We visited my friend Martin’s church (Good Shepherd, CEC) for Easter services. I wanted to participate in the liturgy and receive communion for my celebration of Christ’s resurrection, but Martin also has good insights in his sermons as well. This morning he didn’t disappoint, and even while short his sermon got me to thinking. Martin’s focus was on the stone used to cover the tomb and the ways it fit into Easter and Christ’s triumph. Since I am visually oriented, I went looking for a good example of an open tomb with a massive stone to use as an illustration for my meditation on Martin’s theme.
I very seldom listen to a sermon without taking notes. It helps both to follow the argument of the homily and to react to the ideas presented, while making later reflection much more productive. Martin’s main theme was that the stone covering Jesus’ tomb was meant to be a barrier, both a means to seal Jesus away from ever again disturbing the Jewish leadership and priesthood as well as sealing him into his designated (by the same leadership and priesthood) place as a false prophet and false messiah (at least they hoped it would be so). It would also serve, as the gospels noted, to prevent anyone from stealing the body and falsely claiming Jesus had been resurrected.
The stone and those who requested it played right into God’s hands. Instead of a permanent barrier, the stone becomes a seat for the angel who rolls it away from the mouth of the tomb as well as an immutable signpost pointing to the true stone, the rock of our salvation and the chief cornerstone of God’s new temple of New Testament believers, the resurrected Christ. So, despite its massive weight, to which was added the weight of the power of Rome, represented by Pilate having the stone securely fastened with a Roman seal, the unbelievers stone was no match for the power of the resurrection. The actions of the Jewish leaders and priests, backed up by Pilate’s effort, only served to add addtional proof to the fact of the resurrection.
There are several important uses of stones (also rocks and foundations which were made of stone) in the Scriptures. One that immediately came to mind is the rock that Moses struck in the desert to get water for the Israelites.
Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. They quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the LORD ! Why did you bring the LORD’s community into this desert, that we and our livestock should die here? Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!”
Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the LORD appeared to them. The LORD said to Moses, “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.”
So Moses took the staff from the LORD’s presence, just as he commanded him. He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” Numbers 20:2-12
Out of that rock in the midst of the desert flows the water which would bring life and sustenance to Israel. But Moses allowed his anger at the people to pervert Gods counsel. He both did not give God the glory for what was about to happen and struck, rather than spoke to the rock. In a way this is symbolic of what the nation of Israel was later going to do to Jesus Christ. It did not honor Gods provision and instead struck him, yet out of the rock of our salvation came streams of living water, prophesied to the woman at the well.
Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, “Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” John 4:10
Just as Moses and Aaron (representing the leadership and the priesthood of Israel) were not allowed to enter the promised land, neither did the leadership and priesthood which struck the rock of salvation, ever enter into the promise of the Messiah, but were instead left behind to die in the wilderness of bondage and sin along with most of the nation who followed them.
While you cannot take these images too far, they do give us interesting ways to look at the events in the light of Old Testament prophecy and history.
There is one last stone I want to reflect on and that is the heart of stone talked about by Ezekiel.
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26
In the same way that the grave stone sealed the entrance to Jesus’ tomb, a stony heart seals the entrance to our souls. We too are saved by the rock of salvation.
Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed. Luke 20:18
Falling on that rock (the rock of salvation) breaks our heart of stone, which is replaced by the Son with a heart of new life in Christ; behold the old things have passed away; new things have come.
May this Easter bring into your life the glory of the resurrected Christ, who offers the joy of new creation the opportunity to bloom within your life, replacing forever the old shattered heart of rock with an ever-flowing stream of living water, nourishing every aspect of your life in righteousness and holiness to the honor and glory of God. I pray this for you and for myself. Amen.