This morning, I want to take you to the tomb. It's not Easter, not even close, but there are so many of us hungry for a resurrection story that I can't wait eight months to share this story with you. It's the story of the Roman guard. Remember him?
You see, as we tell the story of the tomb, we mention that a group of the faithful pulled Jesus' body down from the Cross, placed it in a borrowed tomb. Then a stone was rolled across the entrance and a guard placed to guard the body from any religious riff-raff who might have wanted to start a rumor. Or, you know, anyone who might still have future plans for the putrid flesh of a rotting Messiah.
After that little blurb, we do not see the guard again. Ever. The women show up at the tomb on the third day to find the stone rolled away and an angel of the Lord proclaiming the news that "the Man you are looking for is not here." No guard. So where did he go?
I've mentioned before that we so often get this mental image of a large stone sitting directly adjacent to the opening of the tomb, a fiery angel sitting on top. I've mentioned before that I don't think this is an accurate image. Rather than being rolled aside, I think that stone was pushed away. By the Man coming out of the tomb. I think Jesus reached the entrance, gathered His holy strength, and pushed that stone out. (And before you get ahead of me, no. I'm not saying He flattened the guard.)
But I think the guard was so surprised by the rolling of the stone that he panicked. I think he ducked out. I think he maybe ducked behind an adjacent cliff or a bush or a tree and hid his face, but not his eyes, so that he could watch what unfolded. I think when his cover was busted, when his assignment was blown, he didn't stick around. I think he went off running. And I don't think he mentioned what he saw.
Because it was his job to make sure this kind of thing didn't happen. Ok, they weren't exactly planning for this, but they were on the lookout for some scheme that would take Christ's body out of the tomb. His sole priority was to make sure that didn't happen. When Christ Himself threw a wrench in that duty from inside the darkened abyss, the guard, defeated, fled. He couldn't believe his eyes, but neither could he tell his story. It was, at its core, his story of failure. The Romans wouldn't have gone out searching excitedly for the risen Christ; had he told his story, the Romans would have executed the miserable failure of a guard. So I wonder what he did with his story. We never really know. Ours is a story of victory; I like it that way.
All that to say this. I think there are so many of us trapped in darkness, stuck in an abyss, wrapped in grave clothes and lying in the tomb. I think we feel like we're stuck there, trapped by this enormous stone that is so big that it blocks out all the light. It blocks our eyes from seeing anything. It blocks our hearts from dreaming of a way out. Even if we could move this stone, we say, there's a guard on the other side and he's not just going to let me walk out. That's the way the world traps us in darkness - by putting a stumbling block so big in front of us that we can't see the light, then telling us there's a guard on the other side waiting to slay us again should we try to walk out.
We've all been there right? If it's not one thing, it's another. As soon as you dig out of this hole, you fall into that one. When this trouble passes, there's trouble still down the road. There's no way out. We pray, hoping God will come and move the stone, letting us out of the tomb. We want Him to roll it aside, but that's not how the story goes.
When a dead man walks out of a tomb, he gathers holy strength and pushes the stone himself.
That's what we need to be focused on. Not helplessly trapped in our darkest abyss, but calling on the name of the Lord to give us strength to push all stumbling blocks aside. The darkness tells us there's a guard on the other side, but if you've ever rolled your stone, you know the truth: the guard is ducking for cover, watching from a distance, astonished at what his eyes see. He could have stopped anybody from rescuing you, but he was powerless to stop you from walking out yourself and now, his story is a story of failure. Yours...is victory.
Tell me: which is the better story?
And then tell me this: what if you don't move? Where is the better story in that? If you stay in your grave, locked into darkness by a boulder so big it covers the light, what happens is this - your story is a story of failure and the guard gets to speak of his victory. He did it. He kept anyone and everyone from stealing the body. He kept anyone and everyone away. He kept you there. He kept you locked away, wrapped up, shut off, buried. There's not a good story in that scenario at all.
The guard looks intimidating with his shiny metal helmet, his piercing sword, and his red mini-skirt (have you seen the way we depict the Roman soldier), but in the face of your holy strength, he has no recourse but to flee. When he starts to see that stone roll, he's out of here. He's running to hide. He never, in his wildest imagination, thought the body would walk out of the tomb, but here you are. Now, all he's got is bewilderment and failure. He hasn't got a story.
But you do. And you're about to start living it. Who knows? It might even change the world.