Who Will Roll the Stone Away for Us?
Rev. Mark Schaefer
Kay Spiritual Life Center
April 15-16, 2006—Midnight Easter Vigil
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.
Jesus was crucified on a Friday. Because he had died so late in the day, there was no time to prepare the body for burial, because sundown, and the Sabbath, was approaching.
And so we read that Joseph of Arimathea took the body of Jesus and wrapped it in a linen cloth and laid it in a tomb hewn out of the rock. And then he rolled a stone against the door of the tomb.
The Sabbath would have ended on Saturday night at sundown, but the women waited until Sunday morning when it was light to go to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus. Along the way they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us?”
A. The Stone at the Tomb
This is no small matter.
In Jesus’ day, such tombs were usually in a depression and the stone was rolled down an incline to cover the mouth of the tomb. One commentary notes that for a small grave, about twenty men were required to roll a stone down a hill to cover the door of the tomb. Thus, in order to roll the stone away, the women would have needed more than a full Roman guard of 16 men to roll away the stone.
This was a lot of work. The women expected the tomb to be sealed and were well within their rights to have expected that. Certainly the stone at the door of the tomb was an obstacle to their getting to Jesus, to anoint his body.
B. The Stones of our Tombs
We all have stones like that in front of the tombs of our hearts. We all have stones that seem to impede us from getting to Jesus. Those things that weigh upon our hearts, that hold us back, that keep us in the shadow of the cross.
And we know what those stones are: anger, hatred, selfishness, pride, arrogance, bigotry. Fear. Fear is a big one.
Perhaps it is the stone of guilt. The stone of anxiety. Of feeling inadequate. Of feeling oppressed by your own sinfulness and brokenness. There are so many of those stones that lie in front of our hearts, that keep us in tombs of sorrow. That keep us trapped in our sepulchers of alienation from God and from one another.
There are times when we feel as unable to roll away those stones from the tombs of our hearts the way the women must have felt about a stone that would require twenty men to roll away.
III. THE ONE WHO ROLLS AWAY
But the stone had already been rolled away when the women got to the tomb.
In Matthew’s account there was an earthquake and an angel who descended from heaven to open the tomb. There are no such dramatics in Mark’s telling, though his version is no less powerful: Mark says, “when the looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled away.” In Greek, the word Mark uses is anakekulistai, which is a perfect passive: ‘has been rolled away’. Very often, whenever you encounter a verb in the passive voice in Scripture, it means only one thing: God is the agent. God is the one acting. This is at the heart of the passives in the beatitudes: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Pious Jews would regularly use the passive to avoid using the name of God. Paul does this all the time.
So even without the pyrotechnics of the Gospel of Matthew, Mark makes it very clear: the stone of the door of the tomb has been rolled away because God rolled it away.
The women were unable to roll away the stone, just as we are unable to roll away the stones that cover the tombs of our hearts. But it doesn’t matter. God is the one who rolls away the stones.
Whatever those stones may be, God can roll them away. It does not depend on our ability or strength, or our own self-estimation. It depends solely on God and on God’s grace.
IV. THE FAITH OF THE WOMEN
The women had to have known that they could not have rolled away the stone. Even their walk to the garden was an act of faith. They did not know how they would roll away the stone. They only wished to perform one last service to Jesus. They took it on faith that they could gain access to the tomb, even if they didn’t know how.
And so it is with us. Our faith is about trusting in God. All those places of brokenness that we have, all those stones that we have rolled in front of the tombs of our hearts, those stones we feel incapable of moving—all those can be overcome when we trust in God. When we, like the women, turn our hearts over to God, trusting in God and seeking to follow and serve Christ, then it is that we find that God has already rolled away the stones from our tombs.
What wondrous love is this? That God should work within us, beyond our ability and beyond our understanding to reconcile us to God and one another. That it has nothing to do with our merit or ability, only with God’s love for us.
The Resurrection of Jesus is the vindication of all our hopes. It is the sure sign of the promises of God being fulfilled. Death has no power over us. Fear is banished. All the brokenness of the world cannot stand before the love and grace of God. In Christ’s resurrection we have seen the foretaste of our own. We are assured of our own eventual resurrection to Eternal Life. We are empowered to live out lives of hope and grace. Lives that are free of all that imprisons and oppresses us.
God calls us to come to the tomb on Easter, in faith to God and out of our service to our master, to come to the tomb, and to look up: and behold, the stone has already been rolled away.
Christ is Risen! Hallelujah!