GOD STILL MOVES STONES
A sermon preached at Lyonsville Congregational United Church of Christ on April 20, 2014 (Easter Sunday/Communion Sunday)
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” 8So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” — Matthew 28:1-10
(Begin by reviewing the life and death of Jesus – how we got to Easter morning)
During the season of Lent our worship services have followed some of the chapters of the book “He Still Moves Stones”, by Max Lucado. According to the Easter story in Matthew, Mary Magdalene and another woman named Mary went to Jesus’ tomb early on a Sunday morning, and an angel of the Lord rolled away the massive stone that sealed the entrance of the tomb.
We often find times in our lives when seemingly immovable obstacles keep us from reaching the life and health and peace that our souls desire. We find ourselves trapped, with no visible way out. But God still moves stones. That’s what God does. Because even Jeremiah, who lived more than 5 centuries before Jesus, knew that God loves the people of God “with an everlasting love.”
But on that particular Sunday morning, moving that huge stone was probably the easy part of what happened. Jesus was gone. He had been raised from the dead. The angel didn’t move that stone so Jesus could get out; the stone was moved so those astonished women could see that he was already gone – “as he said.”
What is a preacher supposed to say about this event – this story? In recent weeks I have heard some of my colleagues talk or write about what to preach on Easter. I must admit that after 18 years (this is now my 19th Easter sermon here), I’m still not sure what to say. And apparently, I’m not alone.
When I first started my ministry , I thought it was my job to say something clever on Easter – to keep people entertained in a brief sermon when everyone was anxious to get on with the big day. Or I thought I was supposed to try to explain resurrection so it made sense and was more believable. But resurrection doesn’t make sense. From what we understand about the world, there is no way it could happen.
Rev. Matt Fitzgerald, who now serves a large U.C.C. church in Chicago, wrote in The Christian Century that he believes that people come on Easter not to have the resurrection explained, but to have it proclaimed – this most improbable of messages. It makes no sense; it can’t be explained; it is almost impossible to believe – and yet we want to believe it.
I think that might be why the story in Matthew says that the women “left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy…” Fear and great joy. What an odd combination of emotions. I can understand their great joy at the news that Jesus was raised. I think their fear was that somehow this might all be a big mistake, a cruel hoax, a mean prank. What if their naïve belief was in vain?
It’s all too much to believe. And yet – we want to believe. We want it to be true. Matt Fitzgerald wrote that he thinks people “ long for a God who cannot be contained, confined, or even described, a God whose victory over the grave could redefine their lives.”
If it is true – that Christ has been raised from the dead, that means:
1. Death is not the ultimate power in our world. Most people sure thinks it is. Death is the ultimate enemy, the ultimate punishment. If you have the power to kill someone, you use it as a weapon. If you have enough money that you can forestall death, you spend it.
But if Christ has been raised, then God’s love is stronger than death. Nothing can separate us from God’s love. That is a different kind of world.
2. We are not bounded by our mortal existence. Eternity is ours.
The French Philospher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once said, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.” We don’t have to try to frantically squeeze every possible activity into our short mortal life, or live in despair that it’s all pointless.
3. In the end, evil does not win out. God’s justice will ultimately prevail. In the 2011 film “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” the hotel manager Sonny assures his guests, “Everything will be all right in the end… if it’s not all right then it’s not yet the end.”
4. Forgiveness is ours, and it is possible for us to forgive others. Eternity is too long to bear a grudge.
5. There is always hope. A way out of no way.
When our life as we’ve known it seems to come to an end, and we wish we could die – a new life can happen. God can move the stones that keep us from new life.
6. We can be generous with our time, and with our gifts. The world of resurrection is a world of abundance and joy.
7. This world is much more amazing and mysterious and beautiful than we know – and perhaps more than we’ll ever know. We like to think we understand how the world works. But there are some things that don’t fit with our worldview. Perhaps they never will.
What can one say about the resurrection? Christ is risen. What??? It can’t be. I hope and believe it is true.
Amen. Happy Easter!
Robert J. von Trebra