The Rev. Frank
Last Sunday and again on Good Friday, we gathered to retell the story of Jesus’ crucifixion and death. The story ends with a crushing finality as an immense stone is rolled in front of the borrowed tomb, which is to be Jesus’ final resting place.
In purely human terms, the story of the would-be Messiah from Nazareth in Galilee has come to a brutal end. The ringleader, Jesus, has been publicly and cruelly killed. His disciples have been scattered with fear of a similar fate. For the Roman colonial government, Jesus is a minor statistic, yet another Jewish revolutionary crucified in Rome’s ongoing efforts to preserve the peace in Palestine. For the keepers of the status quo who wrangled to put Jesus to death, it has been a successful Passover festival in Jerusalem. The Jesus’ movement has been stopped.
On Sunday, three women meet in the early morning hours. They were followers of Jesus in his lifetime and they want to be faithful to their teacher in death. The women are attempting to do the decent thing. Jesus had been robbed of a proper Jewish burial as his death came right on the verge of the Sabbath. The women intend to make this one thing right in a universe filled with wrong. The least they can do is pay respects to their Rabbi with the proper preparation for the grave. The other disciples are holed up in a locked room for fear they will be found out to be followers of Jesus. In contrast, the three women go to the tomb, unashamed to be disciples of Jesus. Their big concern is the stone.
The women arrive at the tomb and the insurmountable obstacle between them and their task looms large. The stone blocks the entrance and the three women know they don’t have the strength to budge such a massive rock. They had been saying, “Who will roll the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?”
Our Gospel reading for this morning tells us that the women then looked up. The orginal Greek for this is anablepo. Blepo in Greek is to see. Ana can mean “up,” but also has the sense of “again.” In this case, with the women who have already seen the stone, I don’t think they look up, but rather they look again. The women come up on the tomb and just as they expected, the stone is rolled in front of the entrance. They don’t stand a chance of getting in to Jesus on their own. Then they look again, or perhaps do a double take, and realize that the stone, which was very large, has been rolled back.
Mark has already prepared us for this need to do a double take. It works something like bi-focal vision in Mark’s Gospel. Twice in the Gospel, Jesus has healed blind men and allowed them to see again. The word used to describe the two blind men looking again is anblepo. Already in those stories of healing the blind there was a sense in which spiritual healing allowed the men to see again with physical sight.
In Mark’s Gospel, faith gives us the ability to see the world as God sees it. We gain bifocal vision. When we look with the eyes of the world, we see the obstacles and problems. The stone blocks our path and it is too large for us to even budge. We look with the eyes of faith and a different picture comes into focus. God has already removed the obstacles that we could not remove by our own power.
This is seen most clearly in the Easter story. The three women are blocked by an obstacle, which they stood no chance of removing on their own. They ask one another, “Who will roll away the stone?” Yet, when they look again through the eyes of faith, they see that the stone has already been rolled away. The Greek here is the perfect tense. The stone that blocks their way is already long gone when they do the Easter double take and see the world as God sees it.
What are the stones that need to be rolled away in your life? Is the obstacle in your way cancer or some other disease? Is your obstacle one of relationships that can’t be made right? Or is your path blocked by an addiction to alcohol, drugs, or some other destructive cycle from which you don’t have the power to break free?
All of us can find our way blocked by obstacles too big to budge. The story of Easter tells us that God offers the ultimate leverage to remove the obstacles in your way. If you rely on your own might, your own abilities, your own wisdom, the stone in your way will be more than you can face. Period. But, with the eyes of faith, you may come to see that the insurmountable obstacle has already been rolled away.
Yet, that is not the end of the Gospel reading. The Bible is if nothing else, the most realistic of books, and today’s reading is no exception. The women enter the tomb to find an angel, a divine messenger, with the news that Jesus has been raised from the dead and has gone ahead of his disciples to Galilee. It would be wonderful to report that the women rushed away from the scene filled with the joy they found through looking with the eyes of faith.
Instead, we are told that the Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome fled from the tomb seized by terror and stricken with awe. Rather than spreading the joy of resurrection, we are told, “They said nothing to anyone for they were afraid.”
It is there that the reading ends. In fact, the earliest copies of the Gospel of Mark end right there. The longer ending with resurrection appearances by Jesus were added after the earliest version was written and before the Bible reached its final form. At Virginia Theological Seminary, where I studied for three years, the wall over the altar has a magnificent stained glass window showing the resurrected Jesus with his disciples. Painted in an arch over the window are words from the longer ending of Mark’s Gospel, “Go Ye into All the World and Preach the Gospel.” A professor of mine offered the suggestion that we change the words inscribed over the altar to read “And they told no one for they were afraid.”
How much more challenging it would have been to worship with those realistic words emblazoned in constant sight. Would we seminarians do any better than Jesus’ earliest disciples? Mark’s Gospel offers the challenge of a circular story. The Gospel begins with Jesus in Galilee challenging people to come and follow him. At the close of the story, Jesus has once more gone ahead into Galilee holding out the offer of discipleship to any who will come and follow him.
What about you? Would you have the courage to leave the empty tomb and go back to Galilee to take up the task of being Jesus’ disciple now that you know the way of discipleship led to the cross and the grave? Even with the triumph of Easter, we can fearfully retreat to the certainty and finality of Good Friday.
The Gospel story today offers a dual challenge. The first is to look at the very real obstacles in your life with the eyes of faith. The things that you are powerless to change are not obstacles to God. Through grace, you can see that God has already removed the problems plaguing you if you just have the faith to push ahead.
But the second prong of the challenge of the Gospel comes when you push ahead. Just as the women found the stone rolled away only to be struck dumb with terror and awe at the news of Jesus’ resurrection, we too can lose our focus and stop seeing the world as God sees it. The second challenge then is the harder one. Once you have seen that God can remove the obstacles blocking your way, then you must venture to Galilee to follow the way of his disciples.
Jesus is still out there beckoning, “Follow me” to those who listen. The three women that morning did break free from the fear. We know that they were all involved in the early church. They found the courage to follow Jesus even after they had learned the cost they might have to one day pay for their faith in him.
What about you? Jesus has gone ahead of you too. Will you follow him in faith that you will one day see him just as he told you?
For Alleluia! Christ is risen.
 While I do not quote from the book in this sermon, I was greatly aided by the perspective on this reading found in Say to the Mountain: Mark’s Story of Discipleship by Ched Myers et. al., (Orbis Books, 1996) and through studying Mark with the Rev. Dr. A.K. Grieb at Virginia Theological Seminary.
King of Peace Episcopal Church + P.O. Box 2526 + Kingsland, Georgia 31548-2526