Carrying our Ebenezers Into the World

MATTHEW 28:1-10

28 After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Any time an angel appears to someone the first words out of their mouths are, “Do not be afraid.”  What a sight they must be!  All of the Gospel accounts put in different details to their particular accounts.  Some have two angels, some have one, they have different conversations, they have different ordering of things, but they all have one critical thing in common – an empty tomb.  The stone was rolled away.  He is Risen!  He is Risen Indeed!  In my thinking, the Gospels being so different is evidence they are true stories – to indicate the points of view and the particular audiences they were each writing on behalf.  The one we just read has an earthquake, an angel descending from heaven, and the stone rolled away by the angel.  What does the text say about the guards?  The guards “shook and became like dead men.” Ha!  Again, they must be a sight to behold!  The message the angel relayed to the women made them run “quickly with fear and great joy” as they ran to tell the disciples and Jesus, the Risen One, confirmed the angels message on their way.

What a turn of events!  You may have come to this Easter sunrise service bleary-eyed and numb.  There’s not enough coffee in the world to have me wake up like this every morning – mission trip flights and Easter sunrise is my limit.  Don’t you see the women at the tomb were the same way.  Unlike the disciples, except for John, they had watched the crucifixion.  They had lived and were eye witnesses to Good Friday.  They had mourned on Holy Saturday.  Their Savior, their light in the world, their Rabbi, was gone.  They were grieving and numb as they walked to the tomb that day to bring the funeral spices.  Bleary-eyed just like you and me this Easter sunrise service.  Did you know that some states are outlawing those roadside crosses and those flowers you see along the roadways?  We drive by and with a mere glance, we know that something happened here.

Joyce Keeler knows the pain of losing a loved one in a tragic automobile accident. Nearly 30 years ago, her son lost his life on a rural road in Delaware. For Joyce, driving by the site of the accident is still too painful. She avoids it, even all these years later.

Instead, Joyce goes to the Delaware Highway Memorial Garden at the Smyrna Rest Area near her home. Among the trees, shrubs and flowering plants, is a pathway lined with memorial bricks that bear the names of those who have lost their lives on the roads of Delaware. In the center of the garden is a pond with goldfish, frogs, water lilies and a gurgling waterfall. Tucked amid the busyness of nearby highways U.S. 13 and Delaware 1, it’s a peaceful place to remember and reflect. To honor the memory of her son, Joyce sits quietly near the brick that bears his name.

Patrick Bowers, whose 21-year-old son died in a crash in 2008, also frequents the Delaware Highway Memorial Garden. “It’s not morbid or gloomy, not like a feeling you can get at a cemetery,” he says. “It’s a garden like someone would do in their backyard.”

Delaware is one of several states providing alternatives to roadside memorials because traffic safety officers worry they are a dangerous distraction to drivers, and put those who maintain them in harm’s way. In most states, descansos, what they call the memorial sites, are illegal, but officials rarely enforce those laws. When we lived in Florida they used signs to mark the site of a crash. Others have adopted laws limiting the time a memorial is allowed to remain on the side of the road. Still others offer to plant memorial trees at the sites of fatal accidents.

Joyce Keeler much prefers the garden over the roadside memorial.  “Things like that get old, and the flowers fade,” she says. “But this will never go away.”

The very same instinct that drives people to the site of a crash may have carried Mary Magdalene, a close disciple of Jesus, and another Mary, identified a few verses earlier as the mother of James and Joseph, to the tomb early in the morning.

They came not with a handmade cross and flowers, but with oils and spices.

They came not to set up a roadside memorial, but to care for the body of the one they followed, the one who loved and accepted them when no one else did.

They came prepared to do the only thing they could think of to honor the memory of Jesus.

Another Mary, was grieving the loss of her son.  Who could know the agony she endured from Friday to Sunday morning? Even the care she received from the “beloved disciple,” John, her son’s best friend, could not alleviate the sadness and despair.  It’s not likely, that she ever went back to the place where he died. Not much chance she wanted to sit by a cross, like some mothers might do today. The cross on this hill was the instrument of her son’s most cruel and painful death. She’d been there to witness it. Where would she go to remember?

Did she want to erect a memorial?

Did she want some place she could visit and just think about her son?

Did she want to erect a pillar of stones in his memory in his hometown, Nazareth, or in Bethlehem where he was born?

Did she want to post a sign at the site of some of his most famous miracles?

Did she want to turn the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus into a shrine or museum in his honor?

Surely, the thought crossed her mind: “How can I remember my son? How can we all remember him?”

Her people, after all, had a strong tradition of building memorials or Ebenezer’s. If you pay attention to hymns in church, there is one Hebrew term you will remember singing. It’s in the second stanza of… “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” The stanza reads:

Here I raise my Ebenezer,
Hither by Thy help I’m come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.

“Ebenezer.” A Hebrew word.  Hear the word and your first thought is of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and the most famous “Ebenezer” in all of literature: Ebenezer Scrooge.

The prophet Samuel took a stone, set it up and named it Ebenezer.   1 Samuel 7:12 memorably says: “Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Jeshanah, and named it Ebenezer; for he said, ‘Thus far the LORD has helped us.'” Samuel set up a memorial stone. “Ebenezer” literally means “stone of help.” It was a stone set to commemorate the help the people of Israel perceived had been given them by God in defeating the Philistines when they got back the ark of the covenant. … The Scots Bible translator, James Moffatt, translates it literally: “Samuel took a stone … naming it Helpstone.”

What do all 4 Gospel accounts have in common?  An empty tomb!  Jesus is ALIVE!  Death has been defeated. Love wins.  Our God is the God of help. This is the refrain that breathes through the Bible. The Great God of the Universe, our God has gave us the greatest Ebenezer of all – Jesus – our Cornerstone, as it says in our Psalm this morning.  Our Cornerstone is the greatest Ebenezer that the world has ever known!  The one they thought was in the grave is instead on the move. He’s still calling them to follow him as he now calls to us to follow him.

May we do so.  May we be Resurrection people!  May we embody the love of Christ to all the world.  May we not be afraid to share our Ebenezer’s, the times that God’s helped us on our faith journeys and share them with the world.  I ask that you come as you feel led to get one of these stones, symbolizing the stone that was rolled away.   Symbolizing the Great Ebenezer that God sent us in Jesus, our Ultimate Help.  Symbolizing our Cornerstone in Christ.  I’ll also challenge you to take another stone.  Tell someone in the weeks ahead about Jesus.  Share a story of how he helped you.  Tell a story of how he saved you.  It may be awkward, you may stammer and stutter a bit, but what a blessing, and a Help you would be to someone who doesn’t know our Risen Savior.  We’re Easter people after all!  We are called to share this Good News of the empty tomb!  Jesus is Alive!

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