Last week on Easter Sunday, we talked about the dilemma Jesus’ women disciples faced as they walked to his tomb early in the dawn. one of their famous questions was, “who will roll away the stone for us?” We talked about that stone that was placed to seal Jesus’ grave, to keep Jesus in, to keep life contained, and to keep potential and growth from happening. That’s what we talked about here-- at Union Church last week---so we want to bring everyone here up to speed-- so we are all on the same page.
Through the grace of God, the stone that covered the grave of Jesus was rolled away. It was a miracle. Life could not be held down. Resurrection power cannot be stopped. Life is victorious. So the Easter season reminds us and teaches us over and over again that when we are asked who will roll away the stone? We respond: with God’s grace: we will. With God’s grace we will.
Who will roll away the stone? With God’s grace, we will - is a mediation that will weave in and out the Easter season. The work of Easter is to remove the obstacles and the barriers that get in the way of God’s restorative love; so that love, reconciliation, peace and justice are realized in our lives, in our church communities and out there on our streets.
It is curious how last week it was Jesus who was in the tomb, sealed away. The women find the stone rolled away, “a young man” an angel perhaps, speaks to them about Jesus having risen and gone ahead of them to Galilee. This week we find the disciples sealed behind locked doors and it is Jesus who effortlessly comes to them. Although Jesus speaks the common greeting: “peace be with you,” it is laden with a message of new life and hope to a community paralyzed with fear.
Look what Jesus does. Following the prophetic tradition, he breathes on the disciples. Reminiscent of the vision prophet Ezekiel breathed on the dry bones to bring life back into them (chapter 37). Perhaps even remembering the words of Job, who said, the breath of the Almighty gives me life (Job33:4). Perhaps Jesus even harkens back to the earliest verses of Genesis where we are told that God breathed into our nostrils the breath of life (2:7) and thus we became a living creature. Jesus sized up the situation – saw a bunch of people who were spiritually beaten up.
They were traumatized and they needed help. There was no way they were going to be able to roll away the stone of this grief, this shame, this doubt, this fear out of their heart. They needed Jesus. Jesus doesn’t waste any time here. Before they have a chance to say anything, give any excuse, offer any apology, he gives them marching orders: “As the Father has sent me so I send you.” and then, out of Jesus’ very mouth comes Holy Spirit, the Life Giver. Earlier in John, we are told that God so loved the world that God sent Jesus, not to condemn the world, but in order to save it. So it is with us. Although Jesus knows these disciples are scarred, scared, hurting, half-dead, yet he knows their potential – he knows what they are capable of – so Jesus goes about the work of what we call “eastering” –or resurrecting—bringing back to life.
Jesus, by his very presence, rolls away the stone, unlocks the door. He sends them out right back out. Jesus never gives the five year plan, doesn’t hand out certificates, degrees or fine-tuned rhetoric: he just gives of himself. His breath. His scarred hands to a doubting man. The only teaching he reminds them is about is forgiveness. It’s a funny phrase that we find here: If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven, If you retain the sins of any they are retained. What do we make of this? Jesus certainly isn’t putting his disciples in the role of God. Some might argue Jesus was transferring rabbinic authority of binding/and loosening of ritual life to them. Perhaps. One thing we can appreciate: out of all the activities that makes for a free spirit, a new creation it is forgiveness. Jesus’ first words from the cross to the Father were, Forgive them, they know not what they do. So, here, Jesus is teaching his disciples in a very matter of fact way, warning them actually, about the power of forgiving. If we forgive we are freed, if we do not forgive, we are not free.
Let us think on this a minute. We Christians proclaim Jesus went to the cross for our sins, to free us, to pay our debt, to use traditional language. On the cross, Jesus modeled forgiveness. He forgave the soldiers who spat upon him. The soldiers who whipped him repeatedly, and mocked him. Jesus forgave the religious hierarchy, in their hypocrisy, their lies how they orchestrated his kangaroo trial that resulted in his death. He forgave Pilate, forgave King Herod. He forgave Judas for betraying him. Forgave Peter for denying him. Forgave all the disciples who fell asleep on him, ran away and hid. He forgave the crowd for shouting out to crucify him. He forgave the thief who taunted him. He forgave the whole darn lot – because that’s what love does. Love rolls away the stones. IT unlocks. It brings peace and life.
You and I are not Jesus, so perhaps forgiveness doesn’t come so easily, and we have to help each other practice it on a daily basis.
I discovered, out of all the people I had to learn to forgive, I had to forgive those fundamentalists for taking away a piece of my life that was joyful and affirming. I had to forgive them for what they took away from me. So I forgive them because today, because I understand they were afraid. Just like those disciples were afraid. When we’re afraid, we have to control. Today, I don’t want us to be afraid like that. Today I want us to be proud to be in a church that is not living in fear that is moving forward, taking a stand to roll away stones. Today no more living in fear behind locked doors. No matter what people say we have to give up, sticking with marriage equality is breathing life.
So this means we get to be called all sorts of names because we are rolling away the stones to allow same gendered people to marry. We are not following the gospel of Jesus Christ. The devil has got a hold of our church. We have lost our way.
That’s fear talking. Fear’s going to be talking a lot. Our’s is a mission of love. As long as we follow in the footsteps of Jesus we’ll be just fine. Like Jesus we just have to show up wherever there are people who are scared, and hurting and being bullied. Like Jesus we can show them our scars and say, we survived, you can too. We can show them how we got peace. How we found forgiveness.
Who will move the stone?
Who will move the stone?
With God’s grace, we will.
With God’s grace, we will.