With there not having been time to properly prepare the body of Jesus for burial, some of the women of Jesus’ group headed off to the tomb to complete the job . . . to give Jesus a proper burial. So they set off early in the morning with probably a million thoughts running through their minds . . . details. Details about what needed to be done . . . the cleansing of the body, the anointing of his body . . . and, who would move that huge stone from the entrance of the tomb?
Much to their surprise the stone had been rolled away by the time they reached the tomb . . . even more surprising was what they encountered in the tomb. A man in a white robe sitting there . . . no body, just a guy decked out in white. Shocked the man told them not to be alarmed that: “He has risen! He is not here.” To say the least, the women were more than a little shocked. The writer of Mark’s gospel tells us that they were “trembling and bewildered” and that they “fled from the tomb”. So upset and afraid that they told no one about what they had encountered.
They told no one . . . so begins the Easter story in the oldest of the gospels. An empty tomb and a wonderment of who would roll the stone away as that the events of the previous couple of days could be put to rest.
It is not quite the same story we hear over in Matthew and Luke’s gospels . . . not quite the same as John’s. But it is the oldest of the stories and the original story from which the other gospels tell theirs. There are differences, but let us not get hung up in the details because in attempting to make them all fit together like a puzzle will never work. Each gospel had their own purpose in telling the story of that first Easter in the way that they did . . . and, in making them fit together into one nice, neat story will drive us crazy.
No, what is important is in embracing the message that is being shared by the writer . . . in this case we know several things: we know that Jesus is alive . . . that he has risen from the dead . . . and, that he is no longer in the tomb. In fact, the women were basically told that they would not find him there. And, we know that this discovery scared the crud out of the ladies. Shoot, I think it would scare the crud out of any of us had it been we who went to the tomb that morning. The question this morning is: Who will roll the stone away?
Now the premise of Easter is pretty simple. Jesus died, came back to life, and we are redeemed . . . we are saved . . . we are given the gift of “new life” . . . eternal life. Pretty simple . . . but, it really is not that simple. True, we are given this “gift” but to truly embrace it and receive its full value we have to remove the barriers in our lives for us to fully realize it . . . in other words, we have to roll the stone to discover the “gift”. In the end, we are the only ones who can roll that stone . . . each and every one of us.
We have to roll that stone away so that we, too, can find out that the tomb is empty . . . to find out that Jesus isn’t there . . . to find out the real truth about what all this means. Jesus isn’t there . . . so, where is he?
Do you remember Where’s Waldo? Where’s Waldo was one of those children’s books (that we adults kind of got caught up in) that was filled with pictures in which the reader had to find where Waldo was in the picture. Easter is kind of like a mystical “where’s Jesus” sort of thing . . . and the adventure of Easter is finding him because he is out there. He is not locked in a tomb . . . despite what we might think . . . he is out there and it is our task to find him.
Luckily for us, Jesus did not leave us empty-handed as to where to look for him out here in the world. One of the first clues that he gave was in the parable about the sheep and goats . . . remember that parable? In that parable Jesus lets us know that he is among those who are hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick and in prison. That is where we will find Jesus . . . with the least of these. Don’t believe me? Then go over to Matthew 25:31-46. Also, he gave us a clue that let us know that whenever two or three of us gather in his name, he would be with us. He said in Matthew 18:20: “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Jesus did not send us out into the world without hints about where to find him . . . he is all around us. All we have to do is to roll the stone away and see.
There lies the secret of Easter . . . rolling the stone away.
Rolling the stone away is not easy. The women knew that this was going to be an issue as they headed for the tomb that early morning to finish the job of putting Jesus to rest. They even discussed it as they were walking, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” Which was a good question. That stone was heavy . . . placed there by several Roman soldiers . . . not a task easily done by a couple of women . . . nor by any of us today.
It is a difficult task for us if we are among those who view the “gift” of Easter as being the issuance of an insurance policy that covers us for life no matter what we do or don’t do. Lots of people accept the policy and then go about their lives as if nothing has changed. They don’t read the “fine print” that states for the policy to be activated you have to do as Jesus did . . . you have to love the Lord completely and love your fellow human beings. For those who see the “gift” of Easter as some sort of insurance policy it is best to keep the stone in place to keep the policy safe for when it is needed. Until that stone is rolled away these people really do not receive the “gift” of Easter.
It is a difficult task if we cannot find Jesus in the world around us. If we choose not to walk among the children of God . . . to walk among the people in the world around us. It is difficult if we do not want to acknowledge the struggle of our fellow sojourners who have come to be in those places where they are hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, in prison, lost, and lonely . . . difficult to see Jesus when we are blind to the suffering of the world around us.
It is difficult to find Jesus when we focus on one part of his commandment to love . . . to love God with our whole being . . . but ignore the other half—to love others. When we go off on spiritual journeys that focus completely on ourselves, God and no one else . . . well, we lose the aspect of discovering God in others whenever we gather together. Now, it is necessary that we make such journeys of faith on our own . . . that we discover our intimate relationship with God; but, the result is not to become further removed . . . it is to go out into the world and to share that love with others. The faith Jesus spoke about cannot be one that is without others.
So, who is going to roll the stone away?
Well, we are.
If we are going to truly receive the “gift” of Easter then we must be willing to roll the stone away from the tomb . . . willing to remove those barriers that keep us from seeing the living Jesus in the world around us. To receive the “gift” we have to roll that stone. It is such a wonderful gift . . . this “gift” of love through Jesus . . . how could any of us not want to receive it? In the celebration we share this morning may we all find the strength to roll that stone . . . encounter the empty tomb . . . and, rejoice! Rejoice in the fact that Jesus is not there . . . he is with us. If we have truly rolled the stone from the tomb we will see that. Amen.