Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace, from God our Father, and His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Well, Happy Easter, friends! On behalf of the staff and leadership and the 1500 people who call Our Savior’s “home” I extend to you a joyous and blessed Easter Day. For many people, it’s a day filled with rich family traditions that include ham dinners and egg hunts and fancy clothes and candy, candy, candy! Easter is second only to Halloween for candy sales in this country, and the dentists love it! I recall the year my brother Jim received a giant chocolate bunny on Easter morning. I watched as he bit the ears off of it, and was now pouring Coke into the hollow bunny and drinking it down. That was on Sunday. On Monday, he became deathly ill, and on Tuesday he was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. After that, our parents only bought us solid chocolate bunnies.
But we have gathered here today to observe the oldest of all Easter traditions. Long before chocolate bunnies, and colorful eggs, and baby chicks, and flowery bonnets, Christians gathered at sunrise to consider the astonishing story of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. On Friday, Jesus was nailed to the cross and died an agonizing death. His body was taken down from the cross and hurriedly placed in a small cave because the Jewish Passover was about to start. And then on Sunday morning early, the most faithful followers of Jesus made their way to the grave to begin the painful task of embalming his body. But it wasn’t there; Jesus had risen from the dead and in the coming days, would appear to as many as 500 eyewitnesses. This is the miracle of Easter!
The resurrection is described in the bible, though just a little bit differently by each of the four gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In Matthew, two women arose early on that Sunday morning, went to the tomb and were met by a single angel. “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” the angel asked. In Mark, three women made that walk to the burial place of Jesus, and along the way, one of the women asks “Who will move the stone for us?” Luke tells us that two women went with burial spices and were met by two angels, and it scared those women senseless. And John writes that Mary went to the tomb all alone.
But, aside from the resurrection itself, the one common thread in each of these accounts has to do with the stone – the large, heavy disk that was rolled into place to block the entrance of the tomb on Friday. In each version, the stone had already been removed before the Sunday morning visitors arrived. Was it an earthquake? Grave robbers, perhaps? Was it Roman soldiers or Jewish skeptics or followers of the Savior? Theologians over the centuries have agreed that it was God moved the stone – miraculously and graciously – God moved the stone so that Mary, and Mary, and whoever else first went to the tomb could come face to face with a resurrection miracle.
It’s not an easy story to understand, and harder yet to believe. One little boy came home from Sunday School and his parents asked him what he had learned that day. He said “I learned that aliens and space invaders attacked the earth in X-wing fighters and defeated all the devil’s angels.” The parents were astounded. “Billy” they asked, “is that really what your teacher said?” And Billy said “No, but if I told you what she really said, you wouldn’t believe it!”
But for 2000 years, the resurrection of Jesus has been the bedrock event of the Christian faith. If he did not raise from the dead, all the rest of the bible is nonsense. If Jesus did not rise, then he was an imposter and he duped thousands of faithful followers. If the resurrection is not true, then Christians have invested their lives in a sham and, as the Apostle Paul wrote, “We are the most to be pitied.” But if the resurrection is true – and I believe it to be true – then everything about the world changed on that first Easter Day. Grace, forgiveness, peace with God, eternal life: it all comes with the Risen Savior. That’s why we celebrate today.
But there is still a question that must be addressed. The women on the way to the tomb asked it, remember? “Who will move the stone for us?” And it occurs to me that the important question today is not “Who moved the stone for Mary?” but rather, “Who will move the stone for us?” because most of us, in the course of our lives, find ourselves separated from God. We are on the opposite side of some boulder, some barricade that stands between us and heaven. We can’t even see past it, not to mention get around it or go through it. Who will move that stone for us?
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Perhaps yours is the stone of reason and you’re not going to commit your life to something you can’s see, and touch, and scientifically prove that it exists. And there is no compromise for you; to do so would be to insult your own intellect. You’re in good company, friend. If you come back to worship next Sunday, you’ll hear the story of Thomas – Doubting Thomas – who said “Unless I see the nail holes in Jesus’ hands, and place my hand in his side I will not believe.” Is that you? Who will move the stone for you? Jesus has already done so.
Or you might be standing behind the stone of bitterness. Things have happened, life has dealt you a tremendous blow, and somewhere along the way you have concluded that it is God punishing you for something you did or didn’t do. You feel that you could never trust a God like that, and I wouldn’t blame you. Murry Haar says that “God gets too much credit and too much blame for the stuff that happens in this world.” But who will move this stone of bitterness from your life? Jesus has already done so.
Maybe it’s the stone of a rocky past that prevents you from feeling good enough to be loved by God. You perhaps have never heard of the name “John Newton” but you have probably sung his song:
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now I’m found
Was blind, but now I see.
Newton grew up in England, and he became a slave-trader, just like his father. He made six trips from Africa to Great Britain, each time transporting and selling a boat load of slaves. On his final trip, a terrible storm rocked his boat and in fear, he cried out “Lord, have mercy upon us!” Newton became a minister, and would tell his congregation “If God can love a wretch like me, he can surely love a wretch like you.” If your life is cluttered with terrible words and deeds, who will move the stone for you? Jesus has already done so.
You may be carrying the stone of uncertainty, or the stone of pride, or the stone of fear, or the stone of hatred, and you are weary; so weary from carrying it through this life. Who will take this weight off your shoulders? Who will remove the barrier between you and the Creator God? Jesus has already done so. People, tell me what your stone is, and I will tell you who removed it. Jesus, the Risen One, that’s who.
You see, it doesn’t matter what your stone looks like, or what it’s called; we all have the same predicament. It is our sin that stands between us and God. You can’t move it. You can’t change it. You can’t get to God by going over it, around it or through it. But Jesus can; Jesus has. This is the ultimate reality of Easter; that the stone which had blocked humankind for generations was blown to bits on the day of Resurrection.
Today, before you eat the chocolate bunnies and find the colored eggs and cuddle the baby chicks and adorn the flowered bonnet, may you know this truth: Jesus is alive. His victory over death has removed every barrier between you and eternal life. There’s only one thing left for you to do: live it! With joy, with laughter, with confidence, with love. HE IS RISEN! (He is risen, indeed!). Thanks be to God. Amen.