Let's Try Again!

March 23, 2008
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Matthew 28:1-10

The Large Stone Was Rolled Away

1. [It was] the first day of the week. Sunday morning. Mary Magdalene and another Mary went to the tomb where Christ was buried. [They went there] to anoint the corpse of Christ with fragrances. But, they had one major concern. It was the problem of how they were going to get into the tomb in the first place because the tomb was in a cave carved out from rock and its entrance was shut tight by a large stone. In another gospel the text says they were talking to each other about "Who would roll away that stone for them from the entrance of the tomb?," (Mark 16:3). But then, as they kept on, the tomb was unexpectedly already opened. The stone to the tomb was already rolled away. That is the first situation which the scriptures are relating to us today.

2. But then the fact itself that the stone was rolled away is not a big deal. Though it was a large stone, if several adults got to it they could move it. Furthermore, even after they had moved the stone belonging to the tomb, normally, the situation would not be any different. Even after the tomb were open, the corpse would still be a corpse. Bones are still bones. When we, [as Japanese], hold a ceremony for the laying of one's ashes to rest, even as the church, we open the ash repository, which is a tomb.* What is on the inside of it still remains as bones. When we close the ash repository, it is back to the way it was. Nothing is different. Even though the tomb was opened, the gate itself to death was not opened. This we know.

3. Thus, whether the stone from the tomb had been rolled away for them, the scriptures don't say as much; because what the four gospels do unanimously tell us about this is that "the rolled away stone" symbolizes that something big happened. It is saying that the gate which locked down death itself has been opened. The event that happened is that what used to keep death locked down tight is gone.

4. The women came to the tomb and there they heard the following words. "Do not be afraid. You are searching for Jesus who had been crucified, but he is not here. Just as he told you before, he has risen from the dead. Now, look at the place where his corpse was placed," (verses five and six). Since the angel said "look at [the place where his body was]" they, of course, did look right at the spot. The corpse of Jesus was not there. Jesus was not shut in by death. In this way then, what they had seen with their own eyes was not merely an opened grave. What they had seen was the gate of death thrown open.

5. A cave carved out from rock. A grave with an entrance shut tight by a large stone. Try to imagine it, if you will. Doesn't it seem to symbolize to us the all too familiar "reality of death?" That's the world of darkness. In it dead bodies are shut up [and imprisoned]. However, when you give it some thought, what is being shut in by death is not necessarily just the dead. In a certain sense it is the same for the living as well. There have been people who have said, "A human being lives bearing death upon oneself." Life and death are like opposite sides of a card. On the opposite side of the card on which we the living are drawn, we the dead are solemnly drawn. And at times, the card is flipped backwards. Thus then, our lives are already bound and shut down by death even while we are living. We might as well say that the grave is not a place that we will soon and ultimately enter, but that our lives are already in a grave.

6. Of course, we aren't usually in this mindset. Yet, we are aware of it in some measure, and this confinement of our lives, shut in by death, is certainly apparent in our day to day living. Why are we unable to see everything calmly? Just about everybody knows that it is important to "give things time" or "see things with a long range view." But, that's not what people do in practice. Isn't it because they feel that human life is surely heading to its end? Why do past mistakes and errors cast a dark shadow over one's life? Why does one live always dragging along the heavy burdens of the past? Probably because we know that we cannot go back. Probably because we know that there are many things we cannot start over again. As we reason bound within time limitations, if something has crumbled apart, we cannot stack it back up again. If something is broken, [we don't think] it can be built back again. Probably because we know that these kinds of things are so numerous. As long as something is fixable then we can look at it calmly. When something cannot be re-done right, we no longer give it time and see it with a long range view. Isn't that right?

7. However, the scripture states that a hole has been opened to death, which used to imprison humankind within darkness the way it did. What's more, a big hole has opened up. The stone has been rolled away. Who rolled it away? The text says an angel did it. When an angel appears on the scene in the scriptures, it means divine intervention. In other words, this narrative is telling us that God opened the gate of death.

8. There are things people can do and cannot do. Human effort is certainly valuable. But, there are some things human effort is helpless against. We cannot release from death, in a true sense, even our own lives which have been enclosed by death. It is only God who can do that. Salvation and deliverance must come from God. And salvation has come. The stone was rolled away. Please get an image of the opened tomb. It's what God does. When God opens [something], nobody can close it again. The four gospels tell this first of all with joy.

Go To Galilee

9. Then the narrative goes on. The women greatly rejoiced though afraid at what happened, and they hurriedly left the tomb and went to the disciples. Whereupon, along the way, they met the risen Jesus. [They met] Jesus who was not shut inside a tomb any longer. Jesus said to these women, "Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee. It has been arranged that they will meet me there," (verse ten). This is the second situation which the scriptures are relating to us today.

10. "Go and tell my brothers." We get surprised by these words from Christ. "Brothers" doesn't mean blood relatives. It is his disciples. These disciples are the ones who forsook and fled when Jesus was crucified. [And] included among them is Peter who said three times, "I don't know Jesus." The figure of these disciples is drawn in contrast with that of the women who watched over Jesus at the foot of the cross. Yet, Jesus still calls these disciples "my brothers."

11. Among the disciples there was undoubtedly not a one of them able to now say puffed up and proud, "I am the brother of Jesus." If anyone of them could suppose that they could be a brother to Jesus, it was because Jesus saw the disciples that way. That is not beyond reason. It is grace, it is nothing except grace. Calvin, the reformationist, had this to say about this word. "But, it was not only the apostles who were considered 'brothers' by the Lord. This message was conveyed by Christ's command, that even we might hear it later." That's right. This word from the Lord is, thus, even being conveyed to us. We, too, are being informed that it is not because we are deserving of it, but it is just by the grace of the Lord that we are made brothers of Jesus.

12. "Tell my brothers." -- What does it mean that we are made brothers of Jesus? I think it means that we, too, can call father the One whom Jesus called father. The disciples can call the God who caused Jesus to rise from the dead "oh our father!" We, too, can call to that God, "oh our father!," to the One who is able to knock open the gate to death, and release our lives from being tightly enclosed in death. As a result, we no longer need to live locked down in death. As a matter of fact, the disciples began to live as men set free from the tomb in which they were tightly and darkly enclosed. The story tells the fact that as followers of Christ again, they assemble together, and begin to proclaim the Christ. Thus, the church was born, and the fact that the church exists to this day proves the work of God in releasing [one] from death.

13. Jesus not only called those disciples of his "my brothers," but he also went on to speak as follows. "Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee. It has been arranged for them to meet me there," (verse ten). The message that was given for these literally worn out disciples, beaten down by their own weaknesses and sinfulness, crushed in convictions and pride, was the message of "Go to Galilee. It has been arranged for you to meet me there." [They were told], "Jesus is waiting for you there in Galilee."

14. Galilee -- That's the place where the disciples had met Jesus. On that day, this man so filled with this marvelous attraction appeared out of nowhere and said, "Follow me. I will make you fishers who catch people." That's right, it all began from there. "Go to Galilee. You will meet me there." Jesus is bringing them back to their starting point. It is sort of an appeal of "Let's try again!" After going through great frustrations and great grief these men had nothing to rely upon within their own strength, but then they had heard the invitation from Jesus, "Let's try again! Come follow me!"

15. The reason Jesus says, "Let's try again!," is not because the disciples were still young and filled with potential. "Let's try again!," but not in the sense of "Hey, there's still plenty of time. [We] can fix it." Not in [that sense] but rather, we are following the risen Christ now. We are following a Christ who is not controlled by death now. As persons released from death we ourselves are following Christ.

16. In today's second reading, we read the passage where Paul speaks on baptism. In that text the scripture says the following, "We have been buried with Christ in baptism and have become participants in his death. This is so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we will also live in new lives." We [each] live in a new life. It is no longer a life controlled by death. It is a life that is not imprisoned in a tomb. It is a life opened to eternity. The questions about "What can I do with the remaining life I have?" and "Is there enough time left to fix things?" are no longer necessary when we are living in that new life. When we are living that new life of following the risen Christ, even if it is our last day of life on this earth, even if it is even our death bed, we can say, "Let's try again!"

17. Had there not been a "Let's try again!," which came through the Christ of the resurrection, neither would there have been a Peter or any of the later apostles. Neither would there have been the church afterwards. By that definition we can say that the church was born by means of the "Let's try again!," which came through the risen Christ. As persons connected to this very church, we are celebrating Easter this year too. We are celebrating the resurrection of Christ, and we are starting to follow anew and afresh the risen Christ from this point onward. As persons released from death. In reply to this appeal from Christ, could there be a need for us to say to one another?, "Let's try again!"

End Notes:

Extracted from a Wikipedia article dated March 29, 2008 on Japanese cremation:

The coffin is placed on a tray in the crematorium. The family witnesses the sliding of the body into the cremation chamber. A cremation usually takes about two hours, and the family returns at a scheduled time when the cremation has been completed. The relatives pick the bones out of the ashes and transfer them to the urn using chopsticks, two relatives sometimes holding the same bone at the same time with their chopsticks (or, according to some sources, passing the bones from chopsticks to chopsticks). This is the only time in Japan when it is proper for two people to hold the same item at the same time with chopsticks. At all other times, holding anything with chopsticks by two people at the same time, or passing an item from chopsticks to chopsticks will remind all bystanders of the funeral of a close relative and is considered to be a major social faux pas. The bones of the feet are picked up first, and the bones of the head last. This is to ensure that the deceased is not upside down in the urn. The hyoid bone (a bone located in the neck) is the most significant bone to be put in the urn.

In some cases, the ashes may be divided between more than one urn, for example if part of the ashes are to go to a family grave, and another part to the temple, or even to a company grave or a burial in space. Many companies, for example, have company graves for their employees in the largest Japanese graveyard on Mount Kōya.

Depending on the local custom the urn may stay at the family home for a number of days, or be taken directly to the graveyard.

Photo from "Sketches of Japanese Manners and Customs", by J. M. W. Silver, Illustrated by Native Drawings, Reproduced in Facsimile by Means of Chromo-lithography, published in London in 1867

Collecting the ashes after the funeral