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Roll Away The Stone

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Roll Away The Stone 

Sermon for Easter Sunday, 5 April, 2015

Read : Mark 16: 1-8 (NIV) 

Very early on the first day of the week . . . they went to the tomb.
They had been saying 'Who will roll away the stone?'
. . . when they looked up they saw that the stone had already been removed' 

This is the highest and holiest day of the Christian year, for the Lord is Risen! Alleluia! 

This is the day of greatest celebration, for the Lord is Risen! Alleluia! 

After six long weeks since Ash Wednesday, Lent has finally gathered up her sombre cloak and flowers and alleluias have returned! 

After the seven days of Holy Week solemnity, Christ's church again breaks forth with joyful songs of praise! 

After the darkness of Good Friday and the emptiness of Holy Saturday, this day the light has burst forth as from the tomb and God's people rejoice in his glorious triumph! 

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! 

Yes indeed, this is our day of joy and gladness! 

. . . but the first witnesses of the empty tomb did not initially experience joy and gladness.  

Jesus had burst the bonds of death . . . 

. . . love had come again springing from the earth . . .  

. . . God had broken the power of sin and human depravity . . .  

But even after the three women who were first to the tomb had witnessed the stone rolled back, had entered the empty tomb, had encountered the messenger, had heard the message 'He is not here, he is risen' . . . they still did not burst into joyful Hallelujahs. Rather, Mark records, they were alarmed! More than that terror seized them and today's gospel passage ends not with words of faith and victory but with these three words . . . 'they were afraid'! 

The stone to the tomb had been rolled away, for Christ had risen from the grave! But the stone within their hearts remained for the moment. The stone to the tomb had been rolled away but there remained the stones within . . . the stones of grief and doubt and fear. 

open tomb

After all, they had come to the tomb that morning in grief, to pay their respects . . . they had naturally felt fear at what they then encountered; an empty tomb and an unexpected messenger, and they can hardly be blamed at experiencing considerable doubt when informed that their Lord had been raised to life. 

The stone had been rolled away from the tomb, but they now would have to allow the stones of grief and doubt and fear to be rolled away from within their hearts. And as the evidence mounted, as the days passed, as the truth gradually dawned, day by day these stones did roll away . . . for the women . . . and then through the days and down the years from these first witnesses . . . to the doubting disciples . . . to sceptical Thomas . . . to cynical Paul . . . and through the centuries, millions upon millions, and a growing number in the world in our day, people have found the stones of grief and fear and doubt have rolled away as they have encountered the Risen Christ for themselves.  

In his Gospel Mark records 'when they looked up they saw that the stone had already been removed'. 

It is when we look up and see the Risen Lord that these stones within us of grief and fear and doubt can be rolled away. 

Grief at the loss of a loved one is real and cannot and must not be denied or dismissed. But even in the midst of such grief we can look up and see the Risen Lord and know that if in him death is indeed conquered then we can have the comfort and the hope of life eternal. The stone has been removed! 

Fear is a natural and inevitable reaction when we do not understand what is going on in our lives or our world, or if the future is uncertain. But even in the face of fear we can look up and see the Risen Lord and know that if with him and in the light of his resurrection a new and transformed future is possible for us then we can experience a new life and a new tomorrow. The stone has been removed! 

Doubt is common and is often to be preferred to a simplistic acceptance of discredited beliefs. But if with our natural scepticism we can still look up and see the Risen Lord and know that the evidence - however we explain it - of an unprecedented and extraordinary occurrence on that first Easter Day is, at least, worthy of consideration, then you have a choice to make . . . to reject the evidence without examination or to take the time to weigh it up and decide. Many have, and in so doing have come to accept that Jesus is indeed the Risen Lord and that fact has changed everything . . . and can change you. The stone will then be removed! 

So to you who know grief, come to the Risen Jesus who has conquered death and speaks peace.  

Roll away the stone! 

To you who are fearful, come to the Risen Jesus and find peace in the present and hope for the future. 

Roll away the stone! 

To you who doubt - and we all have doubts! - come to the Risen Jesus and weigh up the evidence. Seek him and see if he is to be found, and so risk finding faith and meaning and transformation for your life! 

Roll away the stone! 

'when they looked up they saw that the stone had already been removed

Rev David Denniston, April 2015

See also sermon for Good Friday 2015 : Stones


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