ESV Mark 16:1 abcWhen the Sabbath was past, cMary Magdalene, cMary the mother of James, and oSalome rbought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away athe stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” 4 And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back– ait was very large. 5 And aentering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, bdressed in ca white robe, and dthey were alarmed. 6 And he said to them, a“Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that ahe is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, ajust as he told you.” 8 And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.1
I was sitting in a professor’s office one day, visiting with him. During our conversation, I noticed a picture on the wall behind the professor’s desk. It is a photo from the Holy Land of a tomb. The opening was square, and you’d have to bow down to get inside the tomb. Off to one side was a stone, round in shape, propped up against the side of a hill a foot or two higher than the entrance of the tomb. It was a large stone, and it would take a couple of strong men to get it rolling down a groove to the front of the tomb. This tomb could very well have been what the tomb in which Jesus was placed looked like. Joseph of Arimathea was fairly wealthy, and he could have had a tomb, with a circular stone in front of it, waiting for his burial. When he put Jesus in the tomb, he would have pushed the stone and started it down the track. You can imagine the sound it would have made when it suddenly stopped in front of the tomb. THUD! The stone in front of Jesus’ tomb was very large, Mark says in our Gospel. It was huge. After it went “Thud!” it was not going to be moved without a great deal of effort. Can you imagine how strong the men would have to have been to push it back up out of the groove and up the incline? No, when it went “Thud!” it was there to stay. Or so it seemed.
We’ve been looking at the large stone from the outside. Imagine what it would have been like from the inside. You’d hear the stone grinding against the face of the hill and its rocks. Slowly, the entrance disappears. Then comes the “Thud!” Pitch darkness in the tomb. Silence surrounds you. Life is over. Done. Finished. Including the most enjoyable moments in life.
One such enjoyable moment was when Jesus ate a meal together with his disciples. I can imagine the laughter, the camaraderie, the chatter. The sounds of food being dished out on plates, soft noises of utensils being picked up and set down, glasses being filled, and then, listen, as someone swallows whatever was in the cup. Other meals with tax collectors and sinners would make the same sounds, perhaps more boisterous or maybe more polite. One day, Jesus pulls apart some loaves of bread and breaks up some fish, and a crowd of over five thousand eat to their full. That many people: noisy meal. The sounds of eating and being together with those who were following Jesus had to be some of the more wonderful sounds with him.
But all that came to an end with a “Thud!” The stone rolls in front of the tomb. Everything comes to a halt. His disciples have run for their lives. Two men, Joseph and Nicodemus, have risked everything to bury him. And some women have stood at a distance to see where Jesus is buried. His body is covered in darkness and surrounded by silence. He’s dead. A large stone is in front of the tomb.
But very early on that first Easter morning, all that changes. The women are coming up the path to anoint Jesus’ body with spices to cover up the odor of death. But they aren’t strong enough to move the stone. They’re ready to take care of his body, but they have forgotten one important detail. Who will let them in?
When they get there, that small, actually very big, detail has already been taken care of. The stone, that large stone, has been pushed away. In Matthew’s account, it says an angel did it. We don’t know just how the stone was moved, but I imagine it was no trouble at all. I imagine it was like—when you see a crumb from a cookie on your shirt. You put a finger under your thumb and just flick it away. “Flick.” It’s gone. From a loud “Thud!” to a small “Flick,” and the tomb is open.
The women are amazed and afraid. An angel is there, waiting for them with a message. The heart of the message is this: he is risen! The body is not in the tomb anymore. He is alive and is going to meet his disciples, just as he said he would. Now that message is huge. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is larger than any stone. No stone could keep him in, no matter how large, and the women go in, no longer to anoint the body with spices, but to hear words that will loom large for the rest of their lives. He is risen!
And just as he said he would, Jesus meets his disciples over and over again during the next forty days. You heard about those get-togethers in Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians. During a couple of those reunions, Jesus does something that looks so small and ordinary. He eats with his disciples. He picks up a piece of fish and eats it. He has breakfast with his disciples on a seashore. He isn’t some ethereal phantom. He is flesh and blood. The scars are there for Thomas to touch and believe. What a meal that would have been! Hushed tones at first. Amazed gasps. Then the chatter and hugs. The noise of joy would grow louder as Jesus turns disciples who had deserted and denied him into men of courage. He turns women who were terrified into messengers of hope. The sounds of a meal and a reunion with Jesus change everything. The simple message “He is risen!” is larger than any stone, than anything that could ever keep him from his followers. Jesus’ resurrection is huge!
In our lives too.
One of my fellow seminary students worked for a while as a gravedigger before he came to the seminary. He and his brother would dig the graves and, after the committal service, fill them in. One time was especially heart wrenching for them. It was the burial of an eight-year-old boy who had drowned in a creek by his house. So sad. So tragic. The mother wanted to stay and watch the burial. The two brothers told her that it wasn’t a good idea. When the dirt goes into the grave, the phrase “dust to dust” becomes all too real. But she wouldn’t leave. So he started to push the dirt into the grave.
Can you hear it? The sound it makes? Each load of dirt goes thud, thud, thud. Then, when the grave is filled up and the dirt patted down, there comes a stone. It’s a gravestone. Some markers are big; others are small. But you know what sound it makes as it’s put in front of the grave. Thud. Then everyone leaves. It’s just silence. It’s blackness surrounding a body.
Grief and sorrow are so painful. Someone sits down to eat at the table, and an empty chair stares back. No sounds of laughter. The plate is in the cupboard. The utensils sit quietly in the drawer instead of clanging on the table. The glass is on a shelf instead of a drink being swallowed. Someone is missing. A voice has disappeared.
Whose gravestone is it? Someone you love? (Pause) Your own? That stone looms large. Too large for us to do anything about.
But not for Jesus. The day will come when he will return in glory and power. The silence will be shattered, the darkness undone. He will come to your grave, to the graves of all who have followed him. The gravestone? Like a tiny crumb. Flick. Away it goes. Same for the dirt. And out we come. Bodies alive once again. Hands and feet that will hug and dance. Eyes to see the beauty of God’s new creation. Ears to hear the songs of praise that will make our loud and joyous Easter singing seem like a whisper.
And we will eat. The meal is described in the Old Testament Reading. Rich food. Drinks that will burst upon your taste buds with absolute delight. I’m heading straight for the sweet corn drenched in butter, roast beef, and mashed potatoes drowning in gravy. And for dessert, I’m hoping for warm peach cobbler with ice cream. It will be a feast, a banquet. A meal so large we’ll never be hungry again.
And we’ll be surrounded by those who love Jesus. We’ll be laughing and talking. Listen to the noisy celebration. All because Jesus is larger than the stone. Isaiah says the Lord God will swallow up death forever. Tears will be wiped away from our eyes. They are too small to stop Jesus on the Last Day, the day of our resurrection.
When my former colleague began to fill in the young boy’s grave, the mother began to sob, her shoulders shaking. His brother went over to her. He was a hunter and fisherman, a manly man kind of guy. He put his arm around her and asked if her son had been baptized. She nodded yes. Then, like an angel many, many years earlier had said to some women at an empty tomb, he assured her that her son was with Jesus. He told her that one day, she would see her son again (Mk 16:7).
Yes, the simple message “He is risen” changes everything. It is larger than any stone, than anything that could ever keep us from Jesus and that incredible feast on the day of our resurrection.
But not just on that Last Day.
Jesus’ Resurrection Is Larger Than Any Stone, Not Only on the Day of Our Resurrection, but Also Every Day of Our Lives.
How so? Because now, some of the smallest sounds are larger than the thud of a stone.
Listen to water being lifted up to baptize a child. No stone, no matter how large, can stop Jesus from claiming that child as his own, just as he did for you in your Baptism.
Listen to the lid of a chalice being opened for the Lord’s Supper. No stone, no matter how large, can stop Jesus from coming in this meal to give us life and forgiveness.
Listen to the pages of a Bible being turned. No stone, no matter how large, can stop Jesus from assuring us he is with us always, even to the end of the age.
Listen to the joyous hymns being sung today. No stone, no matter how large, can stop those who love Jesus from singing his praise.
Listen to the prayers. No stone, no matter how large, can stop Jesus from comforting us in our times of grief.
Listen to cans of food being put in a collection box for the hungry. No stone, no matter how large, can stop Jesus from feeding people through our gifts.
Listen to the laughter as you sit down to eat with family or friends. No stone, no matter how large, can stop Jesus from giving us a glimpse of the feast to come.
Listen to the message that changes everything. “He is risen!” Amen.