April 20, 2019, The Dark Side of the Stone – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
To listen to this sermon, click here: Z0000131
At this time of year we do quite a bit of talking about the stone that was rolled in front of the tomb. We hear how the Jews made good and sure that the stone was solidly in place, and how they set a seal set on it so nobody could mess with it, and just in case all that wasn’t enough, how they sent the Temple guard to keep watch outside the tomb so that no one could possible even get to the stone to move it. And then – not to give away the surprise for tomorrow – we hear about the stone on Easter morning, when the sun rose and the Sabbath had finally ended and the women hurried to the tomb make sure the men had done the anointing properly, and how they were shocked to find that huge stone rolled away – and a greater surprise awaiting them inside the tomb.
But all that has to wait. Because tonight we find ourselves on the wrong side of that stone. Tonight we wait in what my son used to call the “pitching darkness” of the tomb.
A long time ago, I took a tour of some underground caverns in Missouri. The guide leads you through cavern after cavern, showing you beautiful mineral deposits and rock formations, and then at a certain point they stop. And then the guide warns you – because it’s a little scary, if you aren’t ready for it – that he is about to turn out all the lights. And when he does, it is absolutely dark, darker than it ever is on the surface of the earth, because way down there in the depths of the earth there is no light at all, no reflection, no faint glimmer, just black nothing.
And that’s how it is here in the tomb. It’s nothing but darkness on this side of the stone. There is not only no light, but there is no scent of anything, no sensation of hard or soft or cold or hot or rough or smooth – no touch, no taste, no sound, here on this side of the stone.
But, what there is on this side of the stone, is God. Remember how King David wrote, in Psalm 139, “Where could I go to escape from you? Where could I get away from your presence? If I went up to heaven, you would be there; if I lay down in the world of the dead, you would be there.” When the body of Jesus lay in the dark of the tomb, even then God was with him. The words of Jeremiah that we just read tell us, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end….The Lord is my portion, says my soul, therefore I will hope in him.” There is no light or sound or breath of life here inside the tomb. But there is God. And where there is God, there is hope.
In our Lenten book last Wednesday, the reading was by a man named Bo Cox, who wrote about when he was a young man in prison, serving a life sentence for murder. And he described himself as a person that was dead inside. His parents came to see him, week after week, afraid and desperately sad, but he felt nothing for them, not empathy for the pain he had caused them, not gratitude for the love they showed in coming to see him. Just nothing. He felt no remorse or sympathy for the grieving parents of the man he had killed. Outwardly, he was a living human being, but inside, was only the nothingness of death. He lived every day on the wrong side of the stone.
It reminded me of the book by Sr. Helen Prejean about a man on death row, Dead Man Walking. That title is so powerful, because the truth is that there are a lot of people in the world, people in actual prisons, and people in prisons of their own making, people who are so lonely, or so afraid, or so crushed, that love and compassion and hope have withered away and died inside them. People like the young man that Bo Cox was, are truly the walking dead.
But he tells how God showed up in the love of his parents, who never stopped coming to visit him; who never gave up hope in him. God showed up in the love of people who worked and ministered at the prison, who treated him like a worthwhile human being. God was there, even in the impenetrable darkness on the wrong side of the stone. God found him there in his living death, and God restored him to life.
I want us to remember tonight as we wait with Jesus in the tomb, that God is here on this side of the stone. For all those people, in prisons and on the streets, young people without hope and elderly people left in nursing homes to die, all those who are the walking dead in this world. For our loved ones who have died, especially those who were too young. For ourselves, when we get lost in the darkness of our loneliness or our fear or our unforgiveness. For anyone and everyone who has ever found themselves on this dark side of the stone: remember tonight that God is on this side of the stone, too. We may not be able to see the light yet. But he is with us always. And where there is God, there is always hope.