“Who Moved the Stone?” – Fr. Bob’s Homily for Sunday, April 9, 2023

Who moved the stone?

Who moved the stone? 

There was actually a book with that title released a few years ago, in which an atheistic lawyer set out to disprove the truth of the resurrection of Jesus by examining the facts about the case, subjecting to them a rigorous legal analysis, just as he would if he were appearing in a court room. To his shock, he was led by the same process to reverse his erstwhile belief and conclude that, on the basis of the evidence, Jesus indeed had been raised from the dead, and he became a Christian as a result. 

And  a primary incentive to this belief was precisely this question: “Who moved the stone?”

The stone blocking the entrance to the tomb of Jesus weighed at least a ton. The women who came to see to the anointing of the body of Jesus were already asking themselves “Who are we going to get to move the stone for us, so we can get into the tomb?”  Imagine their utter surprise to find that when they got to the grave, the job had already been done for them, the stone was rolled away. But who had done it?  In their amazement, they went inside and found, according to the gospel accounts, no sign of Jesus’ body. Fear adds to amazement, and according to St John’s account which we have been listening to just now, Mary Magdalene runs to find Peter and John and tells them: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” These two apostles, in immediate response, rush to the tomb, and find it just as Mary said. 

But who moved the stone? 

Clearly not the women themselves. They would not have had the body strength to do it. Besides, they are clearly flummoxed by the sight of the empty tomb; no way did they participate in any subterfuge on the part of others to steal the body away. Mary’s anguished revelation to Peter and John: “THEY have taken the Lord away” and her request to the one she assumes to be the gardener later on, but in fact is Jesus: ”Sir if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away”, shows her to be totally perplexed by the situation.

Who moved the stone? Who spirited the body of Jesus away?

Surely the prime suspects must be the apostles.  But why would they do such a thing?  To try to mislead others into believing that Jesus had risen from the dead as he had prophesied over and over again before his crucifixion?  In fact, as we read in St Matthew’s gospel,  that is precisely the lie the Jewish priests and elders spread about among the people after Jesus’ resurrection, even paying off the Roman soldiers who had been assigned to guard Jesus’ grave, and persuading them to say that the apostles had come by night and stolen the body of Jesus away while they were asleep (cf Matthew 28: 13). Matthew adds as a further footnote, “this story is still told among the Jews to this day” (ibid 28:15).

But there are a couple of problems with that story.

One, no way would a guard of Roman soldiers ever admit to falling asleep while on guard duty. In the First World War, soldiers on both sides were routinely shot for doing precisely that. And it was the same in Jesus’ day, when the Romans ruled the world. Any soldier who fell asleep on duty and allowed a prisoner to escape would be summarily executed. Indeed, we read in Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament, that while St Paul and others were in prison in Philippi for preaching the gospel of Jesus, there was an earthquake, and the prison doors all flew open. The prison guard, waking from sleep, and seeing the open doors, immediately assumed the prisoners had all escaped and was about to take his own life, knowing what his fate would be when word reached the governor, when Paul called out and assured him everyone was still in the cells (Acts 16: 27). So, no way would it be at all likely that all the soldiers on guard at Jesus’ tomb had all fallen asleep, and were snoring away while the apostles came and rolled away a ton weight of stone, removed the body of Jesus and slipped away. The noise of the stone being rolled away, lights from torches being lit so as to guide the apostles in the darkness, the lifting up of a dead body and its removal, all this would surely have been more than enough to wake up an entire  squadron of soldiers.

So, again, who moved the stone?

If it had been the scribes and the Pharisees, the chief priests and elders of the Jewish people, why didn’t they simply produce the body of Jesus when the apostles started going about the place, proclaiming their Lord had been raised from the dead? Again, if the apostles had indeed, managed somehow to overcome the armed group of Roman soldiers, and removed the body of Jesus, they would know that their sudden proclamation of Jesus being resurrected was false. Yet they were prepared, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles, they were prepared to be arrested, tortured, thrown into prison and even killed for the sake of that lie. Who on earth is ready to die for something they know is not true? The apostles, we know, ran away from the scene of Jesus ‘ arrest in the garden of Gethsemane. They were shocked,  totally confused, guilt-stricken, and despairing ,leaderless, hopeless and helpless – again no way, would they have been up to such a feat of daring and organization so soon after, as to go and liberate Jesus’ body from the grave.

Well, then, did Jesus move the stone himself?

Did he, as some detractors have claimed, merely swoon, pass out on the cross, but not really die? And, in the cool of the tomb somehow revive, and roll away the stone himself, overcome the Roman guard and sneak away? Even to put forward such a claim is to show how preposterous it is. Every account in the gospels of the sufferings Jesus went through at the hands of his accusers and captors – the brutal floggings which would have ripped his flesh away, revealing his innards, the awful loss of blood involved, the piercing thorns driven into his skull, the agonizing weight of the cross beam during his forced march to the site of the crucifixion, the fear the soldiers had that he might pass away before they got there, hence their forcing of Simon of Cyrene to help out with the carrying of the cross. To say nothing of  the shock and physical trauma of nails being driven into wrists and feet, the being lifted up nailed to the cross beam as it dropped into its place on the upright, which would have automatically caused his shoulders to be dislocated, the need to lift himself up agonizingly on his nailed feet to drag some air into his lungs to avoid suffocation, all of this carrying on for three long, gruesome hours. And then, the spear driven into his side, producing blood and water, that meant the periocardical sac around the heart had been punctured, implying death had indeed taken place. 

Who moved the stone?

Not Jesus, not his apostles, not the women, not the Jewish priests and Pharisees, not the Roman soldiers.  An atheistic lawyer examined this issue and all the others surrounding the claims that Jesus had been raised from the dead. And found the claims sufficiently proven as to cause a complete turn-around in his atheistic views. What about you, brothers and sisters, what about me? Are we like the opponents of Jesus, then and now, who invent any kind of argument, however preposterous, to try to avoid having to admit the staggering truth that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, as he prophesied?

Or are we like the beloved disciple, John, looking on in spirit, seeing the stone rolled away, the empty tomb, and believing that, indeed, the Scripture is fulfilled, that says he must rise from the dead? And that nothing will ever be the same again.