Who Will Roll Away the Stone? Sermon by Rev. Peter Shidemantle Easter Sunday April 1, 2018

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1 Who Will Roll Away the Stone? Sermon by Rev. Peter Shidemantle Easter Sunday April 1, 2018 It was one of those junior high English class writing assignments that I hated. The assignment was to write a short piece about something or other, but the first sentence had to be a real attention grabber. I hated those kinds of assignments because I could never come up with anything that didn t sound really dumb. I asked my dad to help me come up with something, and though he was usually willing to help me with my homework if I asked, he wasn t enthused about this. Aw Pete, I don t know, he said. But I kept bugging him until he finally blurted out an attention-grabber: Tomorrow morning at sunrise my best friend will be hung. I paused a moment, a little confused, and I said, Dad, that s really dumb. I feel a little that way every year when Easter Sunday rolls around. I don t hate the assignment but what words do you put to it, other than Christ is risen! and Alleluia? Any words beyond that would seem to trivialize it. But at least when I read Mark s account of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, I find I m in good company. The women went to the tomb very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had barely risen, to anoint Jesus body for burial (because the previous day was the Sabbath and they couldn t do it then), when they saw that the massive stone that had covered the entrance to the tomb had been rolled away, and they went in and saw that the body wasn t there and instead saw a young man who definitely wasn t Jesus who said to them, You re looking for Jesus who was crucified? He s been raised, he isn t here as you can plainly see go and tell the others that he s gone ahead of them to Galilee, just as he told you. They had no words instead they were seized by terror and amazement, too afraid to say anything to anyone. Now I think I might have had some words at this point, in the form of questions, like, Who are you? Where are you from? And How did this huge boulder get moved? Questions seem appropriate and natural enough, but that s from a distance. 1 of 5

2 The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus is the central mystery of our faith. We can fill the air between us with many words about it, trying to comprehend, to understand, to explain or defend or describe, to express our skepticism all of which only serves to distance us further from this central mystery, like hanging around an empty tomb, preventing us from getting to the heart of the matter. There is no getting our heads around this, because it s not our heads that God is after, but our hearts, the core of who we are. But there is a question worth pondering on this resurrection day, and it s the same question the women pondered that early morning on their way to the tomb: Who will roll away the stone for us? They go to the tomb bearing precious herbs and oils to wash the body of their Lord, to comb out his hair, to sponge away the dried blood, to message the precious myrrh into his skin the ritual act traditionally done before sealing a body in the tomb. It was an act of serving faith. Isn t that what we are called to do in faith to extend acts of compassion and comfort in response to tragedy and grief, pain and human need all of what threatens life with the power of death? We seek to meet that power, to address it, even fight against it, with acts of Christian faith and love. It is, we might say, our Christian duty. There are all kinds of impediments and barriers that stand in the way of such faithfulness. There are social and political barriers, cultural and personal barriers. There are all the limits that life imposes on us limits of time and resources, limits of energy and will. Who will move all of this out of the way? Changes in governmental policies might help. Greater tolerance and understanding, finding a better balance in life becoming more generous, getting straight on our priorities all of this can help, and all of it is worth working on. These might help us clear the way to a more just social order, give us better ways to live and work together, open up more personal space to live more meaningful lives. Because we do live within limits and on our own the most, the best we can do, it seems, is to work within those limits and negotiate our way amongst them. But death and its power continue to hold sway the final limit, the final impediment. That s our story. But 2 of 5

3 Easter isn t our story; it s God s story a story of God at work, about the power of God, not about our questions or doubts, or even the strength of our own faith. Who will roll away the stone for us? Well, that s just it, God has already rolled back the unmovable stone between our life and God s own, already broken down the walls that divide us from one another in this world, already lifted up the lowly and put down the mighty, just as Jesus preached and lived and declared was present in him. Everything the world tries to do to lift up death and make it the ultimate threat and the ultimate force in this world, has been defeated by the One who received it all, whose body was broken by it, whose blood was poured out for it. And now he is raised new life beyond death, not just the death that comes at the end of our time on this earth, but the death that keeps us from living in the fullness of God s life now. This was all very disorienting to these first witnesses. Each of the four gospels come at the story of Jesus resurrection from different directions and provides different details, but one element is common to each of them: a sense of wonder, astonishment, fear and surprise. Despite the several hints scattered throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and Jesus three explicit statements forecasting his resurrection, when it happened, it turned out that no one no one expected it. Mark s gospel ends like this: 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. But a more literal translation of that last phrase is something like, terror and amazement had seized them is why... Other endings were added later, a shorter one and a longer one. These appear as footnotes in most Bibles. But there is consensus among biblical scholars that those were later additions, not written in Mark s hand. The conclusion that most of them draw is that some in the early church were embarrassed by the unfinished nature of Mark s gospel, to bring some closure to the story by having Jesus appear to the disciples, give a few more instructions and some parting words. By all accounts Mark was the earliest gospel written, and it ends in one holy mess. By his account, you can t take the Easter message and wrap it up in a nice package and put a pretty bow on top. That s not the nature of this gift of God to the world. Apparently, Easter is supposed to lead somewhere. 3 of 5

4 Mark s gospel begins with these words: The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and it ends with, for terror and amazement had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. That s the end, but it s not the conclusion. In this sense, the whole gospel is the beginning, and we are the conclusion, the conclusion we write with our lives. He is not here. He has gone before you. It s often said that the religious quest is about humanity s search for God. Where is God to be found? If that s the question, then our biggest problem is how to get through, or over, or under, or around the impediments to finding him. But with the resurrection of Jesus Christ it s the other way around. Now there is no place that Christ does not wait our coming, no place where he does not meet us with his love, his grace, his claim, his command to love as he loved. Now that Christ is risen our problem is not where can God be found and how do we get to him. Now God s search for us becomes our problem. Now that the tomb is empty there is no place where we may not meet him. Countless witnesses have attested to it. The Psalmist asks, Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. If I say, Surely the darkness will cover me, and the light around me become night, even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you. There s no hiding. Now we can t hide from him behind our rebellion and our unbelief, for he will not stop seeking us. Now we can t protest that our guilt or our shame excludes us from his presence, for he won t stop forgiving us. Now we re not safe behind our pride or resistance, for he will keep loving us until those walls come crashing down. Now we are not protected by our comfort or ease, because he keeps showing us his scarred hands and feet. 4 of 5

5 Now we can t withdraw secure into our insulated lives, for he will keep meeting us in the poor and the sick and the dying. Now we don t need to play around with words in order to delay or avoid setting out on the path of discipleship, because the only safety we ll find in that is the shallowness of an uncommitted heart. No, our problem is not that we can t find Christ, but that we can t escape him. Our only real prospect is surrender, surrender to the love that makes us whole. The strife is over, the battle is done. The victory of life is won. The song of triumph has begun. Alleluia! 5 of 5

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