Rolling Away the Stone

Rev. Mark Schaefer
Kay Spiritual Life Center
April 7-8, 2012—Easter Vigil
Mark 16:1-8

Illustration by Kathleen Kimball

Mark 16:1-8 ¶             When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they could go and anoint Jesus’ dead body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they came to the tomb. They were saying to each other, “Who’s going to roll the stone away from the entrance for us?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away. (And it was a very large stone!) Going into the tomb, they saw a young man in a white robe seated on the right side; and they were startled. But he said to them, “Don’t be alarmed! You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised. He isn’t here. Look, here’s the place where they laid him. Go, tell his disciples, especially Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you. Overcome with terror and dread, they fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.


For those of you who are regular members of this community, or of any community of faith at this time of year, you know that you don’t get to a moment like tonight without a considerable amount of planning.  In this community alone we have had extended worship planning sessions, all kinds of signups, shopping trips, potluck planning, planning of events and other programs.  It should be noted that Easter doesn’t just happen.  We plan for it.

Of course, we plan for any major endeavor.  Any undertaking.  A move. A new job.  Kathleen is planning to drive across the country this summer and is already planning the route.  That’s an entirely reasonable thing to do.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with a little spontaneity; in fact, life is more interesting when we allow ourselves those unplanned moments, those unscheduled for happenings that are very often the most meaningful.  But anything serious really should require planning.  Especially if there are significant obstacles in the way.


So let me ask this simple question: who on earth goes to a tomb to anoint a body without having a plan for rolling away the stone in front of the tomb?  In the passage from Mark’s gospel we read that the women are traveling early in the morning to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body.  As they are walking along, they’re asking themselves: “Who’s going to roll the stone away from the entrance for us?”

Shouldn’t the answer to that question be, “Wait, Mary—you don’t have a plan for that? I thought you had that covered!”  ”Me? I thought Salome was taking care of it.”

Here we have the women—who, by the way are the only disciples on top of things here; the men are nowhere to be found—coming to the tomb and they have no plan for rolling away the stone.  Now, these stones were often rolled down into a depression in front of the tomb and as we’re told in the scripture, they can be quite large.  They’re not meant to be easily opened.  In fact, one source says it could take up to 20 men to roll a stone away from a tomb.

So, what on earth are these women doing, heading to the tomb without a plan as to how to get the stone away?  Fortunately for them, they don’t need an answer to the question, since when they get to the tomb, the stone has, fortunately, already been rolled away.


But, the text doesn’t avoid the answer.  In fact, the text provides an interesting clue.  When they arrived at the tomb, Mark writes, they saw that “the stone had been rolled away.”  Now, this is the kind of construction that causes Microsoft Word to start underlining your text in green: the passive voice.  School teachers, writing coaches, and the programmers of Word are biased against the passive voice.  But the Bible loves it.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”  “It is by grace you are saved through faith.”  And so on.  In fact, so common is this construction in the scriptures that it even has a name: the Divine Passive.  See, Jews were reluctant to invoke God’s name unnecessarily.  So, they would often use circumlocutions like this.  Especially when it was obvious.  Who will be comforting those who mourn?  God will.  Who saves us by grace?  God does.  Who rolled away the stone?  God did.


And so, I suppose there’s another way to look at this story. We could look at it as an instance of not planning things out.  The women in their eagerness headed out for the tomb without considering all the ramifications of that plan.  Or we could look at this story as yet another instance of faithfulness.  They had no idea how the stone would be rolled away, but they proceeded trusting that somehow it would be.  I don’t know that they expected to find the tomb empty and an angel sitting there waiting for them, but they trusted that somehow God would provide and roll away the stone.

There is real power and hope in that.

We, too, are confronted by the same problem.  Well, metaphorically anyway.  We all have large stones in front of the doors to our hearts.  Sometimes it’s guilt. Sometimes it’s insecurity.  Or fear.  Or anxiety.  Sometimes it’s prejudice or bigotry.  Narrowmindedness or judgmentalism.  Intolerance, greed, hate.  You name it.  There sits a stone in front of the entrances to our hearts that would require many more than 20 men to move.

But do we sit at home, paralyzed by our brokenness? Or do we get up early and head out?  Trusting that the stone can be rolled away?

Because ultimately our faith is about trusting in God. All those places of brokenness that we have, all those stones that we have rolled in front of the tombs of our hearts, those stones we feel incapable of moving—all those can be overcome when we trust in God. When we, like the women, turn our hearts over to God, trusting in God and seeking to follow and serve Christ, then it is that we find that God has already rolled away the stones from our tombs.


So here we are. It’s Easter and we have come here after a lot of planning and preparation.  But at the heart of Easter is still a surprise.  The surprise of the Empty Tomb.  The surprise of the angel visitor.  The surprise that Jesus has gone before us.  But also, the surprise that the great obstacle over which we had worried much, had already been taken care of by God.

We are often paralyzed by our brokenness.  But it need not be so.  The old advice to “fake it till you make it” comes into play here.  Because when we set out on that road, we may not have any idea how the obstacles before us can be removed.  We may not have any idea how the brokenness within us can be healed.  But merely setting out is an act of faith that in itself creates a new reality.  The women who set out that morning had no idea how they would proceed.  But when they did, they discovered that their world had changed.


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