A Portable Tomb: A Sermon for the Resurrection of Our Lord on St. Matthew 28:1-10

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In life as well as death, Christians recognize the importance of taking care of the body, for it is a gift of God, the temple of the Holy Spirit. After Jesus’ death, Joseph of Arimathea treated our Lord’s body with the greatest reverence, wrapping it in a clean shroud and placing it in a tomb which he himself had cut in the rock and carefully sealed up the entrance with a great stone.

You could argue that all of this is excessive. Why bother wasting a perfectly good shroud on someone who’s dead? It’s not like they can really do anything with it. But we do the same thing: though our departed loved ones are gone from our sight, we nevertheless dress them nicely and prepare the body for burial with the utmost reverence.

This is a good thing, because it reminds us that the body is a gift of God, something to take care of in both life and death. And just because something might not have the most practical of functions, that doesn’t make it worthless. If that were the case, God would have wasted a whole lot of effort creating a beautiful place for His creatures to dwell. We take care of our loved ones in life and death, even dong what we can to beautify our graveyards.

So the women went to see Jesus’ tomb. They certainly loved Him and wanted to anoint His body with spices. But no matter how beautiful we make our tombs, no matter how much care we take to treat the body reverently, the tomb remains a cold reminder of death. All the burial spices and flowers on the grave in the world cannot change that.

But you don’t have to go to the graveyard to find a tomb. We typically think of graveyards as a place to visit, but Scripture describes another sort of tomb, one that’s much nearer and worse than any physical graveyard. You see, a place like Bethania has already done its work. Once you’re there, the grave has nothing more to do. It can’t continue to harm you once you’re dead and buried.

But there’s another tomb that Scripture speaks of, one that is much more insidious than any graveyard and much nearer than you think. It’s a portable graveyard of sorts, one that’s located between your head and shoulders. Romans 3 describes the throat as a wicked grave, a place that is filled with the venom of asps (v. 13).

It’s worth pausing to consider what Scripture teaches about this portable tomb you carry around with you in your throat. Like the tomb, your throat is a place of death. But unlike the grave, your throat can be used to harm others continually. Your venomous and hurtful words are so much more potent than the grave, because once the grave has claimed you, it can do nothing more. The throat, on the other hand, is an open grave that continues to claim victims, maybe even the same victim, again and again and again. Repent. It’s not by mistake that Scripture describes the throat as a grave or your words as the venom of asps. It’s deadly, not something to mess around with.

This is why St. James warns us to guard the tongue, for its poison is deadly. He says that the tongue is a small member, yet this small fire is capable of setting the greatest of forests ablaze (James 3:5). All that’s needed is a spark. James describes this portable tomb as “a restless evil, full of deadly poison,” (James 3:8).

And while you’ve certainly used this poison against others, it has been used above all else against your Lord. You have opened wide the grave of your throat, and that’s why Jesus was laid in the tomb. He was crucified because you couldn’t keep your tongue under control. Trying to control the tongue is a hopeless task, for Jesus teaches that the evil that comes from the mouth proceeds from the heart (Mark 7:20ff.). So if we can’t stop the evil from coming, we think the next best thing is to hide it.

The Pharisees were experts at hiding their sin, at putting a good appearance on things. Jesus described them as whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness (Matt 23:27). We’re not bad at that either. We do everything we can to appear righteous in the sight of others. And worst of all, the more we work at appearing righteous, the more we begin to believe that we actually are righteous, or at least pretty good.

We not only hide the dead bones and uncleanness within from others, we do a pretty good job of hiding it from ourselves. We hear God’s verdict: you are unrighteous, your throat is an open grave, your words are venom, and we think that’s too harsh. But lest you forget just how inwardly rotten you are, remember that the poison of your sin is what killed Jesus and put Him in the tomb.

Jesus would have you despair of your righteousness, to recognize just how wretched you are, because it is only then that He can make you righteous. Appearing righteous before others is nothing compared to actually being made righteous by your Lord. Concealing sin is a poor alternative to confessing it. Having come forth from the tomb, Jesus invites you to open wide that portable grave of yours, that place of death, so that He might fill it with the Bread of Life. His Gospel is the antidote to the poison of sin. Our Lord overcomes death in a graveyard and puts His life-giving Word on lips that once spoke nothing but death.

Where sin is remedied, death gives way to life. Every tomb is powerless against Jesus and His saints. Easter is good news for you. Jesus not only died that you might die to sin, but lives that you might live with Him forever. Like Jesus, we and our loved ones may disappear from the sight of the world for a time, but Christ’s saints will never disappear from His sight. Our tombs may be a cold reminder of death, but our Lord’s tomb is a most beautiful reminder of life. Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Soli Deo Gloria

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