January 31: Here I Raise My Ebenezer
Matthew tells us the women went back to Jesus’ grave. Mary and the other Mary, at the beginning of the week, three days after the funeral, went back. They were at the burial and saw Jesus’ body placed in the tomb. They saw the tomb sealed with the stone, but they went back. We don’t know why they went back. Luke says they went to anoint the body, but Matthew doesn’t tell us why they went back. We can imagine, though. Why do we return two days later or year after year with flowers, a note, or just a softly spoken word?
The women are worried about the stone when they return. Who will move the stone? The stone was keeping them from their loved one. It was the final sign of death’s victory and their great loss.
But the women never have to face that massive stone alone. The stone that appeared to mark death’s finality and victory is rolled away. An angel sits atop it and says, “Do not fear, for I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified, who was killed, who was dead, I understand why you came back here, but Jesus is not here, he has risen, the stone is all that’s left, come see for yourselves.”
Whenever “Do not fear” is proclaimed is proclaimed in the Scriptures, God is injecting hope into an otherwise impossible situation.
Death seems like an impossible situation: an enemy we cannot defeat, an end we cannot escape. But God says, “Do not fear for there is hope even in the valley of the shadow of death and the shadow of this stone. For the stone that you fear and reject will become the cornerstone of your hope. I have rolled away the stone. The tomb is empty. I have raised Christ from the dead and you, too, will be raised to walk in newness of life.”
God helps in the face of death and the stone bears witness. The stone that we reject because it seems to declare death’s conquest becomes the cornerstone of our hope and faith. It becomes an Ebenezer celebrating God’s victory over death.
“Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by thy help I’ve come.”
Ebenezer in Hebrew means “God has helped,” and comes from a story in 1 Samuel. The Israelites had just lost the ark of the covenant and were now cornered on a mountain top with the Philistine army bearing down, ready to destroy them.
The Israelites had no chance of victory. The Ark was gone, the defeat was inevitable, and the loss was already beginning to sting. Their foe was upon them and was not going to show any mercy, but God showed up. After the Israelite victory, Samuel set up a stone and named it Ebenezer saying, “Thus far has the Lord helped us.” The stone was a symbol of God’s victory for the Israelites in the face of an impossible situation; in the face of annihilation.
So do not fear: the stone that is rolled away proclaims God’s help and victory.
Do not fear: God proclaims that death has lost its sting and its victory cannot be found.
Do not fear: there is hope. Here at the grave, in the devil’s backyard, God sets our greatest enemy under God’s feet. Here at the grave we raise up stones celebrating God’s victory and mercy. Here at the grave we no longer have reason to fear because we are able to proclaim in the face of death, “Here I raise my Ebenezer!” For when we were destined to perish, God showed up with life. That’s our faith, our blessed assurance, our cornerstone.
In common calling,