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The Stone Was Rolled Away

Reverend Philip Stringer

Mark 16:1-8

They were on their way to do the gruesome duty of anointing the dead and battered body of one they had loved, and they wondered, “who will do the difficult work of moving the stone that will allow us to carry out our plan?”

But the stone was already rolled away -- the door was open for them to proceed.

When they entered the tomb -- still with expectations of fulfilling their unpleasant task -- they were met by a surprise — By what they did not expect to find: no body -- living OR dead -- and a stranger sitting. Mark tells us that they were alarmed -- disturbed. There is no Easter joy for them. Not yet.

Jesus has already been raised. He has already changed everything — but they don’t know that. And so — even though the stone has been removed from the grave, there is still a weight upon their hearts. The cold, hard stone of grief is still pressing down on them, crushing their hearts.

The power of perfect divine love has destroyed death, but they don’t know that. Even though the tomb is empty, they are alarmed. How were they to bring any closure to the events? How were they to feel any sense of control and make any sense of it now?

They were tired of things not making sense -- from Jesus’ troubling words about his death, to the events of his trial and crucifixion. None of it had made any sense and they were tired of that. Coming to anoint his body -- THAT made sense. That’s what you do when someone you love dies -- you show your respect, you mourn, and you move on with the weight of grief like a stone upon your heart that never quite goes away; you just sort of learn to live with it.

But they came and the stone was already rolled away. And that didn’t make sense.

The stone was their gateway to all that was familiar. Behind it lay their dead Lord. Behind it lay all that they expected. Behind it lay the realities of this world that they knew all too well -- unfulfilled hopes and dreams, suffering, heartache and sadness and the brutality of tyrants. The stone was their gateway to what was familiar, and they knew what to do there: anoint the body, mourn -- and then pick yourself up and accept that this is all that there is.

But when they came, they found the stone was rolled away. And behind it they found what they did NOT expect to find. There was no body. No brutality of tyrants. No broken dreams. No suffering. No sadness. No death.

The stone was a gateway — and If the stone had NOT been rolled away, they would not have known that things had changed. If the stone had NOT been rolled away, they would not have known that there was no reason to mourn. They would not have known that, indeed, there was reason to celebrate. The stone was a gateway to something completely new.

Before, the stone had been their gateway to death. But now, it opened to them a gateway of life. The stone had been rolled away, and because it was rolled away, they stepped through that doorway into a new day . . . and they heard, “he has been raised. He is not here.” It’s the good news!! But —

Mark writes that they were afraid — terrified —

and they fled —

and they planned to tell no one.

Because words are not enough. And the absence of the body was not enough. Peace is not the absence of violence. Peace is the knowledge that violence has been replaced with love.

In her Easter message to the church, Elizabeth Eaton — Presiding Bishop of the ELCA — reflects upon the reaction of the two Marys in our gospel text for today. She says, “They are there. They have this announcement. And then it’s all the same.”

She goes on to say, “Sometimes I think we feel like nothing has changed. Sometimes I think that events in our country, in our church, around the world are just so terrifying; they’re so overwhelming that it seems like the resurrection didn’t really make a difference.

But there are three words in the gospel reading that say something about the women, about us and about Easter.

When Mark says that they were filled with amazement — the Greek word used is “ekstasis” and literally means “standing out” — it is where we get our word, ecstasy. The women were literally standing in a different place. Even though they were standing in the tomb — it had been changed into a different place, and because of the resurrection, we all stand in a different place. The whole of creation is standing in a different place.

Another word Mark uses to describe the women is “phobos” — afraid. It is where we get our word, “phobia,” but it is really a sense of trembling in the presence of God. A feeling of awe. Not paralyzed by fear but filled with awe.

And Mark says that they were “seized by fear.” The word really means “possessed.”

When things seem to be staying the same — when things are coming at us so quickly, it is important to take time to be amazed — to stand in a different place and to have a sense of awe trembling before the Lord and to feel the power of his Spirit giving us power and courage in these times.

These are troubled times in which we live. There is so much violence. The tyranny that killed Jesus is still raging in this world. Through TV and our phones and computers we have front row seats as we watch children starve to death and soldiers target each other, and everyday people steal and cheat and murder and persecute.

The world has more pain and broken-ness than we can fix. It is like a great boulder upon us, crushing us down. It is overwhelming to consider all that is wrong and aligned against life and what is good -- against peace and equity and all that is beautiful and right. It comes at us from all angles . . . and even from within. It is at home within even our own hearts. And all of humanity cries out, “who will lift the burden from us. Who will remove the stone for us?”

And THIS morning -- Easter morning -- is given as the answer. For God has rolled back the stone. And the air this morning is not filled with the stench of death that must be masked with perfume so we can trudge forward. Today, we breathe the fresh air of new life. Life that cannot be destroyed by death, sin or the devil.

The stone is rolled back. YOUR stone is rolled back. This world’s stone is rolled back. And we who have been set free for love and propelled into the world, go with good news to share -- STONE-ROLLING LOVE TO SHARE -- and we go with courage. For, “he is going ahead of you... and there you will see him.” AMEN


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