When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back.
I would like you to think for a moment on the premise that God calls us to be faithful—not practical. Jesus equips disciples to be faithful—not necessarily practical. While I concede that every Christian learns with time that the faithful choice is ultimately the most practical choice one can make; it does not usually appear that way at the outset. We need to keep constant in our consciousness that we are asked to be faithful even when it seems impractical.
One thing that strikes me about the text we just read is that these women are the only disciples I can find on that Resurrection morning who are doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing. Others have made plans for lunch in Emmaus. Most are three days into a lockdown hoping that Thomas will hurry back with the loaf of bread, gallon of milk, and pack of toilet paper. However, the women are on the way to anoint the body of Jesus.
This anointing is important not primarily because of any practical value, but because it is an act of worship. Anointing the body is a matter of faithfulness to God. These disciples know that being faithful to God has something to do with being faithful to the person of Jesus. While other disciples are scattered, confused, or hiding, this group is up at daybreak doing the one thing they can think of that is faithful to Jesus, and therefore to God.
It is also clear that this took some time to plan. It was not a spur of the moment decision. It took a fair amount of intentional preparation to assemble the supplies and gather people with proper skills to complete the mission. The women have been working on this project at least since sometime Friday and likely long before then. So, don’t you find it curious that it isn’t until that very morning, when they have almost reached the tomb, that they ask, “Who will roll away the stone for us?”
One might expect that they would have solved this obvious and practical obstacle before they started on the road. That they are asking this question also confirms what the Scripture infers elsewhere, they are aware that the stone is there, they are likely aware that it bears the seal of the Roman Governor (the equivalent of a sign stating, “Do Not Open Under Penalty of Death”), and that there is a Roman guard on duty to execute that penalty on the spot. All of these things are there precisely to keep anyone from doing what they are trying to do…get anywhere near the body of Jesus. There mission is not only impractica, it is impossible.
That makes the question even more curious. They are not asking, “Will the stone be rolled away?” No, their question assumes the premise that the stone will be rolled away. They just are certain yet who will do it. How will it be accomplished? Maybe the Roman guard will suddenly be converted away from their allegiance to Rome and into the service of Christ. Maybe one of these women will temporarily be given a miraculous ability to remove the stone. They have certainly seen stranger things in their walk with Jesus. When committed to the faithful service of Christ, the possibilities of overcoming the impractical are endless and mostly beyond our imagination.
When the women arrive at the tomb, they discover the stone is already rolled way. We don’t know where the guard is. They may still bee lying stunned and dazed about the women’s feet. They may have already left. The tomb is open, but they never do get to anoint the body of Jesus. What they set out to do was faithful, but it was not only impractical it really was impossible. Although, not for the reasons they could have imagined. They never got to anoint the body, but they did get to speak with an Angel. The Angel tells them that Jesus is on the loose and to, “Go tell the Disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee.”
For a moment contrast this scene with the action of Peter on Friday evening. His thrice denial of Christ was the practical course given the circumstances of the moment. The cost of any other action might be high and the apparent benefits inconsequential. Peter’s denial was practical. It was also unfaithful. He might have imagined that his denial is what kept him alive for another day and not the Providence of the Almighty. He may have accomplished his practical purpose, but he missed the conversation with angels. His thrice practicality, necessitates a thrice confession, thrice repentance, and thrice restoration.
There is a difference between Christ’s admonition to consider the cost before following him and letting the practical consequences of that cost deter us. When we fail to find an answer for all the obvious obstacles ahead of us, there comes a time to choose prudent action or indefinite delay. One path is faithful. One is not. This is true regardless of how significant we view the action.
Was the preparation of a dead body really so weighty a matter in the midst of that Sunday morning crisis? Had Peter confessed Christ on that Friday evening would it have improved anyone’s condition or caused any discernible change in the state of things? Couldn’t each act have been set aside to avoid confrontation and the unnecessary associated risks?
It is in matters that we judge to be insignificant that we are most tempted to pursue pragmatism over faithfulness, but we are poorly qualified to judge what is least in the Kingdom of God. Great works begin with small acts of faith. As Peter Marshall said, “Small deeds done are better than great deeds planned.”
Not every foolish looking act is a sign of faithfulness, but faithful acts often look foolish. This is true whether days are hard or the days pass well. It is true at noon on Friday and at dawn on Sunday. Yet, in times of crisis people tend to applaud hypocrisy for its practicality, and they mistake faithfulness for madness.
We want to choose the faithful option–as impractical as it may seem. We may or may not succeed in what we set ought to do, but we are likely to experience the glory of resurrected Christ and maybe even encounter some angels on the way. We may choose the more practical options. In that event, we will likely succeed at most of our endeavors, if not all, but I can almost guarantee that we will never be bothered by an angel.
I am beyond concluding sermons with directive — Therefore we must all do X!
Every reader is competent to determine where the Word leads them. So, I do not offer direction but an invitation to reflection for a certain community that I know is hearing these words today. Some of us feel trapped by an unfaithful denomination leadership that inhibits us from doing what God commands or compels us to do what God forbids amd thereby corrupts our witness. For any years we have lbored for reform and pleadd for an amicable and practical separation of the unequally yoked.
The question now is,: If we have been faithful in keeping our station for the last four years; If we are faithful in maintaining the bonds for yet another year; then why not continue being that faithful for another two years, or five years, or fifty? If pragmatism is the answer to our unity then faithfulness is not the question. We ought to reflect if we are held captive by our bishops’ unfaithfulness or by our own pragmatism.
We have the choice to leave behind the bolted doors of the Upper Room and start walking toward a tomb–even with insurmountable obstacles still in view. We may succeed. We may fail. We will entertain angels.