April 1, Sunrise Service, Who will roll away the stone?

Who will roll away the stone?

Mark 16:1-8

 

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome brought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?”

The women have been with Jesus all along. They have been among his faithful followers and friends. In chapter 15, immediately after the part of the story where the crucified Jesus breathes his last breath, it says, “There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee.”

So, they were there with him all along and they were there with him at the end. The other disciples had scattered, but these women were there. And we can presume that they were there as well when Jesus’ body was taken down from the cross and handed over to Joseph of Arimathea, and then taken to the cave-like tomb. They would have seen Jesus’ body laid there in the tomb, and then the rock rolled in front of the entrance to the tomb.

And what was next? Well, they went home to keep the sabbath. And then, they planned to return to the tomb in order to keep doing what they had been doing – that is, they sought to take care of Jesus. They waited until the sabbath was over, and then they returned to the tomb to do the work of tending to his body with burial spices. They couldn’t change what had happened, but they could do what they could do.

There is something admirable about that, wouldn’t you say? And understandable too. In the face of tragedy, we do what we can do. It may not be something heroic or surprising; it may just be something normal, something simple: like tending to the body.

But on the way to the tomb, as they are walking along, they are wondering, talking together: Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb? They are well aware that the stone presents an obstacle. How will they get past it? That’s the question.

Except, is that the question? Later on – once they arrive, they discover that their question isn’t even relevant. The stone is already rolled to the side. And more important questions pop up: Who is this man in the white robe standing in the tomb? Where is Jesus’ body? What has happened? Is he really resurrected? Where will we meet him?

But all those questions come later. On the way to the tomb, the only question they see in front of them is: Who will roll away the stone?

It turns out to be an irrelevant question, but is that really their fault? Is it a failure of imagination on their part? Is it an example of a lack of faith? No, certainly not. They ask the question they know how to ask. They ask the question that makes sense, given what they had seen the Friday night before.

But it turns out to be the wrong the question, not just because the stone is already rolled away when they get there, but because – at its heart -- it is the small question.

That is to say, that even if they don’t know about the resurrection as they walk there toward the tomb (and of course they don’t, because they are bringing burial spices and they intend to take care of the body!) …even if they don’t know about the resurrection, the question of who will roll away the stone – while it is a practical question – is the small question.

Even if they don’t yet know about the resurrection and all the questions that that might raise, there are bigger questions they could be asking; questions like: Now that our hopes have been destroyed, what will we do? or Was everything he taught and everything he prepared us for done in vain? or Will there ever be another Jesus – a teacher, a healer, a servant-minded leader – who will take up this work? or What will heal our broken hearts?

I mean the question, “Who will roll away the stone?” isn’t a bad question. It’s not, at the moment they ask it, before they get to the tomb, an irrelevant question. It’s just not a big and deep and powerful enough question. They are –at the moment – stuck on the small.

And that’s not just where the women got stuck at that moment; it’s where we get stuck. The Easter morning question needs to be bigger and deeper and more powerful than the matter of “How are we going to get around this next obstacle?”

The Easter question isn’t a question of practical matters related to death; it’s the question of monumental matters related to life. Not, “Who will roll away the stone?” but “How are we going to carry on this work in the world? What is faithfulness going to look like going forward? What has Christ called us to do next? What is Christ calling us to do next?”

And I’m not blaming the women. Goodness no! They are strong and courageous and faithful and compassionate. They did not run away – in life or death. They are workers and they are followers and they are friends of Jesus. And what they do is what they can do: take care of him when he was living and take care of him after he is dead.

But their question: “Who will roll away the stone?” is just too small. It feels (to them) like a big question because apparently the stone is a big stone, but it’s just too small.

Easter questions need to be bigger. Easter Christians need to be bigger – bigger in wonder, bigger in possibility, bigger in imagination, bigger in faith, bigger in hope, bigger in anticipation…bigger.

Look: there are questions we should always be asking – questions about life, about the decisions we are being called to make, about our calling and purpose, about where and how God is at work in the world. And there are particular Easter questions we need to be asking: What does resurrected life look like? How do we overcome the apparent finality of death? Where is Jesus now and what is our relationship to him now?

Let’s not just ask the small and practical questions; let’s ask the big and possibility-laden questions. Let’s not focus on the obstacles and our worries about how we can remove them; let’s focus on the promises of life and love and how we are going to extend them.

Because the truth is, the stone is already rolled away.

And Jesus is already risen.

And the new day has already come.

 

Thanks be to God for life that is bigger – bigger than our doubts, bigger than our minds, bigger than our fears, bigger than death.

 

Bigger, because the stone is already rolled away.

And Jesus is already risen.

And the new day has already come.

 

Amen.

 

Kurt Borgmann

Manchester Church of the Brethren

April 1, 2018 Sunrise Service