Rolling the stone away
"Rolling the stone away" means undoing the illusory obstacle of the body, so that what lies beyond the body stands revealed.
This image is familiar to anyone who has ever read the gospels or attended an Easter service. However, I don't want to assume that everyone is familiar with it, so I'd like to begin by giving a brief account of its origin. This image is drawn from the story of Jesus' empty tomb, which appears in all four gospels (Matthew 28:1-8; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-9; John 20:1-10). While the details of the gospel accounts vary, the basic story is as follows:
After Jesus died on the cross, his body was taken down and given to Joseph of Arimathea, who wrapped it in a shroud and placed it into a tomb hewn out of rock. A massive stone was then rolled up against the opening of the tomb to seal it shut. But when some of his women followers visited the tomb on Sunday morning (what we now call Easter Sunday), they discovered to their surprise that the massive stone had been rolled away, and the tomb was empty. They then learned from Heavenly messengers that Jesus had been raised from the dead, and that he would soon appear to his disciples, just as he had promised he would.
The rolling of h stone can also apply to us today. Imagine that you are trapped in a tomb hewn out of rock, completely sealed off from contact with anyone or anything. You are utterly alone. It is pitch black; you cannot see a thing. You hear nothing. The air is cool and musty, and an odor of decay permeates the place. You realize that this tomb is your life: a life encased in a separate body cut off from everyone and everything, beset with problems and pain (think of some specific problems and pains that you are facing right now), and marching inevitably toward death. You are trapped in the tomb of your life, and it seems that there is no way out.
Now, you see a faint light approaching. The light grows as it comes nearer, until you are at last able to recognize its source. It is Jesus, who is carrying a lantern. You ask him how he got into the tomb and why he has come, but he doesn't answer at first. Instead, he simply smiles and holds up the lantern to the wall in front of you. In the light, you see that it is the entrance to the tomb of your life, and that the entrance is sealed by an immense stone of solid, impenetrable granite—the stone that has trapped you in this dark, miserable tomb for years. Finally, Jesus turns to you and says, "I have come to help you roll the stone away."
You find it hard to believe that the two of you could possibly move that immense stone. You had tried to escape from this tomb yourself countless times in the past, but failed so utterly that you gave up in despair long ago. But now you look into Jesus' eyes, notice his smile and gentle laughter, and are filled with new hope. So, you take his hand, and the two of you walk to the edge of the entrance, place your hands on the stone, and together begin pushing. To your surprise, the stone is as light as a feather! The two of you roll it away effortlessly, and as you do, the tomb is slowly unsealed. Fresh air rushes in, fragrant with the scent of spring flowers. You hear the sound of birds singing, and serenely beautiful music. A shaft of warm sunlight from outside the tomb floods in and illumines everything.
Now you are standing hand in hand with Jesus, at the entrance to the tomb, looking outward. Briefly you look behind you, back into the tomb, and in the light you see that it is empty. The stone that had sealed it has disappeared. You look outward once again, and see nothing but light, a vast, limitless light that envelops you in a warm glow of love. In this light, you know you are not alone; you feel the presence of beloved companions surrounding you within its radiance. You turn to Jesus, and he says to you, "Our Father and our brothers are here. It is time to go home." With this, you walk together away from the entrance to the tomb; Jesus leads you out into the sunlight of God's Love. As you step out, the tomb vanishes completely, and the two of you disappear together into the loving light of God the Father and His holy Son.
"Rolling the stone away" means undoing our seeming obstacles to God through recognizing their illusory nature. What a relief it is to be told that the massive stone that seems to seal us in the dark tomb of the world of death is really nothing! We may not recognize this just yet, but Jesus assures us that we will, and when we do, that stone will be rolled away. It will disappear into the nothingness from whence it came. When this happens, the light of God will shine away the darkness of the tomb, show it to be empty, and reveal the eternal life and Love of God that lies beyond. And once this is revealed, Jesus promises, "God will come Himself to take [us] home"
The angels frequently attended our Lord Jesus: at His birth, in His temptation, in His agony. But upon the cross we find no angel attending him. When His Father forsook Him, the angels withdrew from Him, but now that He is resuming the glory he had before the foundation of the world, the angels of God worship him.
The angel came, rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. Our Lord Jesus could have rolled back the stone Himself by His own power, but He chose to have it done by an angel to signify that having undertaken to make satisfaction for our sin, He did not break prison, but had a fair and legal discharge, obtained from heaven. He did not break prison, but an officer was sent on purpose to roll away the stone and open the prison door, which would never have been done if He had not made a full satisfaction.
But being delivered for our offences, He was raised again for our justification. He died to pay our debt, and rose again to gain our acquittal. The stone of our sins was rolled to the door of the grave of our Lord Jesus (and we find the rolling of a great stone to signify the contracting of guilt - 1 Samuel 14:33), but to demonstrate that divine justice was satisfied, an angel was commissioned to roll back the stone. The angel did not raise Him from the dead, any more than those that took away the stone from Lazarus’s grave raised him, but by this he intimated the consent of Heaven to Christ's release, and the joy of Heaven in it.
The enemies of Christ had sealed the stone, since this was their hour, but all the powers of death and darkness are under the control of the God of light and life. An angel from heaven has power to break the seal and roll away the stone, though ever so great. Thus, the captives of the mighty are taken away.
The angel’s sitting upon the stone, after he had rolled it away, is very observable and shows a secure triumph over all the obstructions of Christ’s resurrection. There he sat, defying all the powers of hell to roll the stone to the grave again. The angel sat as a guard to the grave, having frightened away the enemies’ guard; he sat, expecting the women, and ready to give them an account of Jesus's resurrection.
Comforting thought for the week
Whenever we are convinced that we will never make it home, we should remind ourselves that we are sure to make it home, because it is God's Will that we do so, and He is with us every step of the way. Yet there will be times when we are deceived by illusions of despair, and these illusions are obstacles that will hinder our progress if we don't learn how to set them aside. How can we set aside these illusions of despair? By ourselves, it would be very difficult if not impossible to do, but fortunately, we have help. God Himself wills that our doubts and despair be undone, and our loving elder brother Jesus will help us accomplish this: "Ask but my help to roll the stone away, and it is done according to His Will.