Easter Day, Year B: 4/5/15: Sunday: Sermon
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The disciples of Jesus were deeply troubled. Not only had their rabbi died, been violently killed, but they hadn’t been able to give Jesus’ body the proper burial. He had died around three, and they had gotten Jesus’s body to the tomb before sundown. But the women hadn’t been able to follow the proper Jewish rituals for preparing the body for burial by anointing it with oil before sundown on Friday, the beginning of the Sabbath. They were strictly forbidden to work until early in the morning on Sunday. The concern of the women was compounded in that they had no help from the other disciples. The stone to the sepulcher would be too heavy. Or what if the Romans had come to desecrate his body further? But the worry probably went much further for these women and the disciples hidden behind locked doors. What would they now do with their lives, since they had spent the past few years following this man who had just been killed? Would they themselves be persecuted? These were legitimate worries rooted in fear.
No doubt our lives are at times consumed by worry. We’ve been following the trials of Jesus over the past 40 days of Lent, so we are in a sense, right in the midst of the fear with the disciples. But there are times when we’re overcome with our own worries and fear. We worry about things we cannot control, when the limits of life become real. Age. Death. We worry about life not unfolding according to our plan. Broken relationships. Disease. I believe our most basic fears are those of abandonment. Being abandoned by another person. Being abandoned by God. Or the fear of abandoning ourselves, losing control over our happiness and wellbeing. The women at the tomb experienced all these.
The anxiety of the women going to the tomb was great. But what they didn’t realize is that the things they were worrying about had already been taken care of. Even though they thought they had reason to worry (the stone was very large, after all!), it had already been moved! Already. This is the key word. The disciples tended to worry about things for which God had already taken care of. When Jesus wanted to feed the crowds of thousands, the disciples were worried, but he already had a plan — the multiplication of loaves. When the disciples go to get a colt in preparation for the triumphal entry, they’re concerned that it won’t be so easy, but Jesus assures them that it will be provided. At the beginning of the gospel of John, when the host of the wedding at Cana was worried about not having enough wine for the party, Jesus already had a solution — changing water to wine. This goes back into the Hebrew Bible, when God provided the ram for Abraham to sacrifice instead of his son Isaac, when God provided manna and water in the wilderness for the thirst and hunger of the people. That we worry about things being taken care of is such a common experience to humanity, that it shows up over and over in scripture.
But now, not only had the stone been moved away, but something much greater had happened — beyond their imagination. Jesus had been raised to new life, resurrected. The women could see the place where they had laid him, but not the man himself. This in fact was something that he had been foretelling for weeks already. Three times in Mark Jesus foretells his death and resurrection. The first time, remember, Peter rebukes Jesus, but then they are too afraid to ask him further about it.
And not only had the stone already been moved, not only had he already been resurrected, but the women are told that Jesus “is going ahead of you.” This is on the face of it just about saying to the disciples that Jesus was going to appear in Galilee, but I think it also points to a greater truth that God is out ahead of us, already having begun a good work in our lives, even if we don’t yet see it. No doubt God is way ahead of us, way ahead in everything. In rolling stones away. Ahead on the path of our life.
But we can’t stop there. The text doesn’t stop there. They also have the promise that they will see him, just as he told them. They still couldn’t quite believe; they were in shock. The fear didn’t disappear, but now it is mixed with amazement. And when the shock begins to wear off, they will begin to feel the hope present. Not only will the three women disciples see him, not only Peter, not only the remaining disciples, but as Paul says he appeared to more than 500. And that seeing will change their lives.
Peter Chrysologus, the 4th century archbishop of Ravenna, when considering the detail of the rolling away of the stone, asks: What really needs to be rolled away? The stone from the sepulcher? No, really the stone from our hearts. The stone from the tomb? No. The stone from our eyes. He says: “You whose heart is shut, whose eyes are closed, are unable to discover the glory of the open grave.” Pour the oil not on the body of Jesus, but on the eyes of our hearts. What Peter Chrysologus knows and what he encourages us to see is that God is able to roll this stone away. Indeed, God already has rolled it away. And God has gone out ahead of us and already begun in us a good work. This Easter may we have the eyes to see it and the hearts to believe it. Amen.