A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Sermon (April 5) by Rev. Robert McDowell - "Different Robes of Jesus: Rolled Up Robe"

    The Easter service had just begun at old First Church, a church built near the end of the 1800’s. The choir started its processional, singing "Up from the Grave He Arose" as they marched in perfect step down the center aisle to the front of the sanctuary.

     The last lady in the choir processional was wearing shoes with very slender heels.  Without a thought for her fancy heels, she marched toward the grating that covered the hot air register in the middle of the aisle.  Suddenly the heel of one of her shoes sank into a hole in that register grate!

     Just as soon as she had done it, she realized her predicament. Not wishing to hold up the whole processional, without missing a step, she slipped her foot out of her shoe and continued marching down the aisle.

     Things were going without a hitch.  The processional moved with clock-like precision.  The first man in the processional who was following behind the now shoeless woman, spotted the situation and without losing a step, reached down and pulled up her shoe, but the entire grate came up with it! 

     Surprised, but still singing, the man kept on going down the aisle, holding in his hand the grate with the shoe attached.

     Everything still moved like clockwork.  Still in tune and still in step, the next man in line stepped into the open register and disappeared from sight.  You could say that First Church’s Easter service took on a special meaning that Sunday.

     Just as the choir ended with "Hallelujah! Christ arose!" a voice was heard under the sanctuary shouting, "I hope all of you are out of the way, because I’m coming up!"

     Just then, the little girl closest to the aisle shouted, "We’re ready for you, Jesus! Come on out of that grave!”

     Now, I don’t this is a true story, but I found it on the internet and it was too good to pass up. May the church say on this Easter Sunday, “We’re ready for you, Jesus! Come on out of that grave!”

     Although nothing quite that dramatic has happened here this morning, (yet), this is still a day like no other. It’s Easter Sunday. Jesus is risen! Up from the grave he arose!

     You already heard it told to you from John’s gospel a few minutes ago.  But let’s take a moment and really think about what Jesus’ resurrection from the dead means for each one of us.

     “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.  So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

     Jesus has been dead for two days.  Mary Magdalene had been near the cross just a few days ago.  She had seen Jesus hanging on the cross dying.  She had seen his tortured body.  She had watched him breathe his last breath.  She had seen his body taken down from the cross. And she had seen the tomb where his lifeless body had been placed.

     It had been late on that Friday afternoon, and the Jewish Sabbath was about to begin as sundown was approaching.  No work could be done on the Sabbath, not even preparing a body for proper burial. That would have to wait until the next day.

     So Mary waited during the long Sabbath day, mourning the death of her master and friend, and wondering how life would ever be the same now.  What would she do next?

     Well, she couldn’t think beyond the immediate situation.  Jesus’ body still had to be prepared for a proper burial.  So, after the Sabbath day was over and early on the first day of the week, Sunday, Mary took some spices and oils to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body for burial.

     What she discovered at the tomb that early Sunday morning troubled her greatly.  You see, the stone which has been placed at the front of the cave where Jesus was buried had been removed. Something wasn’t right, so she ran to tell Simon Peter and the other disciple that Jesus’ body was missing, and she didn’t know where it had been taken.

     “Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb.  The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.  He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in.  Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb.  He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.  Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed.”

     When Peter and the other disciple got to the tomb they each looked inside the tomb in turn and noticed that Jesus clearly wasn’t there inside.  The only thing they did see was the burial wrappings that had been put on Jesus.

     It was customary to wrap a dead body with strips of linen cloths for burial.  I imagine they wound the linen strip around and around the body.  Another strip of cloth was used to cover the face and head of the deceased.

     This is exactly how Lazarus had been buried in the story which is told in the eleventh chapter of John’s Gospel. 

     You remember how Lazarus had been ill and at the point of death.  Jesus had been called to come to him, but by the time Jesus arrived, Lazarus had already been dead four days.

     Jesus came to the tomb where Lazarus’s body had been laid, and he told them to roll the stone away.  Jesus commanded in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

     And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in cloth.  Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

     You’ll notice some similarities between the two stories of being raised from the dead that John tells, but also take note of the differences.

     In Jesus’ resurrection account, the stone has already been rolled away from the front of the tomb.  Also, there is no dead body in the tomb!  The only thing left in the tomb is the grave clothes, the rolled up robe.

     The burial shrouds have been left behind by Jesus after his resurrection, because only a dead body needs to be covered in burial shrouds!  A former dead man who has been resurrected from the dead to eternal life has no need of these old clothes.

     When Jesus was raised to new life, he left the remnants of death behind him.  Jesus defeated the power of death, and defeated it once and for all. 

     “Death has been swallowed up in victory.  Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

     You see, when we place our faith and trust in what Christ has done for us, we too can share in the good news of Easter.  We can celebrate Christ’s victory over sin and death.

     We can leave our burial shrouds, our funeral clothes, our death outfits behind us.

     The Apostle Paul writes this about the resurrection in II Corinthians.  He writes, “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.  For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling—if indeed, when we have taken it off we will not be found naked.  For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.”

     We are called to take off our grave clothes, the ones that we wore before we knew Christ, and put on our empty tomb clothes, our Easter clothes, that will remind us that we have been raised with Christ.

    In Paul’s letter to the Colossians he instructs them, “If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on the things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”

     He goes on to say, “But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth.  Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices, and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.”

     So what do we wear instead of the burial shrouds of our dead selves?  What do we wear instead of our grave clothes?

     Paul tells us, “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other, just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also much forgive. 

     Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 

     And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

     Turning your lives over to God, means leaving behind the selfish, dead selves we once were, and coming alive in the eternal love of God.

     Over these past several weeks during the Season of Lent, we have been focusing on the different robes of Jesus as he journeyed to the cross. These different kinds of robes can help us to be the Easter people that God has called us to be.

     The shining robe is what points people to God’s glory and radiance. The healing robe is what reminds us that God’s healing presence is always reaching out to us so that we can be made whole. The servant’s robe is what prompts us to humbly serve the needs of others.

     The seamless robe is what reminds us to not gamble away our faith. The spreading robe is how we honor Christ as the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. The burial robe is what will never let us forget the sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf when he died on the cross.

     And finally, there’s the rolled up robe. The Easter robe. The robe that will never let us forget that Jesus is risen and that we are an Easter people!

   You know sometimes, I feel so sorry for you as my congregation. Some churches have really cool and hip pastors who preach wearing tapered ripped jeans and t-shirts. They have tattoos and goatees.

     And then there are pastors like me. A dime, a dozen. Traditional, middle-aged robe wearing pastors.

     I think it was around the 1980s when it started to become uncool for pastors to wear a robe. Even when I don’t wear a worship robe for our contemporary service, you’ll find me wearing the tried and true sport’s shirt, khaki pants, and penny loafers.

     If you want a Kohls/JC Penney type of pastor, I’m your guy. I’ve tried to shop at H & M but it just doesn’t work for me. Sorry.

     But do you know what?  Every time I wear this worship robe, it reminds me of Jesus who wore many robes, especially the one that was rolled up in an empty tomb.

     And that’s good enough for me.

     Happy Easter!

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