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?” 

Mark 16:1-8

That first Easter morning, when the women made their way to the tomb, they had just one question on their minds: “Who will roll away the stone for us?” For it was a very large stone. It would have taken about twenty men to roll the stone away, given what we know about tombs at that time. So these three women knew they didn’t stand a chance. 

They wanted to anoint their beloved Savior’s dead body. It would be their last act of love toward the one who showed them such love. But how? As they headed to the tomb that morning, that was foremost on their minds. Apparently, they were not thinking about whether the guards would let them approach the tomb. They weren’t worried about being arrested, as followers of Jesus. They weren’t wondering why Peter and the others were not joining them. They weren’t concerned with how they would react to seeing Jesus’ dead body, their Savior, crucified and laying dead in a tomb. No. All they were really thinking about was, who would roll away the stone for them? For it was a very large stone.

Easter’s Many Meanings

Easter means many things to us as Christians. It is too big a miracle to mean just one thing. Easter clearly means that Christ is risen. It means that Jesus has defeated death. Easter means that eternal life is real, that death does not end our life with God. That all who live and believe will never die.

But that stone being rolled away from the tomb – a detail recorded in all four gospels – tells us something else about Easter that I think is quite significant. The stone being rolled away tells us that Easter is also about the ways in which God removes obstacles in our life, those obstacles that try to keep us from God, and try to stop us from living the life that God has called us to live.

Today, I invite you to think about the large stones in your life. Those obstacles that are keeping you from living the full abundant life with Christ, here and now. Think about those challenges that are trying to keep you in your tombs, so to speak. Those battles that paralyze us with fear, that trap us, that try to stop us from living, really living, our new lives in Christ. And, then, think about what Easter teaches us about how God plans to remove those stones.

Back at the Upper Room

Let’s start with Peter and the other men who were following Jesus, his first disciples. Did you notice that they did not appear in our gospel reading? They are not going to the tomb to help the women remove the stone. No. They are all locked away in the upper room, afraid for their lives. No wonder the women were worried about who would roll away the stone for them – they couldn’t get the men to go to the tomb with them! The men had created a tomb for themselves, and put a stone of their making over it. And they really didn’t want the stone rolled away. And that even includes the leader of those disciples, Peter. Peter is the one who denied even knowing Jesus, after Jesus was arrested. And now, it seems that he is still denying knowing Jesus.

Peter, by the way, is a nickname given to him by Jesus, and it literally means rock or stone. Peter is supposed to be the stone, the rock on which Christ will build his church. But that first Easter morning, the leader of the disciples is locked away with the other disciples, cowering in fear. You might say, in Peter’s case, that the stone Peter needs rolled away, is himself. Sometimes that’s true for us, isn’t it? We get in our own way. We create our own tombs. And the stone covering the tomb is our very own self. 

Who will roll away that stone? Well, after Jesus was raised from the dead, he did as he promised. He showed himself to the disciples. Jesus entered the upper room, he rolled away their stone, he freed them of their fear, and he helped them to proclaim the good news to the world. That is part of the Easter miracle for us, too.

Our risen Lord enters our lives, and even our tombs, and rolls away the stones that are keeping us from being all that God wants us to be. He frees us from fear, and helps us proclaim his message to the world.

They Said Nothing (at First)

The women, of course, didn’t need Jesus to come to the upper room. They had the courage to go to the tomb themselves. Even though they didn’t know what they would do when they got there. And that, too, teaches us something, doesn’t it? That sometimes we need to leave our tombs; we need to step out in faith; and we need to trust that God will be there for us, and help us in our need. The women knew they couldn’t roll that stone away, but it did not stop them from going to the tomb. If Easter means anything, it certainly means that God will be with us, always, and especially when we need God to be.

But we can’t let the women off quite that easy today. Go back to what happened that first Easter morning. When the women arrived at the tomb, the stone was already rolled away from the tomb. They needn’t have worried about that at all. But then they were told to go and tell Peter and the other disciples that Jesus is going ahead of them to Galilee; there they would see him, just as he promised. So, what did the women do? They fled from the tomb, and said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. And that is how Mark’s Easter story ends.

Even after we step out in faith, we can still find ourselves stumbling. There are lots of stones in our paths, it turns out, and it is easy to stumble. The women said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. So, what were the women afraid of? Perhaps of being laughed at. How could Jesus go to Galilee if he was dead? Perhaps of what they had just witnessed. A rolled-away stone, a missing Messiah, and a mysterious message from a young man dressed in a white robe. They would make anyone afraid, wouldn’t it? Or perhaps they were afraid of what the disciples would say. Would they think the women were crazy, or seeing things? Would they even believe them? 

The women were afraid, and for good reason. And that fear became another stone that needed to be rolled away. But here is another miracle of Easter: This stone was, indeed, rolled away. It must have been. Because we know the story. The women did tell the disciples. And Jesus did appear to those disciples, just as he promised. And he forgave Peter for denying him. And he promised to send the Holy Spirit to them. And he helped them understand what had just happened, and how it fulfilled the promise of Scripture. And he ascended into heaven. And the Holy Spirit came. And every last stone in the lives of those disciples was rolled away. Because there is no stone too large for God. No obstacle that God cannot remove.

Proof of the Resurrection

Do you want proof of the resurrection? There is none that is more convincing to me than this: That Peter and the disciples, who were cowering in fear in their locked upper room, became the most fearless witnesses to the resurrection that you could ever imagine. Most of them dying, unafraid, and unwilling to deny what had become the cornerstone of their faith: that Christ died, rose again, and promised one day to return. 

No one was more fearless than those first disciples. And no stone that this world rolled in front of them could stop them now. Not prison, or threat of death, or anything else in this world. Now that is a miracle!

So what changed? How did they go from cowering in fear in a locked room, to boldly sharing the story of Jesus with all the world? Who rolled away the stone for them? What else could it be? It was Jesus himself, who was raised from the dead. And appeared to them. And rolled away all the stones that were stopping them from doing his work. And after he did, they fearlessly proclaimed the good news of the resurrection of our Lord. No stone could trap them anymore. That, too, is the miracle of Easter. For them and for us.

Closing

Easter is about an empty tomb, and so much more. It is about our risen Lord, with us always, rolling away the stones and obstacles in our lives. It is about God helping us to live our lives without fear, following our risen Savior wherever he leads us, and helping to usher in God’s reign. Easter means that there is no tomb that God cannot free us from. There is no stone that God cannot roll away. Regardless of how we got there, God doesn’t want us to stay there. God wants to free us from whatever it is that is keeping us from the new life in Christ that the miracle of Easter offers to us all. 

So, do not be afraid. Trust in God. Believe in God’s Son. Rejoice in God’s love for you. And do not worry about who will roll away the stone for you, whatever that stone may be. For Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

First Lutheran Church of Albemarle

9 thoughts on “Rolling the Stone Away: My Easter Sermon on Mark 16:1-8

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