Sunday, April 8, 2007

The Objects of Holy Week: A Stone

(An Easter Sunrise Service devotion based on Matthew 28:1-10)

We use the word “stone” in various sayings. We say that something is just “a stone’s throw away.” We say that “sticks and stones may break my bones.” We say that a “rolling stone gathers no moss.” We say that “people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” They’re all helpful and rather vivid sayings.

Never, though, has a more important statement been made using the word “stone” than this one: “an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it” (v. 2). I’ll grant that more rock has been moved than the angel moved that morning. When you drive through mountains you can sometimes detect where holes were drilled and dynamite was placed to blow away large sections of rock to clear room for the highway. I’ll grant that there are more impressive rocks than the one that blocked the entrance to Jesus’ tomb. I drove by Stone Mountain the other day; I never cease to be amazed at the size of that rock. But I will not grant than any more significant stone than the one in front of Jesus’ tomb was ever moved. When that stone was moved by the angel, everything changed.

Why? Because when the stone was moved, Jesus was let out. I don’t mean to say that Jesus could not have gotten out of the tomb had the angel not moved the stone. Indeed, the resurrected Jesus is seen later in the gospel narrative as coming and going as he pleased from locked rooms. But the removal of the stone is a standard aspect of the gospel presentation of the resurrection. The stone was removed and Jesus came out of the tomb. When Jesus came out of that tomb, incredible things happened. Sin was defeated. Death was defeated. Meaninglessness was defeated. Those are the realities that we are celebrating on this Easter Sunday and that we celebrate every Lord’s Day.

As I said, Jesus could have gotten out of the tomb even had the stone not been moved. Perhaps one of the main reasons that the stone was removed was so that the followers of Jesus could see for themselves that his body was gone. The empty tomb has been a part of the Church’s witness for lo these 2000 years. But when someone is confronted with the empty tomb with its stone rolled away, she is confronted with a decision as to what she will do with it.

Some folks get laid out because of the stone. So it was for the guards who had been assigned to make sure that Jesus’ body was not stolen. When the angel rolled back the stone and sat down it, perhaps in a show of triumph, “for fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men” (v. 4). Later they were bribed to say that the disciples came and took Jesus’ body while the guards slept.

Some folks just get laid out by the rolled away stone and by the resurrected Christ. They become like dead people, too, in that they don’t do anything about what they have witnessed. They may even find reasons, like the guards, to deny that it happened at all. There have always been people who can’t believe. There have always been people who won’t believe. There always have been and there still are.

Of course, it is not finally the stone that was rolled away from the tomb over which people stumble. The stone over which they stumble is finally Jesus himself. The book of 1 Peter puts it this way:
Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: “See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner,” and “A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. (1 Peter 2:4-8)
The resurrected Jesus is the stone over which people stumble. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Some folks get sent out because of the stone. They get sent out because of what they come looking for. The two Marys came to see the tomb. They were not looking for the resurrected Christ but they surely came in love and devotion. And because they came they met the risen Lord. What will we find if we come in expectation of meeting the risen Lord! How surely we will find him if we come looking for him. And those women got sent out to tell because they had come searching only God knew what and that’s what they found.

Such folks get sent out because what they experience just has to be told. The two Marys are presented in Matthew’s Gospel as the first two evangelists of the risen Christ. They were told by the angel and by Jesus himself to go and tell the disciples that he was alive. The stone that is no longer in front of the tomb gives us something to tell about. But even more than that, our encounter with the risen Lord gives us something to tell about. We are to tell with our words and with our lives and with our motives and with our actions. But we are to tell.

The stone is not there. Jesus is alive. We have met him. What will we now do about it?

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