A new story

A new story

The stone marks the place of those who died. But one cemetery tells a different story.

John P. Bortulin

The sights and sounds and the subdued quietness of the 9/11 Memorial on the southside of Manhattan told a story that left a sobering mark on us. From there my wife and I headed a few blocks east and stumbled across a historic church with a cemetery filled with markers dating back to the late 1600s.

Cemeteries tell stories, and this one was no exception.

“Here lies the body of . . .” was inscribed on stones all around us. The oldest stone belonged to a five-year-old boy; not far from there a 37-year-old doctor. Next to it a small stone read, “In memory of eight children of . . .” and “Of such is the Kingdom of God.” Heartbreak at every turn. Walk a little further, and there lies the body of Alexander Hamilton.

Cemeteries tell the same story, stone after stone: young and old, rich and poor, famous and infamous and insignificant, this unwelcome intrusion into God’s good and perfect world called death plays no favorites. Same story, death wins.

A different story

Death wins, the women must have thought that first Easter, with their burial spices in hand. Did they kick the dirt and did tears sting their eyes as they went to anoint the dead body of the one whom they loved, the One who loved them? Could this really be the end of his story?

Cemeteries tell stories, and that one was no exception. Except on that Easter morning, that cemetery told a different story! A holy angel had moved the stone away so that he could tell the story that Job would have inscribed in stone forever.

“ ‘Don’t be alarmed,’ [the angel] said. ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, “He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you” ’ ” (Mark 16:6,7).

Did you catch it? The turn in this story? He’s alive! Jesus the Nazarene, the one crucified for your sins and the sins of the whole world, the one who did not cry out “it is finished” until it really was, the one who was an answer for this unwelcome intrusion into this world—an answer for sin—for the women, for Peter (and have you had any Peter moments lately?) and for you. Most important this Easter—for you.

A victorious story

Cemeteries tell stories, and this one was no exception.

I think of cemeteries far removed from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan (with the street vendors peddling hot dogs and gyros and three “I Love NY” hats for $9.99). I think of cemeteries I have stood in next to knee-high corn or in bitter January winds. I recall cemeteries I’ve muddied shoes in as pastor, family member, and friend.  I think of stones with names of those I love. Yet every one of those stones marks a victory, because in every one the angel’s message still rings true: “He has risen. He is not here.”

It’s a new story. A beautiful story. Death loses, Jesus wins. Those who die in Christ, live in Christ. Here’s the story: He lives for the women and Mary and the disciples and Peter and you.

“Here lies the body of . . .” Not forever, Easter says, not forever. “I believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”

Cemeteries tell a story but none greater than the empty one on Easter morning. For the Lamb once slain is resurrected. Victorious. Alive.

That’s not just the end of the story. It is your story!

John Bortulin is pastor at St. John, Mukwonago, Wisconsin.

Author: John P. Bortulin
Volume 106, Number 4
Issue: April 2019

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