Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Rolling Stones

Can I ask you something about the Jesus story? My question this morning is this: who rolled the stone?

At the end of the Gospels, the Christ has been crucified and His body is placed in the tomb. A stone is rolled over the entrance and guards placed near the stone to ensure that the disciples don't try any funny business. Three days later, the stone is rolled away (as I have already suggested, likely from inside the tomb) and the Son of God walks out.

So I ask you again: who rolled the stone?

Every time I've heard this story, it's crafted in the way above, with periods and breaks in very deliberate places, whether written or spoken. And I've always had this impression that obviously, the guards rolled the stone. The stone was, after all, the primary barrier to keep Jesus in and the disciples out, so it must have been a construct of the Roman army. Mention of the stone, the way we tell it, always comes with the mention of the guards, so it's easy to assume this was an external obstacle, another pushing back between cultures, that God was going to have to overcome if He wanted to rebuild the temple in three days.

Then He comes walking out and we say Wow! They did everything they could to keep Jesus in the grave - including placing a giant boulder over His only escape - and He still walked the road to Emmaus. How awesome is our God! Such a stone was a part of every tomb, not just the Lord's. There are other Scriptures that talk about men in the grave and the stones rolled across the entrances there, too. I suppose on the practical side, this was so that any unsuspecting hiker seeking a little exploration or shelter wouldn't run into a decaying body...and also to protect the body from scavenging animals who might desecrate the man.

Sucks the life right out of the story, doesn't it? Although the stone would have been customary, a part of any traditional tomb burial, we are told something else about the Savior's stone. The Bible tells us who rolled it. It was Joseph. (Matthew 27:59-60)

Joseph of Arimathea, the disciple of Jesus who with a grief-stricken heart petitioned for and received the body of Jesus. With tears in his eyes, took that body and wrapped it in the traditional burial cloth. With sadness in his heart, placed his beloved Teacher in his own new was this man who rolled the stone.

That makes the act of love.

That changes this story for me. A lot. And I'm not sure I can articulate all of the little ways that it does. We don't see anyone else asking for Jesus - those who have followed Him are mostly long gone, and those who are there (Mary Magdalene, for instance) would not have known what to do with the body had they taken it. Where is Mary, who lost years of her life to demon possession, going to put the flesh of the Messiah? She has no tomb. I am struck by the absolute aloneness of a Man who, when living, couldn't get away from the crowds if He tried. They praised Him in His living, bowed down before Him, deferred to His wisdom, begged for His healing, and now who will honor the crucified Christ? They all seem long gone.

What does it even mean to honor the crucified Christ?

We see this rich man give up his grave for the Lord. It's easy to say now that Joseph was content to let Jesus borrow the tomb, but that's not was Joseph was thinking. He didn't know Jesus was going to walk out of there. He gave His Teacher this gift freely, for no other reason than the customary honor of His body.

What of myself, or of my possessions, or of my riches, or even of my poverty, am I willing to give in the honor of the Lord? (Not in His honor, but in order to honor Him.)

We see this same man, no doubt anguished by his own grief, taking a deep breath, maybe a last wish, a last whispered prayer, and then completing the burial process by rolling a large stone over the entrance of the tomb, sealing off forever (or so he thinks) the dreams, the hope, the promise that he'd thought for sure would come from this man, the very things he'd spent the last few years of his life chasing as a disciple. All because that was where Jesus needed to be, whether Joseph understood or not that as the Sabbath approached, God's place was there were the man from Arimathea had placed Him.

It's probably this last scene that strikes me the most. I wonder how many of my dreams, my hopes, my plans, my promises that I am willing to close the door on even when Jesus says that's where He needs to be tonight. I'm aware of the heaviness in my heart just thinking about it, all of these things that I have worked toward, followed, prayed for, hoped for, all of these inklings that I have based my life on and gone after...what would it be like to roll the stone and shut them away, even with the promise that it had to be that way?

Or even more profoundly, more aching in my heart, I wonder if I'd have the strength to put my Savior there. This is the hardest part of faith for me most days, accepting that sometimes God has to be somewhere I wouldn't expect Him. And He asks me to let Him be there. And I wonder if God told me, I have to die, if I could be the one to love Him enough to let Him. If I could be the one to honor His plan. If I could be the one to honor Him. If God says to me, It has to be this way, and I don't understand, could I be the one to roll the stone?

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