, dance, poetry,

even your participation in media.

It means working to heal and renew

our wonderful planet,

making it fruitful and abundant

and preventing it being poisoned.

Easter is about God’s new creation

and we are called,

surprising though it may seem,

to be agents of that new creation here and now.

So look to bring beauty into your relationships:

you can love your brother or sister,

look to give instead of get,

and when you don’t know what to do,

be gentle, be kind, show empathy first,

then decide.

 

Live the resurrected life.

The resurrection story ends

with the women on the way Christ pointed them –

it is a different day than they thought when it began.

Now they will live the resurrection;

they will live differently.

And that means holiness,

live differently than a Pilate kind of life.

Our world has lived on

so many lies and half-truths

about what it means to be human,

whether it’s the celeb culture,

the drug culture,

the idolization of sport,

the obsession with sex,

or just the slow deterioration

of human relationships and community.

We are called to be Easter people,

resurrection people,

leaving behind in the grave

all that spoils and downgrades our human calling.

Jesus is alive, the tomb is not secure,

the grave is not our destiny,

Jesus is, and his promise is true.

 

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