Don't get stuck in the tomb

Nathanial Bentley was a wealthy young man who inherited a London hardware business and a fortune from his father. He was fastidious in dress and manners, and was known as ‘the Beau of Leadenhall Street’. He was engaged to be married, and on the night before the wedding, all was prepared, with a room of his house laid out for the wedding breakfast. But that night his fiancé suddenly died. Distraught with grief, Nathanial closed the door on the room, and the food was left to the rats and mice to consume, as the room remained closed for 40 years. He himself stopped washing, and never cleaned his house in all those years. He became known as ‘Dirty Dick’ and a pub was named after him which recreated some of the squalor in the basement bar, with thick cobwebs hanging from the rafters along with skeletons of cats, and for many years delighted drinkers in this pub close to Liverpool Street Station. Alas the pub has been cleaned up but at least one cat skeleton remains in the ‘cabinet of death’.

Sometimes you just get stuck. Something happens in life that you just can’t get over.

That could easily have happened to the disciples after the death of Jesus. They were frightened, lost men, who did not know what to do; John tells us they withdrew to the upper room and closed the doors ‘for fear of the Jews’, they thought they were coming after them. If that really had been the end of Jesus, they would perhaps have gone back to what they were before, back to fishing and tax collecting.

They might just have got stuck, as disgraced disciples of a failed religious leader, consumed with bitterness and regret. Would they have passed on his teaching, or would that have died with him? Would we ever have heard anything about Jesus if he had just died?

Well, he didn’t just die. He rose from the tomb. In the midst of despair, hope was restored. If the sight of Jesus on the cross is a reminder to us of God’s infinite love for us, then the empty tomb is a reminder to us, that with God nothing is impossible, the empty tomb is cause for infinite hope.

However desperate our situation, however impossible it might seem, God can bring us through it, if we have faith and trust in him. The power of the resurrection of Jesus can help us emerge from the catacombs of catastrophe, the necropolis of negativity, the tomb of gloom. It can push away the stone that blocks our way forward, that prevents us from moving on.

But you have to want to move on. You have to want to get out of that tomb. When Jesus raised Lazarus from the tomb, he called out to him with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth.’ Lazarus could have said ‘No, I don’t want to go through all that again’ and stayed where he was. However he responded to the voice of Jesus and emerged, and life began again for him. So too, the risen Jesus brings new life to us.

A stone was rolled in front of the tomb, to close it, and that stone had to be unrolled for Jesus to emerge. If we want to move on from whatever holds us back, we have to put a name to that stone, to name our problems. When Mary Magdalen was asked by the angels the reason for her sorrow, she replied immediately that the body of her beloved Lord had been taken away and she didn’t know where he was.

We have to identify what it is that holds us back. We may need help to roll the stone, and should not be too proud or ashamed to share our problem and ask for advice and help, that will give us the extra strength we need to roll the stone away. We should ask in prayer for the grace of God to give us the strength that appears beyond our capabilities.

Nathanial Bentley must have been a sad sight, as well as a smelly one. ‘He stinketh’, they must have said. If someone sent him a letter they simply addressed it to ‘the Dirty Warehouse’ and the postman knew where to deliver it. Either he couldn’t move on or he didn’t want to.

In Winterton, on Good Friday we would walk the Way of the Cross through the village:  Jesus fell beside the post office, Veronica wiped the face of Jesus outside the pub. We had a wonderful group of marine cadets who accompanied us, around the village. They had a band, with a rather limited repertoire, but they played something as we walked in between each station: Abide with me, O god our help in ages past, that sort of thing. When Jesus died on the cross on the dunes, a bugler played the last post. And at the last station Jesus was laid in the tomb, on the beach, and the band played the theme from ‘The Great Escape.’

For so it was: the great escape. And if Christ can do that. What can he not do for us, if we have faith in his resurrection?

Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!