Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

“Who will roll the stone away?”  No doubt that was the question that worried Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, before they greeted one another early that first Easter morning.  In the darkest hours before sunrise, they awoke with the question, preying on their sleep, “Who will roll the stone away?”  Anxious fears always have a way of disturbing a night’s rest.  At the close of that long Good Friday afternoon, before the setting of the sun, the women had seen the respected member of the council Joseph of Arimathea take Jesus’ bloodied body from the cross. The Sabbath observances had prevented the women from anointing his dead body for burial. And so, from a distance they watched as Joseph hastily wrapped the body of Jesus in a linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut out of the rock. They had seen as well the huge stone that the Roman soldiers had rolled across the entrance of the tomb to seal it. Now they fretted how they would move the stone so they could enter the tomb and complete the burial process.  As a final rite, they would anoint Jesus’ body with aromatic spices.  “But who will roll the stone away?”

Jesus had died on that long and heartrending Good Friday afternoon, and within each woman something died as well.  They heard him, cry “My God, my God!  Why have you forsaken me?”  And they cried with him.  They watched his body as it breathed its last. And it felt as if they had breathed their last.  It was awful, horrible, gut-wrenching death.  All their dreams and hopes had ended.  And then they watched as silent observers as their joy, hope, strength, peace, and confidence were buried with Jesus in that tomb.

Perhaps that is how you have experienced life this year.  Certainly not a crucifixion.  But something has died in you, and you have known and experienced death.  It’s a common cry for those who have known hard times and tragedy.  The loss of a loved one; a parent battling dementia; a spouse struggling with alcoholism; a child without friends; a job without a future.  You cry. You mourn. You feel your loss. You are devastated.  And you wonder how you will move on.  Surely, we have all had days when the burdens we carry, if not for ourselves then for others, chafe our shoulders and weigh us down. Days when the road seems dreary and endless, when the skies are grey and threatening; when our lives have no music in them and our hearts are lonely and our souls have lost courage.   It is on such days that all we can hope for is that someone will roll away the stone, and that we may experience some sort of final farewell.

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, weren’t expecting a surprising new beginning that first Easter morning.  They were merely hoping that they would find someone to help them roll away the stone, so that they could say farewell to what once had been. After a heavy burdened walk, the women arrived at the tomb. Their eyes were cast down; they were still trying to figure out who would move the stone. Then they looked up. The stone! The stone has been rolled away!  But that was only the beginning.  Outside the tomb, they were greeted by an even greater surprise.  A young man dressed in a dazzling white robe, sitting on the stone, said to them, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He is not here; for He has been raised.”  It’s no wonder, terror and amazement seized them.  They began to return to Jerusalem as the angel had directed them to tell the news to the disciples, and there on the road they were met by the greatest surprise.  Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!”  And the living Jesus said to them. “Do not be afraid.”

What happened on that first Easter is for us a sacred mystery. Jesus’ resurrection defies medicine, logic and science; and yet it affects the whole of human history and our own story.  Sooner or later each one of us will know what it’s like to lose someone that we have loved and adored.  We will feel that crushing death of our Good Friday, and how will we deal with it?  A great stone will block our joy and our farewells. How will we embrace this pain in our lives and continue our journey?  That’s why Easter morning is so important to Christians, because the resurrection story gives us our greatest hope in the face of our greatest fear.

Methodist Bishop WilliamWillimon wrote, “There are so many ways to “explain” the resurrection.  The point is, we can’t explain the resurrection. As Christians-The resurrection explains us!” Now you may be wondering, but how does this good news of the resurrection really change the way we see the world?   Let me share with you two convictions: first, the way you see the resurrection changes the way you see the reality of death.  And second, the way you see the resurrection changes the way you face the challenges and heartaches of life.

Let us begin with the way you see the resurrection changes the way you see death.   The story of Easter tells us that you need not be afraid of death.  When a dear friend and anesthesiologist at Abbot Northwestern Hospital was hospitalized with leukemia and preparing for a stem cell transplant, he found great comfort in his pious mother’s words,  “Oh, Richard, there are worse things than death.”  The Indian Nobel Prize winning poet and essayist Rabindranath Tagore wrote, “Death is not extinguishing the light; it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.” Many men and women fear death.  They fail to see that in life you are given a choice between hope and despair. Death is a choice of utter despair. For them  death is the end.  And out of the fear of dying, they scurry about collecting and gathering.  They do not care who they hurt in the process. They may not be dying on the outside, but they are certainly dying on the inside. The resurrection, however, allows us to see death in a new perspective.  Death is not the end.  Instead, we have the promise of Christ’s everlasting kingdom.

Second, the resurrection changes the way that you face the challenges and heartaches of life.  I remember from my childhood, the story of a high school football player who was the team captain and quarterback.  He was to lead his team in the state football final when his father died.  The funeral was scheduled for the same day as the big game and everyone just assumed that the boy would not play ball.  After all, it was his father’s funeral.  So the back-up quarter back was suiting up to play when the boy walked into the locker room.  The room was silent- no one knew what to say.  Finally, the coach took the boy aside and said, “You can’t play today.  You should be at the funeral.”  The boy looked the coach in the eye and said, “You don’t understand.  My father was blind.  He never saw me play. This will be the first game he will see me.”  What a difference it is in the way you face the heartaches of life and death when by the power of the resurrection you confess that your loved ones are cheering you on from the great bleachers in heaven.

My friends, God is rolling away the stone and unleashing the power of new life now.  That is the good news of Easter.  That’s why Easter morning is so important to Christians, because the resurrection story gives us our greatest hope in the face of our greatest fear.   “Do not be afraid; Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed!”  Amen.

May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.