Roll Away the Stone in Your Heart

The Rev. Robert P. Travis Easter Day Sermon – 8:00 online for Morning Prayer (due to Pandemic) and 10:00am  and Outdoor Eucharist at  Chapel of St. John the Divine, Saunderstown and Church of the Ascension, Wakefield RI – RCL Easter Principal Year B 4/4/2021

Scripture Text: Isaiah 25:6-9, Acts 10:34-43, Psalm 118:1-2,14-24, Mark 16:1-8

Sermon Text:

The Easter Gospel that we just heard

contains a surprising ending.

Where is the encounter with the Risen Jesus?

He’s not there,

just a young man, dressed in white, without a name,

Who testifies that Jesus has been raised.

This year, we read from the Gospel of Mark,

the oldest gospel,

perhaps even a record of Peter’s memories.

We are confronted with one of the longest running controversies of the Bible.

The fact that in most of the earliest manuscripts we have the Gospel of Mark ends with the women running in fear, from the empty tomb.

They haven’t seen the risen Jesus yet. They’re awestruck and terrified. And many for most of the last 2000 years, believe that is how Mark’s gospel ended, and that a very short time later a follower of that same community added the remaining verses which we have not read today, where Mary and the other disciples encounter the risen Lord and that became biblical canon.

But for today it’s especially appropriate that we’re ending in this place.

The place of the unexpected, the unknown.

The awesome and the terrifying.

For we find ourselves in this Easter 2021,

in a place of unknown. A place we never expected to be. Where we’ve experienced so much loss. So much drastic change to our lives over the past year. And while we hope and believe that good things are to come. We don’t know when they’re going to be.

And at the same time we have gone through so much trauma, that we wait on pins and needles for the other shoe to drop. For some other bad news to force us back inside to hide.

Today we find ourselves very much in the place that those first disciples of Jesus were in.

Where just a couple of days ago they had witnessed His most brutal death, at the hands of the authorities.

Of course, they were terrified that someone might be coming for them. These same women were likely scared away from the tomb by the guard just the day before when they went there on Saturday, as Matthew’s gospel records them sitting across from it watching the stone sealed tomb, before the Roman guard came.

When the women went to the tomb early on Sunday morning the dust had not even settled on the experience they’d had on Friday.

 

They weren’t going to the tomb expecting to see the Risen Lord. They were going to care for his dead body. That was all that they knew. They had no idea what was to come.

 

“Who will roll away the stone for us

From the entrance of the tomb?”

That is what the two Mary’s and Salome,

were saying to one another,

as they went to anoint Jesus’ corpse,

in the burial traditions of their people.

 

This question is more important than it seems.

 

The stone was very large,

And it would have prevented them

From adoring Jesus in death,

As they had adored him in life.

 

The stone was placed there by others,

At the command of Pontius Pilate,

On the recommendation of the Priests of the Temple,

Who were worried that an unguarded tomb,

Would lead to the stealing of the body,

And false claims of Jesus still being alive.

 

The stone was not something three women,

Could have moved by themselves.

And it was doubtful that the Roman soldiers,

they expected to see, would be willing to help these poor,

Grief stricken women. They might just get shoed away again, and yet they kept on going.

 

Their grief turned into amazement,

And then terror,

When they realized what had been done for them.

The stone was rolled away,

And the tomb was empty.

No one had come to snatch Jesus’ body,

Though there are some to this day,

who claim that happened.

The stone and the guards would have prevented that.

 

The stone was rolled away,

The tomb was empty,

And Jesus had been raised?

 

The women and other disciples,

Had been distraught.

How could their Lord and master,

Their teacher and friend,

Their son and brother,

Have been killed so soon?

It must have seemed to them,

That he was destroyed, in the beginning of his ministry.

In his early thirties,

With plenty of time left,

to truly change the world around them.

 

How could he have been taken so soon?

 

They couldn’t have known that his death,

destroying eternal death for us all,

Accomplished so much more,

Than his continuing to live for thirty

or even sixty more years,

would have done.

And His rising to new life again,

His resurrection,

Allowed him to reach more people,

Than he could have possibly reached

In the life of a mortal human being, divine or not.

They couldn’t have known those amazing truths that would be understood much later.

 

The stone itself was a bigger question,

Than those women could have understood.

 

For soon Jesus would begin to live in the hearts,

Of every man, woman and child in the world,

And even in those who had not yet been born.

 

But the question of the stone remained.

 

Would Jesus be entombed in our hearts,

Or would He be the source of resurrected life for all of us?

 

The women did not see Jesus,

When they went to the tomb,

What they saw, was evidence of His resurrection,

That is, His absence from where they thought He would be.

 

And that question plagues many to this day.

Where is Jesus?

Where is he, when even the most successful places in the pandemic, like Germany, are facing renewed lockdowns as the virus mutates?

Where is Jesus when so many businesses have closed, and people are losing their livelihoods?

Where is he when more than 550,000 Americans have lost their lives to the coronavirus, when in some families multiple loved ones died and left us alone?

Where is Jesus, when we haven’t been able to see or hug our grandchildren for a year?

How can we live an Easter life,

when so much of our lives point to the death,

of all that we hold dear?

What the women saw that day, was something terrifying, and hard to understand.

Even his dead body, the only sure thing they knew, after the devastating loss of watching him die, was gone.

 

When Mary, Mary and Salome arrived at the tomb,

The picture was so different from what they expected,

That they experienced a sort of cognitive dissonance.

Their minds couldn’t process what they were seeing,

even though the light had cast away the darkness,

and revealed a new truth.

The women thought they were entering

what Karl Barth referred to

as the cul-de-sac of death.

That dead end from which no one escapes,

so well represented in a stone tomb cut into a cliff.

We know today, that Jesus is the only way out of that tomb,

he has shown us that death no longer has dominion over him, over us.

And that is a new light breaking like the dawn

into our darkened lives.

 

But it is a truth that is hard to comprehend when so much around us points to death.

As the former Bishop of South Carolina said, “Peter and Andrew, James and John, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary, the mother of James and the other women: their whole work was based on Jesus of Nazareth. This movement which they had given themselves to—this God thing—it was all dependent upon him. The healing of the sick, delivering people from dark drives and obsessions, loosening the grip of loss, the teaching about how God works in peoples’ lives, (not just religious practices), but having the ability to bring people into God’s presence, into an experience with the living God by his words and presence. When Jesus was around, God came to them; forgiveness flowed; broken lives were mended. All this seemed to happen around him. You can see the problem I suppose—Jesus was the movement. There was no way to posture or pretend about these things. Without him it would be futile to carry on. . .

Frankly, if he had not been raised, we would never have heard of him. Without Jesus they were clearly in the cul-de-sac of death, which Karl Barth once called “the hopeless cul-de-sac.” That’s what those who stumble over Jesus’ seemingly exclusive statement that he is “the way, the truth and the life” too often forget. The Easter message is quite clear here—there’s one way out of the cul-de-sac and Jesus pioneered it.

Take every dear person you have known who has died. In almost fifteen years of parish ministry, I have buried a lot of dear ones. Some young, some old—I’ve followed their caskets or processed their ashes out from the church. Was this all there was to them—body, ashes, decomposing? Does death have the last word? … The pattern of life, the genetic code, the physical being that identifies you and me and those we’ve known, does it decompose and is no more? According to the recently deceased John Polkinghorne, theoretical physicist and Anglican theologian, “It seems perfectly rational to believe that it will be remembered by God and reconstituted in a divine act of resurrection.” But if that is the case, that at death God remembers the pattern that is you and me, she will resurrect us in the matter, the physical-spiritual material of the world to come. My “re-embodiment” as Polkinghorne puts it, “will be in the transformed matter of this present universe.” Not ex-nihilo, or out of nothing, as she did with the creation, but she will transform “this present world in an act of new creation.” The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the first of this new creation. His death, because of this resurrection, far from ending the movement, raised it to a new level of universality. It is news, good news, for every family, tribe, people and nation.”

 

And because of his resurrection,

Jesus has the new power to live in our hearts.

And this is not a sentimental value,

Like when someone dies, and comforting others say

“She will live on in your heart and mind.”

That is just a memory.

 

Jesus is an actual living being,

whose spiritual existence,

Makes our lives full and complete.

The way to live an Easter Life,

Right now,

not to wait until you too have died and are resurrected

is to let the Risen Christ live through you.

From the inside out.

 

But in order for Jesus to live in us,

The stone in front of the tomb must be rolled away.

 

Our hearts can either be a tomb for Jesus,

Sealed by a stone put there by others,

And guarded by ourselves.

 

Or our hearts can be a home,

a castle,

Whose door is ever open,

Whose stone has been rolled away.

Which allows us to live for others,

Out of the endless supply of love,

That Jesus brings into our hearts

from his own.

 

This reminds me of the song I learned as a child,

And sang to my own children.

It goes:

“Love is the flag flown high from the castle of my heart,

from the castle of my heart,

from the castle of my heart,

Love is the flag flown high from the castle of my heart,

When the King is in residence there.”

 

The song goes on through all of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, which are evident in our lives,

Like flags, showing that Jesus, the King,

is alive in our hearts.

 

The good news,

The gospel,

Is of Jesus’ resurrection,

 

Not his perfect life,

his deep teachings,

or even the wonderful miracles he performed.

Those things are great, indeed,

But they are merely commentary

On the core of the gospel,

Which we heard in the teaching of Peter

This morning.

The resurrection is the original gospel,

Without it, none of the other things would have likely

Survived but as a story in history.

The fact is,

Jesus is risen,

The stone was rolled away and the tomb found empty.

 

Stop guarding the stone in your hearts,

But allow it to be rolled away,

And let what was a tomb be revealed

as a castle for our lord and King.

 

Then let us raise the flag over His castle

by showing the love,

joy,

peace,

Patience,

Kindness,

gentleness,

goodness,

faithfulness,

and self-control.

That his presence makes possible in our lives

Towards others.

 

Let these flags fly over your lives,

and show others,

That your stone has been rolled away,

And Jesus lives in you.

 

So let it fly in the sky,

Let the whole world know,

Let the whole world know,

Oh, Let the whole world know,

So let it fly in the sky,

Let the whole world know,

That the King is in residence there.

 

The time has come, to set death,

and fear behind us,

and live an Easter Life.

All of you can live Easter Lives,

full of resurrection,

displaying the fruits of the Spirit,

because Jesus lives in you,

if the stone has been rolled away from your heart.

 

Alleluia, Christ is risen!

(the Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!)

SCRIPTURE:
OCCASION:

The Rev. Robert P. Travis

Father Rob goes by Father so that he remembers his duty to the people of God whom he serves. He’s been ordained since 2006, serving in Florida and Tennessee and before that served as a youth minister in Long Island, NY. More details