Der Vasken's Sermon on April 1, 2018

Apr 3, 2018

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

"Who will roll away the stone for us from the door of the tomb?"

Bright and early on that first Easter morning 2,000 years ago, three women made their way to the tomb of Jesus.  According to 1st Century burial traditions, these three women were going to anoint His body with oils and spices.  And along the way, they remembered that the tomb had been sealed by a very large stone--much too large for so few women to move.  So they turned to each other and they wondered "Who will roll away the stone for us?"  We just heard the story of what these three women saw when they eventually reached the tomb.  The stone had been rolled away and the tomb was empty.

Now today being Easter Sunday, I want to share a story that speaks about what those three women found once they arrived to the tomb.  But before I do that, I want to tell you about a gift I received a couple of months ago.  This gift was from my daughter.  Our daughter, Alina, had the opportunity to travel to Milan, Italy during school vacation week last February with her high school choral group.  Her choral group performed concerts in churches and schools all across the region of Milan.  One of those churches was famous for what it contained inside.  This famous church was located in the town of Turin. This church has been a pilgrimage site for centuries because of what it houses.  Contained in that church is the "Shroud of Turin."  The "Shroud of Turin" is the burial cloth of Jesus Christ.  This cloth was placed on top of His body when He was laid in the tomb.

On that particular day our daughter's group was running late and so wanting to bring back something meaningful to her mom and me, she was able to quickly purchase a small card of the burial cloth, which is believed to contain the image of Jesus' face.  And since that day she gave it to me, it's been in my breast pocket.  It's one of the most meaningful gifts I ever received because of the spirit in which it was given and the meaning behind it.

The story I want to share with you this morning is about that burial cloth.  The story is called "Why was the Burial Cloth folded?"  It was written by an unknown author.  Here's the story:

    "At the moment the three women reached the Tomb of Jesus, they noticed something very unusual. [Jn. 20:7] Remember, the tomb was empty. There was no body in it.  The burial cloth over His body was thrown off to one side in a messy pile.  But the napkin, which was placed over His face, was not just thrown aside like the burial cloth for His body.  The Bible takes an entire verse to tell us that the napkin was neatly folded and was placed at the head of the stone coffin.  Early Sunday morning while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb with the other women and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance.  Obviously, frightened Mary ran and found the disciples Peter and John.  And she said to them, 'They have taken the body of our Master out of the tomb and I don't know where they have put him!'  Peter and John ran to the tomb to see for themselves.  John out-ran Peter and arrived there first.  He stooped down and looked in and saw the linen cloth lying there but he didn't go in.  And then Peter arrived and he went inside.  He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there while the cloth that had covered Jesus' head was neatly folded and placed to one side.  Is that important?  Absolutely!  Is it significant?  Most definitely!  In order to understand the significance of the folded napkin, we have to understand a little bit about the Hebrew tradition of that day.  The folded napkin had to do with the relationship between a Master and his servant and every Jewish servant knew of this tradition.  When a servant set the dinner table for his Master, he made sure that it was set exactly the way the Master wanted it.  And then the servant would wait, just out of sight, until the Master had finished his meal. The servant would not touch the table until the Master was finished. Now, if the Master were done eating, he would rise from the table, wipe his fingers and his mouth, clean his beard and he would wad up his napkin and toss it onto the table.  The servant would then know to clear the table.  For in those days, the wadded napkin meant 'I'm done'.  But if the Master got up from the table and folded his napkin and laid it beside is plate, the servant would not touch the table because a folded napkin meant that the Master was coming back!"

This is a simple story that says a lot.  The Master Is Coming Back!  When the three women arrived at the tomb, what they saw not only frightened them, it shocked them.  Not only was the tomb open for the women, but their reason for wanting it opened in the first place had sat up and walked out and left a very clear message inside. They came there to anoint the body of Jesus as part of the burial process, but instead, they witnessed the Resurrection of Christ.

  • The miracle of Easter is that Jesus Christ walked out of that tomb.
  • The miracle of Easter is that in that tomb, He left us a message.
  • And that message is the Promise that He is coming back!

"Who will roll the stone away from us?" asked the three women.  And the answer to their question sat up and walked out of the tomb and into the heart of all who believe in Him and left a very clear message inside.  So later today when you finish your Easter dinner with your family and you fold your napkin and place it down, let it remind you, ever so subtly, that the meaning of Easter is that "The Lord Jesus Christ Is Coming Back!"  And we live our lives for that spectacular day with faith and hope and love in our hearts.

Easter is a time when God wants to bring newness into our lives.  We all know people who are weary or disheartened or sad.  They feel weighed down by life.  They think that they won't be able to cope.  Remind them to not close off their hearts, to not lose confidence, to not give up, because there are no situations which God cannot change.  And there is no wrong He cannot forgive if only we believe in the message He left us in the Empty Tomb that His work is not done and He is not finished.  The tomb was empty, but death could not hold God back. And in that Empty Tomb, God left us a message.  "That the greatest story ever told isn't over. He is coming back!"  

That's the miracle of Easter!  Death could not hold God back.  May you all have a Blessed and Happy Easter with your families.  And may today be different from every other day.  The greatest story ever told isn't over.  He is coming back!"

Amen.