God rolled that stone away


Sermon for Easter Sunday 2023


The world looks pretty dark for Mary on her way to the tomb. Who is going to save her now? Who’s going to change this evil world? What hope does she have for the future? Jesus’s followers have good reason to despair on their way to the tomb. Mary Magdalene, the other Mary, Peter and John, they have good reason to despair; they have every reason to feel downcast and hopeless. What did they have to hope for? How were things ever going to get any better? What could they do? Nothing!

Jesus was dead. Jesus their teacher, their leader, their loved one, their friend…he was dead. 

He had been put to death a few days ago by a tyrannical and oppressive government. He was basically beaten to death and humiliated first and then they stripped him and nailed him to a cross on the outskirts of town. Horrifying. This was Roman justice; this was the Roman idea of good government. What hope did the disciples have now of life getting any better? What could they do to change this situation? Nothing. Every attempt to overthrow these horrible, corrupt leaders ended up failing. Throughout history it had been this way. If the Hebrew people managed to offload one despot, before too long there would come another. 

Despite most of what Jesus said and taught, some of his followers had still harbored a hope that he would be the one who would help them to finally overthrow the Roman oppressors and build a more just society. He would fix things, or at least lead them to fix things. Well where was that hope now? It was dead. Sealed in a tomb, behind a heavy stone that was being guarded by a couple of Roman guards. Even in death the Romans were still keeping them under their thumb. Guards outside a tomb! There was a chance that the women heading to the tomb wouldn’t even be able to anoint Jesus’s dead body. The Roman soldiers certainly weren’t going to give them a hand. Who would help them now? Who would lead them?

Herod? Don’t be ridiculous. He was just a Roman puppet. He was worse than the Romans because he colluded with them to oppress his own people. He’s got Jesus’s blood on his hands as much as Pilate did. Then what about Barabbas and the other violent revolutionaries that wanted to spill Roman blood? Would that work? Well those methods would be tried, but they wouldn’t end well. Jesus had predicted that there would be suffering and bloodshed and that the temple would be torn down and he was right. That is how Barabbas’s methods ended: violence and complete destruction. The politicians weren’t making anything better. The revolutionaries just made things worse. It was a hopeless situation.

What light was there in Mary’s world? What hope did the disciples have? Could they trust the clergy? Of Course Not! The priests and the religious leaders were mostly corrupt, crooked, or incompetent. They were the ones who had arrested Jesus in the first place. There were some good, faithful ones, but they weren’t capable of saving Jesus. What could they do now?

Even Jesus’s friends and followers had turned their back on him when things got tough. John was at the foot of the cross, but where were the other men? Hiding, that’s where. And I am sure that Peter was still in his own agony on this dark morning, realizing that he can’t even trust himself to do the right thing when the chips are down. When it mattered, Peter had turned his back on the Lord and denied ever knowing him. But all the disciples had failed to save Jesus. 

What does Mary have to hope for in this dark world? Good government? No. Competent religious leaders? No. Faithful friends of Jesus? Not even that. No the world can be a very dark place when evil surrounds you and you feel powerless to make a difference or to make a change.

But when they got to that tomb they discovered that the stone had been rolled away. The stone that was sealing the tomb was gone. Who had done it? Was it the Romans, the government? No. Was it the priests and the religious authorities? No. Was it the disciples? No. Was it a random gardener? Not even that.

God rolled that stone away. God rolled the stone away. This was the work of God, not the work of man. Jesus rose from the grave without any help from the Romans, the priests, the disciples, or even from those faithful women who went to anoint him. He didn’t send out any surveys, or ask for anyone’s opinion. He didn’t ask for a helping hand to get up off that stone slab. He didn’t wait for his disciples to get their act together. 

The resurrection was not a carefully devised and packaged program for evangelization. It wasn’t some kind of group therapy or mass hallucination. There was no Kool-Aid being served up at the Last Supper. Jesus Christ rose from the dead through the power of God alone. His power. The Romans didn’t help. The priests didn’t help. The disciples didn’t help. Mary didn’t roll that stone away and neither did I and neither did you. God rolled that stone away. God transformed death into life. God proved that this is still his world and that he will be the one who has the final say. 

God rolled that stone away, and in doing so he is the one who transformed hopelessness into hope; he transformed darkness into light; He’s the one who’s gonna change this world; He’s the one who’s gonna save it. When Mary hears Jesus say her name in the garden, hope comes back into her world like a flash of light, but it isn’t hope in mankind it is hope in God. God can still be victorious even when men fail. In a world filled with injustice, incompetence, corruption and lies, God still keeps his promises. God can be trusted. 

Our hope as Christians is NOT in our own faithfulness, it is NOT in the plans and schemes of mankind; our hope is in the power of God. We don’t roll the stone away on death, God does. We don’t save the world, God does. Our roll, our task as Christians, is to do as a great old gospel hymn proclaims: to “go to a world that is dying, his perfect salvation to tell.”

Turn your eyes upon Jesus

Look full in his wonderful face

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim

In the light of his glory and grace.

You know, sometimes the world we live in doesn’t look much brighter for us than it did for Mary and the other disciples on the way to the tomb. Corrupt government, faithless clergy, war, injustice, lies, sin and death. It is easy to look around and wonder how we’re going to fix this. If I thought that it was up to me, or up to human beings, to roll the stone away on this dead and dying world, I would despair indeed and I would have good reason to despair. But Mary didn’t have to roll the stone away. Peter and John didn’t roll the stone away. The roman soldiers didn’t roll the stone away. Jesus got out of that tomb and saved the world without any help from us and that is good news and that is reason, good reason, for hope in a dark world. God isn’t waiting on us to figure things out or get our act together.

God rolled that stone away.