Have you heard of “4 Minute Mile”? In the sport of athletics, the four-minute mile means running a mile in less than four minutes. According to legend, experts said for years that the human body was simply not capable of a 4-minute mile. Since 1864, for almost a century, numerous athletes had tried to run 1 mile in 4 minutes, but no one could make it. So, people began to believe that it is impossible for human beings to run 1 mile within 4 minutes. But, in 1945 one physician released a paper that said the human body is capable of running 1 mile in 4 minutes. Few years later, on May 6, 1954 Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute barrier. Then some more runners did. Now, it’s almost routine. Even strong high-schoolers today run 4-minute miles. Our Lord Jesus Christ broke the barrier, the wall that had divided the possible from the impossible, the wall that had divided eternal life from death. The Bible says, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1Co 15:20). Jesus Christ our Lord has conquered death, has broken down every wall, and opened the door to eternal life so that we may follow him.
The Women at Jesus’ Tomb
In today’s gospel lesson we meet Mary Magdalene and the other women. Those are faithful ones. When Jesus was on the cross, they didn’t abandon him but were standing by the cross of Jesus (John 19:25). After Jesus was placed in a tomb, they waited until the Sabbath was past. Early the next morning, they came to the tomb with spices while it was still dark, hoping they might anoint him. That was all they could do. They loved Jesus very much, but now he’s gone. They must have felt hopeless and powerless. They didn’t know what to do next. Although they were going to the tomb early in the morning, they didn’t even know what to say to the tomb guards. They didn’t have the strength to roll the tomb stone away for themselves. On the way they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away for us?” (Mark 16:4) They were filled with all kinds of worry and fear. But to their surprise, as they arrived, they looked up and saw that the huge stone had “already” been rolled away! Jesus already did everything. It was Jesus who conquered death. It was Jesus who rolled the stone away. It was Jesus who first came to see these women. In fact, all the problems and concerns that the women had had already been solved. They didn’t need to roll the stone away. They didn’t need to find and anoint Jesus’ body. Jesus already did everything for them. That is why Jesus was able to say on the cross, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). “It’s done… complete!” (MSG). Do you any burden of life – guilt, shame, wound, pain – something in your heart like a large stone that you cannot just role away for yourself? You have good news! Jesus has already rolled away that stone. For you. For me.
The Resurrection at Houlton/Hodgdon
That’s why we are here today to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Some of us in this room may still wonder what does Jesus resurrection have to do with me. Why the resurrection of Jesus matters? It matters because it tells us that this life is not everything, and there will be a resurrection of all the dead, including you and me. We will be resurrected. 1 Corinthians 15:23 says, “But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.” 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 says that when our Lord Jesus Christ returns with the trumpet call, the dead in Christ will rise first and then we will also be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever!” By his suffering, death, and resurrection, Jesus did open the gate to eternal life. So now everyone who believes in him has eternal life. In Christ you have eternal life!
Imagine the Day of the Lord! Imagine that your loved ones are raised from the grave at the Evergreen Cemetery or Hodgdon Cemetery. How would you feel? In fact, artist Stanley Spencer had this experience of revelation. He lived in the small English village of Cookham and attended a small Methodist church. There was a small cemetery in his churchyard. He passed through it numerous times, perhaps several times a week. One day as he was passing through this churchyard, Spencer had a sudden awakening experience. He perceived the great resurrection of the dead in his humble churchyard. He wrote his experience in this way: “Quite suddenly I became aware that everything was full of special meaning, and this made everything holy. The instinct of Moses to take his shoes off when he saw the burning bush was very similar to my feelings. I saw many burning bushes in Cookham. I observed the sacred quality in the most unexpected quarters.” In his painting, The Resurrection at Cookham, we see not only the Son Jesus and the Father in the center, but also his loved ones – his family and friends, and Spencer himself. When we believe in the resurrection of Jesus and all the dead, our local churchyard, this place, becomes a new Garden of Eden. In a sense Houlton/ Hodgdon becomes what Spencer called “a holy suburb of heaven.” The resurrection of Jesus tells us that on the Day of the Lord we will be resurrected. As Bonhoeffer says, in Jesus Christ all of us will be eternally united with him, and with one another, and with our loved ones.
But there is more! The resurrection of Jesus gives us not only hope for tomorrow, but also it gives us power to live our new life today. Jesus promised, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18). He also promised, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt 28:20). Believing in resurrection is at the core of Christianity. And the most important truth of the resurrection is that the Risen Christ lives in us today. In this respect, John Wesley cried out as his last words, “The best of all is, God (the Risen Christ) is with us!” Today we are not here to honor a good teacher Jesus, who taught the truth and died two thousand years ago. We are here to worship and celebrate a risen King and Savior, Jesus Christ, who lives in the world and in us today! There are many evidences of Jesus’ resurrection, but perhaps the greatest evidence of all is the transformation of the disciples of Jesus. All of them were transformed from cowards to martyrs because of the resurrection. They met the Risen Christ. Eventually, 11 of the 12 men died for their faith in Christ. Saul was transformed from a passionate persecutor of Christian to the world’s greatest missionary for Christ. He was sold out for Christ. How can this be possible? Only the resurrection. Saul met the Risen Christ. Not only in Jesus’ time, but also even today we know it is true by our own experience. There were times in my college years, I found no meaning or purpose of life. But after I met the Risen Christ, my life changed. Everything became new and meaningful. Even in small things – whether I ate a meal, took a nap, or took a walk, I could find a sense of purpose and meaning and feel joy, contentment, and peace! The risen Christ gives us power to live a new life in him and makes us more like him.
Perhaps one of the most beloved Easter hymns is “He Lives” written by Alfred Ackley. There is a story behind this hymn. In fact, there were two events that gave Pastor Ackley fresh insight to write this hymn. One day he was holding an evangelistic meeting. A young sincere Jewish student asked the question, “Why should I worship a dead Jew?” Ackley answered, ““He Lives! I tell you; He is not dead, but lives here and now! Jesus Christ is more alive today than ever before. I can prove it by my own experience, as well as the testimony of countless thousands.” The young Jewish student eventually accepted the living Christ as his own personal Savior. Few days later, Easter Sunday came. On that Easter Day morning Ackley turned on his radio. He was then shocked to hear a preacher say something like this, “You know, it really doesn’t matter to me if Christ be risen or not. His body could have turned to dust long ago in some Palestinian tomb. But what’s important is that His truth goes marching on!” Ackley was so upset. That Sunday he preached with great fervency on the resurrection of Jesus based on the Scripture: “He is not here; for He is risen, as He said.” But later that night, he still could not shake the question of that young Jewish student and the words of that preacher. Then, his wife said, “Why don’t you write a song about it?. Then you will have something that will go on telling the story.” That very night Ackley wrote out the words, and then composed the melody:
I serve a risen Saviour, He’s in the world today;
I know that He is living, whatever men may say;
I see His hand of mercy, I hear His voice of cheer,
And just the time I need Him, He’s always near.
He lives, he lives Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.
He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart!
 Terry Glaspey, 75 Master Pieces Every Christian Should Know (Grand Rapids: Michigan, 2015), 214-15.