God Still Moves Stones
Albert Henry Ross was an English advertising agent and freelance writer that set out to disprove the resurrection of Christ. Ross was reared in a rationalistic environment. He had been taught to question everything and reach a logical conclusion. One day, after years of contemplating and researching, he came to the opinion that the resurrection was nothing but a fairy tale with a happy ending. Ross felt he owed it to himself and others to write a book that would present the truth about Jesus and dispel the mythical story of the resurrection. He began analyzing his sources in order to write a short paper entitled Jesus — the Last Phase to demonstrate the apparent myth. Upon studying the facts, however, he came to a totally different conclusion. The sheer weight of evidence compelled him to conclude that Jesus actually did rise from the dead. Albert Henry Ross eventually wrote his book, but not the one he had planned. He wrote a book under the pseudonym Frank Morison, titled Who Moved the Stone? Who Moved the Stone is considered by many to be a classic apologetic on the subject of the Resurrection.
Ever since the time of Jesus critics like pre-Christian Albert Henry Ross have been attempting to disprove Jesus’ resurrection. It has been documented that once Jesus was entombed Jewish authorities took extraordinary measures to ensure that Christ’s body could not be moved or stolen. They were well aware of his prediction that he would rise from the dead on the third day, and as far as they were concerned this could only happen if the disciples stole his body. It is said that the authorities arranged for a Roman guard to protect the tomb and make it as secure as possible with a stone that is said to have weighed between one to two tons or two-four thousand pounds. The tomb is said to have been further secured by the placing on it an official Roman seal. This seal was the equivalent of the United States government seal. The presence of a Roman seal would prevent tampering, for anyone attempting to move the stone would break the seal and incur the wrath of Rome. The presence of the Roman guards and seal guaranteed that Jesus’ body would not be stolen. When one considers the penalties a Roman guard knew he would incur if the body of Jesus was stolen, which was death, the extensive weaponry they possessed, their intensive military training and expertise, and devotion to the Roman seal, one cannot garner any other conclusion than, these things indicate that no human source could or did remove Christ’s body.
It took nothing less than an angel from heaven to frighten the soldiers into a state of powerlessness and bring about a resurrection that has become the foundation of the Christian faith. Christianity stands as unique because it claims the resurrection of Christ. However, when so many people are questioning the significance of the resurrection and its importance, we need to hear the resurrection story again and again to understand what it means to our lives. We need to know who moved the stone on that resurrection morning. Why? Because there are some stones we need moved today. However, even more important to Christendom is we need to be reminded that God still moves stones.
For the past three of the four years I have served as Senior Pastor of St. Paul’s Baptist Church of West Chester, Pennsylvania, on each Resurrection Sunday I have preached on this topic, God Still Moves Stones. Each year I have lifted up a different stone that I believe Easter or Resurrection Sunday reminds us that God moves; fear, doubt, death, etc. I am convinced that we need to know that God still moves stones because blocked entrances, marginalization, borders, racism, sexism, and the like are the great problems of life. They are stones that stand between where we are and where God may want us to be as people of faith. Yet, Easter reminds those of us in the faith not to give up because God still moves stones.
For many of us, mainly preachers who have to prepare a sermon for Easter, Easter comes early, a little too early this year. It seems as if we haven’t had time to get entrenched in the New Year before preparing Lenten, Holy Week, and now an Easter sermon. However, we need Easter right now. With the latest political fiascos, contaminated water in Flint, Michigan, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) war against the world, the increasing prison pipeline, the social, political, and economic stigma attached to felony drug convictions defined by legal scholar Michelle Alexander as The New Jim Crow, deteriorating public schools, the numerous killings of unarmed African American men and women, and the list goes on, we need the hope that Easter brings. We need the stones of injustice, mass incarceration, sexism, classism, and so many other stones, rocks, boulders, and mountains to be moved. Easter reminds us that where there is death, God can bring life. Where there is injustice, God can bring justice. Where there is no hope, God provides hope. James Cone in his book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, reminds us that where we saw, “A symbol of death and defeat, God turned it into a sign of liberation and new life. The cross is the most empowering symbol of God’s loving solidarity with the ‘least of these,’ the unwanted in society who suffer daily from great injustices. Christians must face the cross as the terrible tragedy it was and discover in it, through faith and repentance, the liberating joy of eternal salvation (156).” However, the liberating joy of eternal salvation that Cone refers to is for many of us solidified when the women at the tomb, post-cross, asked, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb” only to find out it was already moved. As we journey closer to Easter, the joy and hope we have is rooted in knowing this: whatever stone is in our way God has the power to move it, for God still moves stones, and that the Son of God is risen, and risen indeed!
Wayne E. Croft, Sr. is the Jeremiah A. Wright Associate Professor of Homiletics and Liturgics in African American Studies at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia and Senior Pastor of the St. Paul’s Baptist Church in West Chester, Pennsylvania