They were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the door of the tomb?” [Mark 16:3]
Preached by the Most Reverend Robert Duncan at the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh Vigil, in St. Peter’s Church in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, on Easter Eve, 7th April, A.D.2012.
In the Name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, One God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Blessed and Praised forever: Amen.
In all four gospels it is women who come first to the tomb. Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell us the purpose: to anoint Jesus’ body. Burial on Friday had been hurried. At least the soldiers had not broken his legs to speed death. He was already dead. The Sabbath was at hand. In the moment, Joseph of Arimathea was moved to give his own freshly hewn tomb, which was, St. John tells us, very near to the Place of the Skull. Nicodemus, John tells us, had given spices, but Jesus’ own inner circle had not been able to care for his body in the customary way. There had been so much hurry. They had loved him so much. Nevertheless, they could still do what was right, what at the very least they owed him, when the Sabbath ended.
They surely recognized their problem. They surely knew that the immense wheel-like stone had been rolled over the entrance to the tomb. St. Mark tells us that they had actually seen this happen. Maybe they had also heard about Pilate’s order that the tomb be sealed and a guard set to keep things that way. It is St. Matthew that records for us this detail.
So the women meet very early on Sunday, sometime after sundown on Saturday. They must do what it is right to do and what could not be done on Friday. They can now prepare the spices and the ointments. It is still dark. They will arrive near first light.
Everything is, of course, very confused and confusing. Their grief is overwhelming. Have they forgotten about the stone? Do they not think about the stone until they are actually on their way? Do each think about it earlier, but not discuss it? We cannot know. All we can know is that on their way to the tomb they are saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the door of the tomb?”
Followers of Jesus often face what seem to them insurmountable problems…challenges for which there seem to be no apparent solutions. They will nevertheless do what is right, what they can do, even if there is a part of the puzzle they do not have or cannot conceive. Trust in their God drives them on. With God, there has always been a way through in the past, so why not trust Him now?
A terribly injured child? An impossible situation at work? A marriage in tatters? Some debilitating illness or handicap? An unjust accusation? An adolescent in rebellion? A friendship betrayed? Wars and rumors of wars? Domestic or civil violence? Whatever the present impossibility… We Christians will trust him with this too.
We can wonder what the women spoke of as they went in the darkness toward the tomb of Jesus. Was there more than “Who will roll away the stone for us from the door of the tomb?” Might they have remembered the Passover story of long ago, the very feast being celebrated in these same days? All the first-born of Israel had been spared. Might they next have recalled the victory at the Red Sea, when all God’s people were saved and all of Pharaoh’s army drowned? Might they have remembered Jericho, where the walls miraculously tumbled down? Could they have encouraged one another with the stories of Ruth or Esther, or Daniel or the Three Young Men? Might they have spoken of Judas Maccabeus or the miracle of Chanukah? Could they have rehearsed some of the miracles they had seen at the hands of their crucified rabbi? The healings, the feedings, the castings out, the raisings from the dead? Might they have even dared to wonder about his teaching concerning what would follow his own death? We cannot say what broke the silence of their preparation of the spices and ointments, or the silence of their walk to the tomb. We are sure of their grief – for that is why they were meeting – and we are sure of the one question: “Who will roll away the stone for us from the door of the tomb?
In all of our speculation about the run-up to the arrival of the women at the tomb, it is very hard to imagine that the women could have imagined in advance what actually confronted them on arrival. God is so much bigger than our thoughts or imaginings. Even the rehearsal of earlier mighty deeds does not prepare us for the immensity of what he can do in the present moment, in the face of our seemingly insurmountable challenges. Yes, he often appoints brothers and sisters, or sometimes even strangers, to help us – to help us in quite ordinary, quite natural ways. But sometimes there is the supernatural, and the great stories seem to be filled with this. Indeed, at their arrival, they would soon have the greatest story of all time to tell. God would act. God powerfully, God unmistakably. God alone. Without man’s help.
God addresses our human challenges both naturally and supernaturally. He is God, after all. Our chief attitude needs to be to trust him, no matter what we face. His operation, whether natural or supernatural, is his choice, his provision by whatever means. He is Creator, sustainer and end of everything, so why do we doubt?
But tonight’s work – this dawn of the day work – is God’s alone. “Who will roll away the stone for us from the door of the tomb?” God will. God does. There is earthquake. There is an angel, dazzling light. The guards fall away. The stone is rolled back.
But there is more, much more. The tomb is empty. “He has been raised, as he said.” They are invited to see the place where the body had lain. They are given a message. (Forget the spices and the ointments.) “Go tell his disciples.” It hadn’t been about the stone after all…or about a dead body. The crucifixion wasn’t the last word. Not at all. They had mis-read what God was up to. Yes they were being faithful, but their plan – their challenge – was much too small. Fear – a different kind of fear – and great joy are now theirs. They hadn’t run from their problem, from their grief, but had headed straight into it. Now everything was changed. So now they run with a different purpose. They are bearers of the greatest good news of all time. And suddenly he himself meets them: “Greetings!” They fall and worship, and so do we. And his last words to them are “Go and tell.” We, too, now fall and worship. Our next step is to go and tell.
There is now, with Jesus, no challenge we cannot face, not even death. For now the last challenge has been swallowed up in victory, and – for those who put their faith in him – no stones that cannot be rolled away. There is nothing now that can separate us from the Father’s love or Jesus’ resurrection or the Spirit’s power. Rejoice this Easter Day! Rejoice like never before! Rejoice for the stone on the tomb proved no problem to our God.
Alleluia! Christ is Risen. The Lord is Risen indeed. Alleluia.