Summary: Fear is the first reaction to the Resurrection. After all, what could be more frightening than being in a graveyard when things that ought to be dead start walking around?
By the Rev. Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh
Sunrise Presbyterian Church
Easter Sunday, April 23, 2000
1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body.
2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb
3 and they asked each other, "Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?"
4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.
5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
6 "Don’t be alarmed," he 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.
7 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.’"
8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
It was back in my college days.
Mary Todd came by the dormitory and asked me if I wanted to go for a bike ride.
Sure, why not. So off we went riding on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. We rode for a long time -- you see, I went to college in a small town called Due West, South Carolina, and on a Sunday afternoon, there wasn’t much else to do, so we rode on and on.
We came to a dirt road and Mary Todd told me that she had been down that road once and she’d made a discovery. "Come on, let me show you something," she said enticingly.
I followed her onto that dirt road, into the woods.
We came to a field of weeds. In the field there were places where the earth was depressed. These depressions were all the same size and shape. They formed a distinctive pattern, row upon row. Mary Todd told me it was an old cemetery. It was so old that the coffins had rotten away, causing the dirt to
sink inward. There were one or two gravestones. They were so old you could just barely make out a letter here and there, but no words.
I realized it was beginning to get dark. I suggested to Mary Todd that we go back to the campus before the dining hall closed. She agreed.
Then after supper, I went back to my room and got in bed, but I kept thinking about those graves -- fascinated with how they were sunken inward.
Even though it was night, I got up, and I went back to that cemetery alone. I looked down at one of the graves, when all of a sudden a hand reached out of the grave, grabbed my leg and started pulling me in! I
started screaming for help!
In the distance, I could hear a voice. "Maynaaaard. Maynard. Stoooop screaming. Wake up Maynard, you’re having a nightmare."
Of course, it is an embarrassing thing to have happen. There I was in bed, with 5 or 6 college guys looking down at me. Laughing.
Mary Todd and I had gone to that cemetery and I had dreamed about it that night. I’d had a nightmare.
But cemeteries are frightening places. And the nightmare of someone in a grave coming alive is a frightening thing.
New Ebenezer is a camp and conference center in Rincon, Georgia, where I have led or assisted in a number of youth camps. One of the things about that camp is that it is right next door to an old cemetery.
I have often taken small groups of campers into that cemetery to see the ancient gravestones. The best time is at night, not because of the fear factor, but because some of the older gravestones cannot be read in the daytime. You have to go at night and hold a flashlight on the edge of the marker and let the
shadows highlight the faint letters.
On one particular camp, I took some boys on the tour and then back to the cabin. And after I was asleep, some of the boys snuck out of the cabin and went the cabin next door and got some of the boys who had not been with us on the tour of the graveyard. And the boys took these other campers on the same tour that I had given earlier.
Of course, there was one difference. My boys had taken one of their friends and had him hide in the graveyard. He was laid out on top of a grave. The other boys had covered him with leaves. Then at just the right moment, just as our boys were taking the other campers on the tour, trying to read the faint inscriptions on the gravestones, this pile of leaves would erupt and a young boy would scream at them: "AHHHHHGGGG".