On Thursday evening, we had a Maundy Thursday gathering at the Publisher. Maundy is from the Latin word meaning commands. Maundy Thursday is the evening we remember Jesus’ command to eat the Lord’s Supper in remembrance of Him. Thursday we talked about a lot of different things about Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.
I shared a bit about my trip several years ago to Israel and Palestine. I told the group about my experience of going to the tomb. There is a spot in the city of Jerusalem called the Garden Tomb. It is like a courtyard shoved between 2 buildings. There is a fountain in the middle with brick paths around the fountain. There are flowers and bushes all around the courtyard. Tucked in the corner is a tomb smaller than the size of a child’s bedroom with a large stone slab smaller than a twin bed on one side. You have to duck your head a little to walk in and there’s little room to move around.
On the outside of the tomb, just to the right of the mouth of the tomb, there is a large round stone the size of a large round dining table. I looked at the stone and I decided that this was not the site of Jesus’ burial. Some of the holy sites may or may not be the true site. Some of the sites are where “tradition” says this or that happened. Well, I decided that the tradition of this being the site of Jesus’ burial was wrong all because the stone sitting next to the tomb was too small.
In our minds, if we imagine the tomb and the stone covering the tomb’s entrance, we all have the image of a massive stone that might have taken a few men to roll into place and God to roll away. The tomb may be small, but the stone was very large. The stone at the garden tomb I visited did not match my imagination, so it couldn’t be the real deal.
For some reason, I have to believe that the work of God rolling the stone away was somehow just as impressive as God raising Jesus from the dead. It couldn’t be that Jesus was trapped in the tomb by a rock the size of a dining table that He Himself could have rolled away. No. I want the rock to be bigger than Jesus’ might. It had to be the work of God to roll away that stone.
On that first Easter morning, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went down to the tomb with spices to anoint Jesus’ body for a proper Jewish burial. The burial was the most humble act in the Jewish faith, because it was a service that could not be repaid. The women were going to anoint Jesus’ body. On their way, they wondered, “who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
The Scriptures tell us that Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James had seen where Jesus was laid. They knew where He was buried and how big the stone was. They wondered who would roll the stone away, but they kept going. Mark wants us to know that the stone was large enough that the women didn’t think they could do it themselves. The women looked up and saw that the stone had been rolled away.
I think we imagine the stone is so big, because Mark tells us the stone was large. None of the other Gospels, Matthew, Luke or John tell us anything about the stone. Nothing about its size. Mark is the only one who gives any attention to the size. So, if Mark is the only one who shares that detail, why is it so important that the tomb stone be so big in our imagination?
If you google images of the Easter tomb stone, you will find 2 different categories of images. One category are images that are much like the site I saw in Jerusalem with a stone that isn’t very big, just larger than a large round dining table. The other category of images are caves in a mountain with a very large round stone. The size of the stone matters in our mind, if we think about it for a minute, because it covered the mouth of the greatest grave in history and it was rolled away in the greatest act in history.
The stone is symbolic in our life stories. The stone is what stands between the tomb and life. It is at the center of our personal resurrection story. It matters that the stone God rolled away was big because our resurrection is no small act. This is the now resurrection story. I’m not talking about the life after our death resurrection story. I’m talking about the here and now, this life, resurrection.
Each of us have something in our lives…the loss of a loved one, addiction, chronic illness or chronic pain, stress, a horrible boss, a dead end job, mental health issues, life that is overcommitted, marital problems, insomnia, a toxic relationship with an ex, divorce, a relationship that just won’t seem to end…one of these things, or some other thing, can feel like it has trapped us in the tomb. There seems to be within each of us, maybe we call it baggage, brokenness, wounds, whatever name we have for it, it can feel like it has buried us and keeps us from living the life we most want, a life of abundance.
Here’s the Easter Good News. God rolled the stone away that had trapped Jesus in the tomb. Whatever tomb has swallowed us God has rolled the stone away setting us free. God has already given you the life you want free from the tomb. You can walk out of that tomb into the light and claim the life you want.
Here’s the antithesis of the Good News. It is most often easier to sit in a cold dark corner of the tomb than it is to look up and recognize that the stone has been rolled away. Because, we have learned to get by where we’re at. But, that’s not the abundant life God wants for you, it’s not the life you want.
That tomb stone had to be rolled away for Jesus to come out, flesh and blood, bone and breath. We have to know that Jesus was resurrected in the flesh for our own resurrection hope. It would not have been enough for Jesus to have been raised as a ghost and roam the earth for 40 days as an apparition. Jesus’ story of resurrection that gives us hope is that he walked out of that tomb. In the same way, we have to get up and walk out of the tomb. There is light drawing us out into the warmth of God’s love. We can have life abundantly if we’re willing to recognize that we are no longer trapped.
I have a childhood friend that lost her husband in a tragic work accident this week. They would have been married 2 years the day after he died. His funeral was yesterday. Yesterday, when we were still waiting for Jesus to be resurrected, when we were reflecting on our brokenness, her pastor assured her of her husband’s resurrection.
I imagine that provided her some comfort as she was surrounded by her friends and family. As her friends go home, her loved ones check on her less often, neighbors stop coming by with casseroles, she will feel very lonely. She will reach over for her husband when she rolls over in bed. She will call to her husband in the other room and cry when she remembers why he didn’t answer. She will want to text her husband to tell him something, but remember he won’t get the message.
It may be a couple months before she becomes comfortable with her grief, maybe several months, before she can really live life without crying regularly. Her resurrection story isn’t finished, because she is still getting through her husband’s resurrection story. Today, she clings to the promise that her husband has been given new life. Someday, she will walk out into the light and find new life. She will need some time before she is ready to emerge from the tomb of grief.
Resurrecting Jesus from death is the greatest story of hope in all of history. Our resurrection stories are stories of hope fulfilled. Our resurrection stories have been written. But, we may still be dwelling in the tomb. We are free from the tombs; the stones have been rolled away. All we have to do is have enough hope that we are willing to get up and walk out of the tomb.
I know that’s easier said than done. It takes a lot of effort and energy to get up at first. It takes a lot of hope and trust to walk out of the tomb. For a while, it may seem like we have to get up and walk out of that tomb every morning until we finally have a fullness of life outside of the tomb.
Mental health illness is my tomb. I was set free when I was finally properly diagnosed and started on a path of healing. There are still mornings I wake up in the tomb, but I know I have been set free. I have the hope to get out of bed and walk out into the light. It is a continual challenge to cope with my illness, but I have all the tools I need to manage. God has given me victory of this!
Whatever tomb you feel trapped in, God has a new life for you. I have to tell you. There is major life transformation involved in walking out of the tomb. There is resurrection involved. It will be easier and more comfortable to stay in the tomb. It is familiar. But, the life you want is on the other side. Have enough hope to get up, unwrap the burial clothes, and take the first step toward the opening of the tomb. God will transform your life! God will resurrect you! God will give you victory! Amen.