Rev. David Holwick N Easter
First Baptist Church
Ledgewood, New Jersey
April 24, 2011
Luke 23:50-24:3, Ephesians 2:1-6
I. No proper funeral.
A. Easter has only a death and a grave.
1) Presumably a funeral service for Jesus would have come
after the Sabbath was over.
2) We do know the women were coming to the tomb to prepare
the body with fragrant spices.
B. The grave part has always been touchy.
1) This may strike you as "unseemly" for an Easter topic but
Easter is certainly about death.
2) Death makes us uncomfortable.
3) In American funerals, the grave is hidden under the casket.
4) Flowers are strategically placed to conceal the gaping hole.
a) We don't shovel it in or even throw dirt these days.
b) It is kept pretty and positive.
C. Easter gives a more realistic presentation.
1) Death is real. It is grim.
a) Graves need to be reflected on.
b) But the grave doesn't have to be God's last word.
2) Funerals can be trumped by faith. (real life is what it's about)
II. Years ago, people worried a lot about the grave.
A. The fear was that the person wasn't really dead.
1) There was an even greater fear that YOU would be the one
not really dead.
The deathbed request of George Washington: "Have me decently
buried, but do not let my body be put into a vault in
less than two days after I am dead."
In 1769 Lord Chesterfield said, "All I desire for my own
burial is not to be buried alive."
Pianist Frederic Chopin asked doctors to perform surgery on
him after he was declared dead, just to make sure.
Edgar Allen Poe played up the fear in some of his stories.
2) It wasn't an unreasonable fear.
In the 1700s, when large plagues hit an area it was common
to bury victims as quickly as possible.
Some were only in a coma or otherwise unresponsive.
But they weren't dead.
When cemeteries were so full they had to be recycled,
cemetery workers found many coffins had scratch marks
When the tomb of philosopher John Duns Scotus was reopened,
his body was actually found outside of the coffin.
It happened in the United States, too.
In 1898 a military cemetery in South Dakota was moved.
They found evidence that 2% of those buried had not been
dead at the time.
It has been estimated that in some periods, one out of 25
people was buried alive.
B. The Victorian solution.
1) In the 1800s inventors came up with safety coffins.
a) One design had a rope placed in the corpse's hand.
1> It went from his casket up to the church bell tower.
2> Try ringing our bell and see if you think that was
a good idea.
b) It was more typical to have a flag pop up.
1> This still had drawbacks - the flag's cord was again
attached to the corpse, and sometimes corpses
twitch a little.
2> So one design put a tube down to the casket with a
little window so you could double-check.
c) A guy in Newark had a nice touch.
1> His safety coffin had a large tube going down to
the casket with a ladder attached.
2> After you revived, you just climbed out.
2) While safety coffins were sold, there is no evidence any
of them ever worked.
a) Hope springs eternal, though.
b) In 1995 an Italian came up with a new model.
For $5,000 you get a casket equipped with one of those
life-alert buttons that calls for help.
There is also a two-way microphone/speaker so you can
communicate with someone on the surface.
And the coffin includes a survival kit with flashlight,
a small oxygen tank, and even a heart stimulator.
III. How modern people get buried alive.
A. The literal problem is not as big an issue.
1) Medical science has made far-reaching advances and dead
people tend to be really dead.
2) However, there was that case of the New York coroner in the
1980s who had a fatal heart attack after the "corpse" he
cut into jumped up and grabbed his throat...
3) But for most of us, being buried alive is an apt metaphor
rather than a literal expectation.
B. Many are buried in problems.
1) Drowning in debt.
2) Starved for love.
3) Mortified by doubts and fears.
C. Rather than being buried alive, we are the walking dead.
1) Modern people have tons of possessions but no peace of mind.
2) Our problems can be so overwhelming we prefer death.
The tragic case of LaShandra Armstrong, who discovered her
husband was cheating on her. She didn't want to live.
She decided her kids would die with her, too, and drove her
car into the Hudson River.
At the last moment she changed her mind and cried out, but
it was too late.
Only one child survived to tell the story.
3) We may think we are alive, but we are dead because of sin.
a) Ephesians 2:1...
1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions
2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways
of this world...
3 All of us also lived among them at one time,
gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and
following its desires and thoughts...
b) Dead because of our evil desires and selfish choices.
c) Dead, with no hope it will change.
IV. Easter shows there is hope.
A. Luke was a doctor and knew a thing or two about death.
1) At this point, Jesus is just a corpse that needs to be
a) A new tomb is offered and accepted.
2) His version of Easter mentions the women coming to the tomb.
a) What is remarkable is not what they saw, but what they
b) The tomb was empty. No Jesus anywhere.
c) There wasn't going to be a funeral for Jesus. Ever.
B. God still brings people back from the dead.
Louis Zamperini was born into an Italian American family.
He spoke no English and this made him the target of bullies.
His dad taught him to box and he became so good at beating
people up he got in trouble with the law.
To divert him from this his brother got him involved in the
high school track team.
Louis really excelled at track and set a world record for the
In 1936 he attended the Olympics in Berlin and finished 8th in
the 5000-meter race.
Eighth isn't that great, but his final lap was so fast it caught
the attention of Adolf Hitler, who insisted on a personal
The world was in turmoil and war had already started in Europe.
Zamperini enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1941 and was
stationed in Hawaii as a bombardier.
He went on several bombing runs against Japanese islands but in
May 1943 he had a special assignment.
His plane took off to search for another downed plane.
Instead of finding them, his own plane had mechanical trouble
and crashed into the ocean.
Louis remembered being entwined in electrical cables as the
broken plane sank into the depths, but somehow he got free
and made it to the surface.
Only three crew members survived the crash.
For 47 days they drifted on two small life rafts.
One of the survivors gave up hope and died.
For the first time in his life, Louis prayed to God.
He had never learned how to pray, so he recited snippets of
prayers he had seen in Hollywood movies.
Soon his prayers became more specific.
After being without water for several days, he prayed for
If God would quench their thirst, he prayed, I will dedicate
my life to you.
That afternoon it rained, just enough to quench their thirst.
After weeks of drifting with the current they finally saw a
plane nearby which doubled back and came over them.
They were delirious with joy, until machine gun bullets began
ripping into the water around them.
It was a Japanese bomber.
Their rafts were riddled with holes yet the men were not hit.
Enough of the air compartments were left to keep them afloat
until they reached an island.
A Japanese-held island.
Because he was famous, Zamperini was transferred to a special
prisoner of war camp in Japan.
The Red Cross was never informed he was a prisoner, and in
1944 the Army officially declared him dead.
For the next two years, Louis might as well have been dead.
He was tortured endlessly and starved till he became a
One guard in particular, nicknamed "The Bird," took a special
interest in beating Louis.
Zamperini survived the war and returned home to his astonished
Overnight he was famous again.
But he forgot all those prayers in the life raft.
Instead, he tried to make quick money through various schemes,
all of which failed.
He became a raging alcoholic to forget his memories but the
nightmares came back every night, especially the nightmares
about The Bird.
His marriage began to unravel.
In 1949 his wife attended a rally in Los Angeles and was so
impressed she asked Louis to go with her the next night.
The speaker was a young evangelist named Billy Graham.
Louis really didn't want to go, but she insisted.
When he finally went, he bolted out when Billy gave the
Then he returned another night and felt his heart being
convicted by God.
He remembered something he had said to God on the life raft,
"God, spare my life through the war, and I'll seek You and
He had never tried to keep one of those prayers.
Louis went forward at Billy's invitation and gave his life to
He told a reporter, "I got off my knees and somehow I knew
I was through getting drunk. I knew it.
I also knew that I forgave all my guards including The Bird."
After he accepted Christ, Louis never had another nightmare
about his Japanese guards.
In 1950 he returned to Japan, where many of his former guards
were now prisoners themselves.
He shared his testimony with them, hugged them, and led a
number of them to Christ.
Zamperini is now 94 and lives in Hollywood.
For his 81st birthday in 1998 he ran a leg in the Olympic Torch
relay for the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.
But the most important thing for him has been preaching the
forgiveness that can only be found in Christ.
V. All of us can share in Christ's victory.
A. But wait, there's more... Ephesians 2
4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is
rich in mercy,
5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in
transgressions -- it is by grace you have been saved.
6 And God raised us up with Christ...
B. Jesus has the ultimate safety coffin for us.
1) We won't need a flag or a ladder to get out.
2) In twinkling of an eye our bodies will be changed.
3) No grave will be able to hold us.
C. God's power is not just for death.
1) When we believe in him, we can start to live now.
2) Really alive, with purpose and direction.
SOURCES FOR ILLUSTRATIONS USED IN THIS SERMON:
I can no longer locate the sources of much of the material in this sermon.
For safety coffins, see “Safety Coffins,” Australian Museum,
http://australianmuseum.net.au/Safety-coffins, and “Saved By the Bell,”
Gary Martin, http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/saved-by-the-bell.html.
For being buried alive, see “Just Dying To Get Out,” by Barbara Mikkelson,
# 63070 “The Famous Runner Forgave His Captors,” by David Holwick, adapted
from material in Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken: A World War II
Story of Surival, Resilience, and Redemption (New York: Random
House, 2010); and "The Amazing Story of Louis Zamperini - Part 2"
by Greg Laurie, <http://blog.greglaurie.com/?p=4387>; and “Louis
Zamperini” article in Wikipedia.org.
These and 35,000 others are part of the Kerux database that can be
downloaded, absolutely free, at http://www.holwick.com/database.html
Alternate concluding illustration:
One of the great acts of grace in our lifetime has been the
powerful stories coming out of South Africa.
After the black Africans under Mandela gained power they set up
the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The Commission sought to bring about justice for all the crimes
that had been committed.
But instead of punishing the evildoers, it sought to reconcile
And these were two sides that had been at each other's throats
In an emotionally charged courtroom, a South African woman stood
with her silent tears, listening to white police officers
acknowledge their atrocities.
Officer van de Broek admitted that he had shot her 18-year-old
son at point-blank range.
Then, he and others partied while they burned her son's body,
turning it over and over until it was reduced to ashes.
Eight years later van de Broek and his associates returned to
seize her husband.
She was forced to watch while they poured gasoline over him
and set him on fire.
As the flames consumed him, her husband's last words were
simply, "Forgive them."
Now, van de Broek awaited judgment.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission asked the woman what
Calmly weeping, she said, "I want three things.
I want Mr. van de Broek to take me to the place where they
buried my husband's body so I can gather up the dust and
give him a proper burial."
"Second, Mr. van de Broek took all my family from me, and I
still have a lot of love to give.
So twice a month, I would like for him to come to the ghetto
and spend a day with me so I can be a mother to him."
"Third, I would like Mr. Van de Broek to know that he is
forgiven by God, and that I forgive him.
I would like to embrace him so he will know my forgiveness
As the elderly woman walked slowly across the courtroom,
Officer van de Broek stood to receive her embrace and fainted.
He was overwhelmed by the spiritual power of this African woman.
In the back of the courtroom, someone began to sing Amazing
And so it was.
It was the grace of a woman infected with Easter, who could not
let hatred and death have the final word in her life.
Copyright © 2017 by Rev. David Holwick
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