By Andrew Dyck
If you are looking for a piece of advice this Easter season, I can provide one from the outset: Never move a piano. At the very least, never try to move one on your own.
I learned this lesson the hard way in college, being conscripted to move a piano up a narrow set of stairs in the music wing. Of course, there were several of us on the job, pulling from the top and pushing from the bottom. About halfway up the staircase our energy flagged, and the piano started to move back down the stairs, which was quite the turn of events for those of us on the bottom. The only way that piano made it to the top floor was to find fresh arms and legs to help.
Moving that piano was almost impossible. It would certainly have been impossible for someone to do on their own strength and, if someone told me that one day the piano moved to the top floor without any help at all, I would have told them that was definitively impossible! Or, perhaps, a miracle.
The tomb was sealed
One such miracle did take place on resurrection day, equally as impossible and largely unlooked for. After Jesus was crucified, the Gospels reveal that he was buried in a tomb belonging to Joseph of Arimathea. Once the body was prepared, a large stone was rolled across the entrance, and the tomb was sealed.
The chief priests and the Pharisees—those who worked to see Jesus crucified—remained concerned Christ’s disciples would steal his body and claim he had risen from the dead. Pilate gave them permission to post a guard in front of the tomb to prevent any such thing from happening. By all accounts from a human perspective, it was impossible for anyone to get past the guards and move that vast stone. Jesus was dead, his body was sealed away, and there was nothing that those who loved him most could do about it. This seemed like a time to despair.
Despite Jesus’ teaching of his resurrection, his disciples gave in to this despair at the time of his death. They were in mourning, and understandably so. The one that they had given up their lives to follow, the one they believed was the long-awaited Messiah, was dead. Their personally constructed hopes and dreams died with him. At a more basic, yet profound level, they lost someone they loved deeply.
In her mourning, Mary Magdalene (along with a small group of other women) went to the tomb with spices to anoint the body of Jesus. Mary had been there when Jesus was buried, and therefore knew her plan had a problem: The stone was in the way.
In Mark’s gospel, the women ask an important question we should not miss, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” (Mark 16:3). They could not roll that stone away on their own power any more than you or I could move a piano up a set of stairs on our own. Yet there they were, spices in hand, ready to show their love and appreciation for Jesus one last time. The fact it would be impossible to do so was an open question, but not enough to stop them from making that journey. What an act of faith!
The impossible accomplished!
Even Mary and her friends, full of faith and love for Jesus, could not anticipate the nature of the miracle they encountered. The huge stone, unmoveable, sealed and guarded, was rolled away! In its stead was an angel of the Lord, declaring the ultimate message of hope: “[Jesus] is risen; he is not here” (Mark 16:6).
In one glorious moment of realization, hope pierced through mourning, and light overcame the darkness. The unbelievable miracle of the resurrection of Jesus Christ was encapsulated by the simpler, tangible miracle of the sealed stone rolled aside. What was once an insurmountable obstacle was transformed into an image of the impossible: victory over death. Mary and the others were astonished, and they were afraid, because the stone was rolled away and that changed everything.
Pushing the piano on our own
There are many moments and situations that certainly qualify as stones in our lives. We are all faced with things that are guarded, sealed and impossible to overcome on our power. It could be the sudden loss of a job, with a lack of certainty as to how to provide for the family’s needs. A stone could be revealed in strained and broken relationships between family members, exacerbated by the stresses and polarization the pandemic ushered into our homes. For many, the situation of Mary Magdalene is ultimately relatable, as the passing of a loved one brings a keen sense of loss and the realization that there are some things in life that are far beyond our control.
One temptation common to humankind is the desire to accomplish things on our own. If only we believe enough in ourselves, if only we receive enough training and experience, if only we try a little harder, surely these stones will roll away. But what if it isn’t possible? What happens when the realization dawns on us that our own power and strength is insufficient?
There is no glory gained in trying to push a piano up the stairs on our own, only the potential for pain and shame. It would be ridiculous to make the attempt; yet are we guilty of being equally ridiculous in attempting the spiritually impossible? The fierce independence fostered by the world around us is fuelled by pride and contrary to the Christian walk. The first step to overcoming an immovable obstacle is to humbly admit that we cannot.
Our dependence on Christ
To journey with Christ is to admit daily that we are dependent on him. In our darkest moments, our hearts’ cry echoes the question of the women on their way to see the body of Jesus, “Who will roll away the stone?”
The resurrection story not only provides the setting for the stone being moved out of the way, but the greater promise behind it. This has never been about the stone, but about the power to move anything that bars our way to Jesus. This power knows no limits, even to the point of bringing the dead back to life, which is our only hope. Christ alone can make all things possible; it is to him we should look when there is no discernable path forward.
I do not know how God will choose to answer your prayers. Certainly, we do not come across a promise in Scripture that all difficulties will be swept aside. Instead, we find a better promise. A whispered promise that, when we put ourselves to the side and rely on the power of Christ at work in us, God can accomplish even greater things than we could anticipate.
“So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:17—21).
So let us acknowledge that our strength is not enough. Let us cease striving for independence and humbly lean on our resurrected Lord. Let us watch in amazement as God—in his wisdom and love—proves that the entrance of the tomb of Jesus was just one stone of many that he will roll away.
Andrew Dyck (B.A., MDiv) is the senior pastor of Stony Brook Fellowship in Steinbach, Man. He thoroughly enjoys his roles as husband, father, pastor, friend, and—most importantly—follower of Jesus.