Rolling Away the Stone

Rolling Away the Stone

In order to get to the good part, you have to go through the hard part. This sermon based on Mark 16:1-8 shows how Easter shifts our perspective by shaking us awake to the reality that God is with us. God sets to work while darkness surrounds us and rolls away the stones that block our progress.

Easter shakes you awake

I love this yearly celebration of Easter because it’s a perspective shifter. Matthew’s gospel says on the day of resurrection, there was a great earthquake. Not just a tremor, a great earthquake. For me, it’s like Easter grabs me by the shoulders and says, “Wake up, silly! What business do you have, being all gloomy, and sour? Don’t you know God is alive and active in this world and your very life! The God of new possibilities couldn’t be stopped by the crucifixion of Jesus, nothing you face is going to stop God’s great purposes for you.”

Easter always helps shift my perspective to something more positive and hopeful than I get on any news channel or social media site. Maybe it comes along at just the right time for you to shift your perspective, too.

God acts while it is still dark

The Easter story begins with the women on their way to the tomb at the crack of dawn. John’s gospel says Mary left while it was still dark. God acts while it is still dark. You may not be able to see it or sense it right now. Maybe all you see is the darkness of your situation. Perhaps it’s a disease, or financial troubles, or addiction. Maybe it’s relationship problems or the child who’s gone off course.  It might be some darkness of spirit inside of you.

But God works in the darkness. The story reminds us that God is already working in your darkness to make health and healing and hope possible. While it was still dark to everyone else, God’s light was breaking forth. God is busy bringing a new day. Lift your spirits. It’s coming.

God’s been working on us during the dark pandemic

We have all wandered around in the darkness of the pandemic for over a year. Light is coming up over the horizon. God has been working in us, preparing us for a brighter day ahead. We have learned to be patient, adaptive, and grateful for even the smallest things that we used to take for granted. I can’t wait to see how God will use all of that.

Soon we’ll walk in the sun. We’ll be back together in the church, and we will be stronger and more appreciative of each other than ever. It’s still dark, but daylight is coming.

Who will roll away the stone?

Mark’s gospel relays an extraordinary detail. On their way to the tomb, the women were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone?” Those things were massive, meant to stay in place after the tomb was sealed. They worried. It’s too big to budge. What will we do? 

We can forgive them for not thinking this through before they set out because of the mix of complex emotions that swirled within them. Disbelief that something so horrific could happen to someone so wonderful. Anger at people who caused his death and at the disciples for running away instead of defending Jesus during the moment of truth. But most of all they faced soul-crushing grief, lost hope that the world could be different, better. With all that, so what if they hadn’t planned ahead? At least they were going to do what they could. Give a little dignity to his massacred body with balms and oils according to the tradition of their time.

The fantastic thing is that once they figured out that they couldn’t move the stone, they kept going. The women didn’t turn back. They humble me.

I look over my life and realize all the times I have envisioned some obstacle in front of me, and I turned back. I let it stop me from what I had set out to do. I’ve set out to do so many ministries, that could really make a difference for hurting people but I talked myself out of them because I wrung my hands, worried that there wouldn’t be enough money, or volunteers, or resources. I’ve let the dread of obstacles ahead make me turn back so many times. When I think of those women who went anyway, I’m motivated to step forward in faith rather than fear.

What about you? I wonder how you relate to this, what you’ve walked away from. Let’s not allow fear of something hard keep us from doing what is in our hearts. Let those women be an inspiration to you. Trust that God will help you get it done once you get to the hard part.

You have to go through the hard part before you get to the good part

I think about how many times, especially early in my ministry, I nearly walked away from it all. It just seemed like so much effort for so little result. All those people with all those expectations of what their pastor should be to them. What one person wants is the exact opposite of what another wants.

But in anything, you have to go through the hard part before you get to the good part. It’s true in relationships, in business, in any worthwhile goal. In faith, so many people walk away when troubles come. They get discouraged when their prayers don’t get answered the way they want, and they have to go through something hard or tragic. But faith isn’t a magic amulet that wards off hardship. Everyone goes through hard parts.

Look at Jesus. He had faith. He prayed for some other path than the one that led to the cross. He was gifted, faithful, a great speaker, and still, people misunderstood him. He had faith and still had to go through difficulties. He was perfect, and still, people found reason to persecute him and betray him. So don’t be surprised when these things happen to you.

God, not your circumstances, has the last word

The story of Easter is that none of that stuff, none of those hardships, have the last word. God does. God helps us through to a better day. It may still be dark, but God is working on your behalf. The resurrection was a vindication of everything Jesus was about. God will vindicate every act of goodwill, compassion and generosity you ever make.

I want to encourage you today to stick with it during the hard part to get to the good part of faith. The good part involves an inner peace that surpasses all circumstances on the outside. A way of seeing yourself as the beloved of God, gifted, with something to offer this world to make it better. The good part is the realization that, as Jesus said, the kingdom of God is within you. A hopeful way of behaving with integrity that defies the negativity and selfishness of the age.

Hang on, keep moving forward. The hard part is simply a prelude to the good part. You may be surrounded by darkness, but God surrounds the darkness and prevails.

God is in the stone and obstacle removal business

When the women arrived at the tomb, they were amazed that the stone had already been rolled away. God is in the stone and obstacle removing business. What you are so worried about in the future, God is already working on. As my grandfather always used to say, “90% of the stuff you worry about won’t happen, so why worry?”

Once I retorted, “90% doesn’t happen. See, worry works! It keeps bad stuff from happening.”

He just looked at me with confusion and pity behind his glasses that were as thick as soda bottles. Over time, I’ve learned from his wisdom and remembered that God is in the stone removal business.

What seems insurmountable to you is just a pebble to God

Matthew tells us that when the women arrived, an angel sat atop the stone as if to say, “You were worried about this? What stone? What seems so big and insurmountable in your imagination is just a pebble to God, easily flicked away. The obstacles in front of you are nothing to God.

No situation or lack of resources or obstacle can defeat God’s purposes for your life. Only you can do that by turning back when you can press forward. Although you don’t know what the journey will entail, you always have enough control over your life to take one more step forward.

I feel that God is working in your lives right now. Somebody’s confusion is being rolled away. Somebody’s hesitancy is being rolled away, somebody’s self-pity is being rolled away, somebody’s mean-spiritedness is being rolled away.

How God moves stones today

I’m not saying that everything will always go smoothly and easy-peasy. You have to go through the hard part, the dark parts, to get to the good part. God’s favorite way of moving stones is by working through other people. Sometimes you have to be humble enough to ask for help. There are people, resources, tools to help you. You have a church of incredibly supportive, loving people to walk with you through it.

Let today be about your resurrection, too

Easter is the time to roll away the stone in front of that tomb and break free. Let this Easter be as much about your resurrection as Jesus’ where you discover a new sense of vitality and life. The church has always understood Easter as more than a private experience Jesus went through. It prefigures the new life, the new perspective available to us all.

Therefore, the best way of celebrating Easter may be found in shaking loose and fully embracing your life and its potential. Jesus said he came that you may have eternal and abundant life in this life now, not just after you die. The point of Jesus’ resurrection is so that you can always find a rising in your spirit.

So let this day be your Easter. Let it shake you awake to the possibilities God has for you. Though it is still dark, and you can’t see it, God is active for you. Most of the obstacles you worry about will be gone by the time you get there. So rise up and take life and give it your best shot with all that you are. Follow Jesus out of the tomb by living humbly, faithfully, appreciatively, and his spirit will be with you, for Christ is risen. Christ is risen, indeed. Amen.