Who Will Roll Away the Stone?
A sermon preached by The Rev. Jeffrey A. Geary at the White Plains Presbyterian Church for the Resurrection of Our Lord / Easter Sunday, April 5, 2015
Isaiah 25:6-9 Mark 16:1-8
They were determined, these three women who made their way in the early morning light toward Jesus’ tomb. Unlike the male disciples, they didn’t desert Jesus. These women were there during his crucifixion. Mark’s gospel says they watched Jesus’ crucifixion from a distance, together with the “many other women who had come up with Jesus to Jerusalem.”
After petitioning successfully for Jesus’ body, Joseph of Arimathea removed him from the cross, wrapped him in a linen cloth and placed his body in a tomb that had been hewn out of a rock. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where Jesus’ body was laid. They watched as Joseph rolled a stone against the door of the tomb.
Early the next morning three of those many women who had followed Jesus from his early days in Galilee – that poor, northern province that had been victimized by Rome’s scorched earth military campaigns that burned whole towns and enslaved thousands – these many women, who grew up in the shadow of that violence, many of whose fathers may have been dragged of to Sepphoris as slaves to build monuments to Caesar’s victory – these women, who grew up with little hope but much fire in their belly, these women who refused to submit to Rome’s domination, continued to refuse as they forged their way in the early morning light toward that tomb. They had brought the proper spices for burial. They would not allow their friend, their compatriot, to be simply tucked away and forgotten. These three women were determined. They would not abandon him.
So when they utter the question “who will roll away the stone?”
- we dare not hear this question as one of helplessness; for these were industrious women;
- we dare not hear this question as one of pessimism; for these were determined women;
- we dare not hear this question as one of weakness; for these were strong women.
When they ask “who will roll away the stone?” they are posing the problem before them in a very practical way. They are setting out for consideration the obstacle before them. They don’t let the fact that they haven’t solved this problem keep them from moving toward their goal. They ask this question while they are walking. This question does not cause them to stop, nor to turn back. In fact the question seems, like their footsteps, to propel them forward.
I want us to think about this for a moment. Jesus has just been crucified by the Romans, as thousands of upstart threats to Rome had been crucified. But Jesus has stirred a following that has Rome and certain of their Jewish collaborators concerned. Squash the man, squash the movement, was their reasoning. But these women weren’t about to be squashed. They plunged ahead in the early morning light knowing full well the risks that they might be seen by someone and identified to the authorities. There might be a guard at the tomb who could arrest them. They too could lose their lives. But they do not turn back.
Who will roll away the stone, they wonder among themselves as they place one foot in front of the other, walking in the thick of a terrorized city, toward the tomb of the troublemaker who inspired loyalty to God above loyalty to Rome.
I want us to keep that image of the courageous women before us – that pre-Easter, Easter moment,
- before we know that the stone is rolled away,
- before the women plunge forward into the tomb,
- before we hear that God has acted,
- before we hear the promise that Jesus will meet them in Galilee,
- before the women flee in terror and amazement,
- before they keep their silence,
- before Jesus appears first to Mary Magdalene,
- before the disciples refuse to believe that Mary has seen him and so belittle her,
- before he appeared to two of the male disciples on the road to Emmaus,
- before the rest of the disciples refuse to believe them,
- before Jesus himself finally appears to the eleven and upbraids them for their lack of faith…
Before all this … were these women … walking that terrifying path toward the tomb in the early morning light. Afraid but undeterred. Uncertain but determined. With things yet to be all figured out but with a willingness to keep moving in the right direction.
As we depart this sanctuary, this safe haven, and re-enter our world, a world that is wracked with as much suffering as it is joy, a world that wrestles with hatred and with love, a world in which the powerful keep crucifying the vulnerable,
- May we be like these three women, courageous, steadfast, and bold;
- May we, like them, allow for fear to be a part of the real journey of faith, but also like them, to not let our fear hold us back.
- May we, like them, allow for uncertainty to be a part of the real journey of faith, but also like them, to not view uncertainty as a reason to stop moving forward but as an opportunity to wonder and plan together.
- May we, like these three women who ran headlong into the tomb seeking Jesus, allow our love for others to propel us deeper into uncharted territory.
(May we? … Mais Oui!)
[The embedded image above is “Who will roll away the stone…” by the late Hanna Cheriyan Varghese of Malaysia. Based on Mark 16:3.]