A Sermon for Covenant
“And the Stone Was Rolled Away”
Covenant Baptist Church, San Antonio
April 20, 2014
Kyndall Rae Rothaus
(To listen to the audio, click “play” button above. To download audio, click here.)
As a kid, I always thought the angel came and rolled away the stone so that Jesus could get out, but in the story, Jesus is already gone, the tomb already empty. The angel moves the stone so the women can see what has already taken place long before they arrived. The stone rolling is for their benefit, not for Jesus’ escape.
Which reminds me, there are so many stones blocking my ability to believe in Easter. Small pebbles, you might say, if I told you what they were, but to me they are great big stones too heavy to move on my own. Somehow it is hard to believe in Resurrection when I don’t get everything I want in life. Hard to believe God is alive and thriving when so many prayers go unanswered. When sick people stay sick and dying people keep dying or die, when people you hold out for don’t get better. It is hard to spot the one empty tomb among graves full of dead and dying dreams.
It seems small-minded of me, I’m sure, that just because I don’t get my one teensy request granted, I am therefore hesitant to believe in a resurrection of cosmic proportions. “Get over yourself!” I keep saying to myself, but then, maybe my doubt is reasonable after all. If God doesn’t grant something so small as my little need, how is it possible that God so loved the world he gave his son unto death, then raised him from the dead? If I cannot see God at work in the here and now and immediate, in the small and present concerns of my own heart, then how can I possibly believe God at work in the forever and eternal, in the large and grand concerns of all the world?
Today we proclaim: Christ is risen! He was up and out and in the world before we even got out of bed. What you and I need is for someone to roll the stone away so we can see that this is true. We need our disbelief startled off. We need an angel or a messenger or a chance encounter with Christ himself, though Lord knows we’re liable to mistake him for the gardener.
But even then, even if the stone rolls and the mountains move, will it matter? Will it matter to believe in the extraordinary if the ordinary stuff of our lives still lacks miracle? Does it matter that Christ is alive if pieces of us are still dead?
I think: yes. It matters that Christ is alive because that means dead things can live again, even if they’re not resuscitated just yet. Broken hearts, lost dreams, fractured relationships—such things as these can live.
I think: yes. It matters that Christ is alive because it means we are not alone. Though we will face death and grief and sorrow and agony time and time again in this life, we have a Gentle One to stand alongside us, one who knows pain intimately, one who, as the poet wrote, “has born our grief and carried our sorrows.” We are not alone in our heartache.
I think: yes. It matters that Jesus is alive because if he were still dead that might suggest to us that evil gets the final word after all. Instead, Christ’s life says, “Evil may kill, but love will conquer all.”
I think: yes. It matters that Jesus is alive because he was someone’s best friend and he was Mary’s son. Whether it seems to matter to us or not, it mattered to them. He came back. He came home. They got to hold him in their arms, kiss him on the cheek, look him in the face. It matters because life always matters.
I think: yes. It matters that Jesus is alive because this suggests to us that Jesus is God. Most of the time, plain old humans do not rise from the dead in this lifetime. So why does it matter that Jesus is God? Well: If God looks like Jesus, isn’t that comforting? Jesus, who was all love and compassion, all healing and storytelling—if that is how God is, say, all the time, don’t you kinda feel like trusting him again? If God is not some scary, scowling sorcerer in the skies, but God is the gentle man who would wash your feet and play with your children if he had the chance, if God is Jesus through and through, just wow, isn’t that a relief? A relief that God can be known after all, and that what we know of God is kindness and compassion.
I think: yes. It matters that Jesus is alive even when, even though parts and pieces of us still very much feel dead. It matters because it gives us the gumption to hope that life is on its way.
The resurrection helps us be less afraid, although you wouldn’t immediately know this. Heightened fear often comes first. Like the guards who shook like leaves, then fell. And the text reports the women left the tomb with equal parts joy and fear. When they meet Jesus along the way, he echoes the angel, “Do not be afraid,” but even so the women run up and grab hold his feet. Perhaps they were bowing in worship, but I imagine they had fallen over in shock or they were trying to keep this man tied to the ground where he couldn’t leave them again. Maybe it foreshadows a resistance to his ascension—they are anchoring him down so they never have to grieve his absence again.
Miracles incite fear, even though the opening line of angels is always, “Do not be afraid.” We are afraid the goodness isn’t real, afraid God IS real, afraid the moment won’t last, afraid there won’t be enough manna for tomorrow, afraid folks will think we’re crazy if we tell the truth that sometimes we could swear we saw an angel perched atop our heaviest obstacles, as if even large stones might be moved out of our way.
But if you sit for a while with the aliveness of Mercy, over time it makes you brave. You find you are able to see small miracles popping up all over the place, things shifting like a silent earthquake. You find God awake inside yourself, and you find you are no longer frightened to say so out loud. You find faith is not really something so abstract and hard to grasp after all, but that faith is a simple as gratitude. That giving thanks for the small things is an angelic as it gets, that gratitude will roll stones and let you see inside empty tombs and give you hope.
You may occasionally encounter Jesus and you may greedily grab hold of his feet with fervor—Don’t leave me! But he will kindly implore that you go forth instead and tell the others how you stumbled across Life in a graveyard. How you found Kindness itself resurrected right when you thought all hope was gone. How at the moment of your greatest despair, something inside you came back to life.
I think: yes. It matters that Jesus is alive. Whether you are one for whom all hope seems lost or one for whom hope is reemerging, either way, the aliveness of a man like Jesus is something to hold onto in the changing fortunes of our lives. It is just the kind of story our faltering hearts need to hear, just the kind of miraculous our dying bodies long to know is true, just the kind of savior our aching souls want to hold.
And so, I say, “Christ is risen,” and you say, “He is risen indeed,” and we grip this truth by its ankles. Though our hands tremble and our hearts quake, we hold on for dear life. May the power of our Risen Savior infuse our fear with the courage to hope, both now and forever, Amen.