Friday, December 27, 2019

Rolling the Stone

We jump right back in now to our journey through the Bible, and as a note of administration, we're only now getting into the middle of the Gospel of John, which means this series will run into the new year for a bit (the natural outpouring of reading along with me - I'm about a month behind in my notes because there's so much good stuff to hit on). 

And though we're still lingering a bit in the Christmas season, today's question looks forward a bit toward Easter. The question is this: 

Who rolled away the stone? 

The tomb of Jesus was covered with a heavy stone, as most tombs were in that day. And the common wisdom, since we do not seem to know, is that Jesus Himself rolled away the stone. Or perhaps it was an angel (as Matthew said). Some divine being who came to "rescue" Him from the grave. Certainly, there could have been no human hands on the stone, for that's precisely what the Roman guards were stationed there to prevent. 

What raises this question anew for me is actually not what happened at the grave that day, but what happened at a different grave on a different day. You'll remember this story, perhaps. Jesus is traveling through the region when someone comes hurriedly to Him to tell Him that His friend, Lazarus, has died. Now, Jesus has spent quite a bit of time with Lazarus and his family - stories in which we often hear more about Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus - and He has a certain fondness for them. 

When He finally decides to go to Bethany and arrives where the mourning is still taking place, Lazarus has been placed in a tomb and a heavy stone rolled across the opening. And we're told, Jesus wept. 

Here's the thing: Jesus clearly loves this guy. A lot. He's got tremendous love for this whole little family. It's the only time in all of Scripture that we see Jesus cry; He doesn't even cry at His own excruciating death. So it seems natural to us that Jesus would rush toward the tomb, use His heavenly power to throw that heavy stone to the side, and go storming in to bring His friend out among the living. We want to see Jesus's passion take hold of Him, His deep love reflected in a feat of strength, without a thought or a care as to who's watching. 

But Jesus, we're told, doesn't do that. Instead, He asks others who are present to roll away the stone, and it's implied that it took several of them to move it. 

In the same way, Jesus was once Himself on the other side of that stone, separated from those He loves deeply by nothing more than a heavy weight. And we want to have this cinematic (movie-like) moment of passion where He arises, folds His grave clothes, and comes bursting out of that tomb, hurling the heavy stone to the side like it's nothing...just to get to us. 

What if that's not it, though? We have absolutely no evidence that it is. Nothing in the Scriptures tells us that Jesus Himself rolled aside that stone. Nothing even tells us that the angel, who spoke to those who came to see Him, did it. For all we know, the Roman guards might have become curious about whether or not the body was still in there, rolled the stone aside themselves just to check, and found Jesus standing there, waving at them with a big, silly grin on His face. We just don't know. 

But the story of Lazarus makes me wonder. Because if Jesus uses others to help facilitate one of the most miraculous stories of His earthly life, a story where both His deep love and His incredible power are displayed, then how much more would He invite others into the greatest miracle of all? 

I'm not at all raising the question of whether the disciples "stole" His body; Jesus walked out of that tomb under His own power and in His own flesh. I'm just thinking out loud about who else might have been there. About how that giant stone got pushed aside. 

For if He requested human hands to move the stone that separated Him from the one He loved, how much more would He ask for help to move the one that separated Him from the ones He loves? 

Perhaps it was an angel after all (again, thanks, Matthew). Now that I think about it, that would make sense. Human hands to get Him to Lazarus; heavenly hands to get Him to the world. 

Just something I'm thinking about. Because there's a reason John told us He didn't move the stone Himself. 

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