Broken Tombs

15 04 2011

Palm Sunday

If great care is not taken, we can all too easily forget that the jubilation of the palm and cloak covered road will lead quickly to the Way of Suffering, the Way of the Cross.

But if you’ve lived life for any length of time you are not surprised by the turn of events in Jesus’ journey in Jerusalem, for it mimics your own. The joyous birth of a child is quickly submerged in a sea of bewilderment at the news of a debilitating defect. A promising job and career all too soon becomes a daily headache and a drudgery. The beauty and romance of your wedding day is eventually erased by a marriage that has become too painful for words. On a lighter note, the long awaited vacation trip is ruined by bad weather and unexpected disappointments! And lastly, the freedom and fun of your retirement is stolen by constant health problems and an economic downturn.

Truly, Jesus’ story is our story. Like the crowd lining the streets of Jerusalem when Jesus came riding a young colt we find our hopes, dreams, and expectations all too quickly dashed. More than dashed, they are dead, laid low in some forgotten tomb. Jesus was supposed to be the long awaited (400 years!) Messiah– God’s anointed, chosen King who would set the people free from Roman oppression. Who among us has not experienced similar devastating disappointments?! Broken relationships that began with such promise, or a career, or ministry opportunity, or the plans you once had for your kids. On certain dark days it seems we look back on our lives and see little else besides a path littered with the tombs, bones and rotting carcasses which used to be our hopes, dreams, and loved ones.

What kind of story is God telling with Jesus’ life?! What kind of a story is He telling with our lives?!

And then one phrase in the Passion narrative stops me in my tracks: “The tombs broke open. . .” (Matthew 27:52). Jesus dies and our hopes seem to die with Him, but then there is an earthquake. We all know the temple curtain separating the people from the Holy of Holies is torn in two– Jesus has made a way for us to be re-united with our Creator. That’s good news, and no mistake! But Matthew, the Gospel writer, says there is more to the story: Broken tombs and a reunion with loved ones thought long dead.

Now, it’s true that this mini-resurrection is a precursor to the Big Resurrection that will happen in a few days on Sunday morning– Jesus risen from the dead! But it points to something that Jesus’ resurrection makes a reality– new life for our hopes and dreams, even new life for ourselves.

I’m not sure how we’ve missed this because God has left signs for us all over the place: The death of Winter is, without fail, followed by the new life and beauty of Spring. Every day ends in the death, the going-down, of the Sun; and every morning we are greeted with the new light and life of a brand new day. If you want a life-giving plant to grow, first a seed must die and be buried in the ground. And if a child wants to have life to the full he must leave the dark confines of his mother’s womb– the umbilical cord must be cut and the warm, easy, pre-natal life must come to an end.

The truth written into the very fabric of all creation and made manifest in the death and resurrection of Christ is that there can be no new life without first a death. More examples abound: If you want to enjoy the blessings of marriage you must die to singleness. If you seek the joy of being a parent, you must die to a life that has no children to be responsible for. If you seek to be a new creation in Christ, the you that is a slave to sin or the you who is self-sufficient and doesn’t need a Savior, must die.

Our dreams and hopes must die too, lest they become false-gods and tyrants who mercilessly rule over their subjects. We must all allow the grief and disappointment of these “deaths” to run their course. We dare not dismiss them, belittle them, or explain them away. “Oh, it’s really no big deal, these things happen, we just need to move on and forget about it.” No. Again, I say to you, NO! Grieve, weep, be angry, and shake your fist at heaven if you must, but don’t ignore, avoid, or deny. Be like the women who wept at the foot of the cross, and like the disciples who ran and hid. For then, and only then, can Christ and His resurrection make all things new in you.

They must die and we must grieve deeply and truly, then we will ourselves be raised with Jesus. There is no other way.

In the end of our journey through this world’s realm, relationships may remain broken, you may be stuck in a job you hate, a wheelchair may be your only means of getting around, that tremendous opportunity may never come again, and you may never be able to go home again. But. . .but you will be new, and your hope will no longer be invested in any of those perishable things, but upon the imperishable Christ– the one who died, but now lives forever and whom death can never touch again. And for those in Christ, our story will be His story!

Scripture Lessons for the Passion part of Palm Sunday:

Isaiah 50:4-9

Psalm 31:9-16

Philippians 2:5-11

Matthew 27:11-54




One response

19 04 2011

Even in the death of the man Christ, the God Christ is all powerful.

I love the fact that though “the tombs were open and the bodies of many holy ones who had died raised to life” occurred “at that very moment” when “Christ gave up his spirit”, it was not until after the Resurrection of Jesus that they went into the holy city and appeared to many.

Thank you, hun.

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