The Sunday of the Resurrection - Easter Day
April 20, 2003
The Gospel: Mark 16:1-8
Sermon: "The Stone Was Rolled Away"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
Mark 16: 1-8
The Stone Was Rolled Away
Easter Sunday - April 20, 2003
As the women were walking to the tomb they pondered this question, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?" (NRSV). It is interesting how we focus on physical things at difficult times in our lives. For example, a family dealing with the death of a loved one will often pick up items that were important to the loved one they lost. A special hat, a comfortable chair, a pipe, a picture, becomes a tangible part of the person who is gone. We have seen shrines of letters, flowers, pictures, and mementos left in honor of someone who died too early in their life. These mementos are physical symbols of love. While these physical mementos are expressions of love, they are also expressions of grief and loss. For the most part the emotional emphasis is on the loss. These mementos remind us of an ending of the life of a loved one.
I wonder if the women going to the tomb to anoint Jesus' body realized the stone had these connotations for them. These women, Mary Magdalene, Mary and Salome had followed Joseph as he buried Christ on Friday. They watched as he wrapped the body in the linen. They saw him place Jesus' body in the tomb. They stood there watching as the stone rolled into place sealing the tomb. As the stone rolled into place it signified for them the end of Jesus' life and his ministry. The stone rolled into place was a symbol of the end of their hopes and dreams for a new life. Finally, the stone sealing the tomb was an obstacle. For these women, it prevented them from ministering to the body of Jesus. The stone became a symbol for the end of it all.
The stone was such a powerful symbol for them that they discuss it while they are walking. How will they get past the stone? How will get they past this obstacle, this symbol of death and ending, to anoint the body? Who will roll away the stone?
But then they arrive at the tomb. The stone is already removed from the opening. What does it mean? What does this moved stone represent now? They look inside the opening to the tomb. Sitting before them is a man who tells them Jesus is risen. The place where Jesus' body lay is empty.
What did the moved stone mean? The moved stone meant resurrection, new life, the fulfillment of all their dreams and expectations. It is true that the fulfillment did not come in the manner they expected. God often moves in unexpected ways. Who moved the stone for them? God did. God did what they could not do. God moved the stone and the moved stone now means a new relationship with God. The moved stone means a new life in a new day in a new way. Death is not an end.
What do we see today, two thousand years later, as we look at the moved stone? We see the opportunity for a new day. We see the opportunity to look at life differently. We do not see death as an ending. We see the resurrection as a new beginning. Jesus' death took away dying to sin. Jesus' resurrection gives us eternal life. Today is the Lord's Day and it is wonderful before our eyes.
The stone can symbolize one more thing for us. I mentioned earlier that we use items to remind us of loved ones past. There is nothing wrong with keeping these items close. These reminders can be a help to us. However, we also hang onto other items, traditions or patterns in our lives that are obstacles for us. These stones might be hanging too tight to old traditions. They might be material stones, the desire for wealth or material possessions. They could be spiritual stones such as being prideful or boastful. They could be stones of apathy where we don't care about others or we have a me first attitude. These stones, rolled into place, are dangerous and deadly to our relationship with others and with God. They are dangerous because they seal us in to bad judgments, poor choices, and blindness in our search for God. Often times, most of the time, we can not remove them by ourselves. Like the women on the way to the tomb we are not strong enough to move these heavy stones.
But we do know someone who can. God rolled away the stone of death and replaced it forever with eternal life with God. God can help us roll away our stones too. There is no stone of ours so heavy that God can not help us remove it from our lives. There is no stone so harmful that God can not remove it and replace it with a living heart of love. Today we offer God great thanks and praise. For on this day God removed the stone of death. On this day Jesus rose, defeating sin and death, and offering eternal life with God. The ministry of Jesus is complete. The opportunity for a restored and eternal life for each of us with God is opened. Furthermore, on this earthly pilgrimage we have help with our own stones. God is still with us. God will always love us. God will always help us.
With our trust and hope and love in our gracious and loving God we say:
“Alleluia!! Christ is Risen!!”
“The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia.”