Resurrection of Our Lord
24 April 2011
St. John's, Chicago, IL
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
If you head east to Clark Street, between Montrose and Irving Park Road, you will come to a fascinating piece of Chicago history and architecture: Graceland Cemetery. Many of the most famous and wealthy Chicagoans of the past now lie on those grounds.
It is a beautiful place, but a rather sad cemetery, as many of those 19th century socialites were not Christians. Many believed in little more than themselves, and these monuments are all that they felt would be left of them for the future.
One such individual is the notorious George Pullman. Pullman is credited with inventing the railroad sleeping car, and built up a great business. He built his company town on the south side, having employees rent and even buy their needs from company stores in his little empire. And when times were financially tough, he cut the wages of employees, while keeping their rent high.
Needless to say, he was not well loved. In fact, it is safe to say that many hated George Pullman.
When Pullman died, a large monument was erected for his grave. Underneath, his coffin was covered in tar paper and asphalt, and placed in the center of a room-sized block of concrete. This was reinforced by a layer of railroad ties with even more concrete. The heirs feared that his body would be stolen and held for ransom. One journalist remarked, "It is clear the family in their bereavement was making sure the [scoundrel] wasn't going to get up and come back."
Sounds like what the chief priests and scribes and Pharisees wanted to do for Jesus' tomb. Make it as secure as they could, so that no one could steal the body and lie that He had been raised. So they had the large stone over the entrance, the seal from the governor, and a group of Roman guards, to be sure that nothing happened.
But something did happen. The Lord sent a great earthquake, and His angel rolled back the stone. The guards "became like dead men." Nothing was going to stop the Lord of Life from bursting forth from the tomb!
"Christ Jesus lay in death's strong bands for our offenses given; But now at God's right hand He stands and brings us life from heaven. Therefore let us joyful be and sing to God right thankfully loud songs of alleluia! Alleluia!"
Far more than suffering from the high prices and control of life in a company town, Jesus had endured it all. He suffered more than you can imagine, so that the threat of your eternal suffering is removed. You are now full of joy and love and life, thanks to our loving and living Savior.
Had our Lord's enemies had the materials at their disposal, Jesus' tomb would have been even more secure than Pullman's. Yet, no matter what would try to keep Him confined to that tomb, creation had to yield to her living Creator.
No amount of asphalt or concrete, no weights, or stones, or locks could keep Jesus contained. The Risen Lord is mighty and strong and victorious. And sin and death are completely weak and broken before Him. Jesus' death on Good Friday defeated the enemy of death, and left no other possibility than that which we celebrate this morning. As He gave Himself up to death, He took its reign and brought it to a swift end.
"Christ Jesus, God's own Son came down, His people to deliver; Destroying sin, He took the crown from death's pale brow forever: Stripped of power, no more it reigns; An empty form alone remains; Its sting is lost forever. Alleluia!
"It was a strange and dreadful strife when life and death contended; The victory remained with life, The reign of death was ended. Holy Scripture plainly saith that death is swallowed up by death, Its sting is lost forever. Alleluia!"
Yes, the graves of many famous, powerful people of the past, such as Pullman, are quite sad. Great carved stones calling to mind the names of people who did not "fear, love, and trust in God above all things." The Last Day, the Day of Resurrection, is not a joyful time for them.
But not so with you! The Holy Spirit has called you to faith in the crucified and risen Christ. He has washed you into His family. And you have the absolute joy and peace and confidence that He will raise you, perfecting and glorifying your body for life everlasting!
Even while you spend that brief time in your own tomb, you can rest assure that no matter how secure the grave, the Risen Lord will cry out with His living voice, and you will rise and live with Him forever! Amen.