After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And 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.
When I read the Easter story from Matthew for the first time this year, I began to laugh. “The angel of The Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone. And then, he sat on it.” He took at seat. Can you see him? This angel in clothing as bright as the first winter’s snow. He rolls up a stone, as if he’s pulling up a chair. I imagine him people watching on a stone park bench or kicking his legs back and forth, like a child sitting in a chair where their feet can’t touch the ground. This spectacular, miraculous, unexplainable thing has just happened! And he casually takes a seat, waiting for those who might have some questions to ask him.
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary are there. Unlike the other disciples, fear of their own fate didn’t keep them from going to see the tomb. They went to see the tomb, see the stone rolled in front, the sign that sealed the fate of their dead Lord.
Instead of finding the sealed tomb, they find the stone has been moved, now serving as garden bench for this majestic angel. “Do not be afraid,” they angel pleads with them from his perch. “I know that you are looking for Jesus. But he is not here. He has been raised! Come and see the place where he lay.”
Mary and Mary came to see the tomb, to see the signs of death. Instead, the angel invites them to see the place where Jesus used to lay, to see the graveclothes, to see that the marks of death have been removed. When Mary and Mary ran to tell the disciples and bumped into Jesus, like the angel, he said to the women, “Do not be afraid.” “Do not be afraid.” In many ways, these words sum up the whole of the gospel message. Because Jesus has been raised, we do not have to be afraid. It’s doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be afraid of. What is means is that when we experience fear, we do with the empty tomb in front of us, in front of the stone that was rolled away. The powers of death and all of their sidekicks—fear, shame, insecurity, loneliness, guilt, sickness, and self-doubt—Jesus has conquered all of them!
God invites us on this Easter Sunday to come and see that the stone has been rolled away. The graveclothes that wrapped Jesus body are stacked neatly where they belong. The seal of death is gone. Where some of us see little hope for a future different than the one in front of us, we see the stone that was rolled away. When the burdens of making it through a single day make us feel overwhelmed and hopeless, we see the stone that was rolled away. At times when others face unemployment and the fear of how to manage, we see the stone that was rolled away. When some of us wonder if our family relationships with ever be what we hope for, we see the stone that was rolled away. In the overwhelming transitions of life from aging parents, changing bodies, growing children and the attitudes that accompany them, we see the stone that was rolled away. When some of us face insecurity in the workplace, impostor syndrome, the shaming lie of the “I’m not good enough,” we see the stone that was rolled away. When we find ourselves asking, how long, oh Lord, we see the stone that was rolled away. If we wonder what’s next with little peace about the future, we see the stone that was rolled away. What about when we can’t see? What happens when we can’t see the stone? When our eyes are blinded by the trappings of death, by the graveclothes wrapped around our faces that keep our eyes from seeing the stone, we help one another strip away the powers of death and all of death’s sidekicks, so that we can all see the stone that was rolled away.
This is the foolishness of the gospel! Jesus, our Lord and Savior, was tried as a criminal and died a death reserved for fools, crucified on a cross. But after three days, God showed death who the real fool is, raising Jesus, the one whom death could not conquer. This is the foolishness of the gospel! An angel transforms this seal of death, this tombstone, into a stone pulpit for proclaiming the good news: He is not here! He is Risen!