This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Rocks that talk, angels who uplift

As a farm girl, one of the spring tasks was picking up rocks from our Minnesota acreage. Before we planted soybeans and corn, the black loam needed to be cleared of rocks. It seemed that the winter snows and then spring thaws had yielded a crop of stones, some easily picked up. And then there were the occasional larger ones that required two hands — or a dad. In any case, the rocks were moved away.

The story from Matthew 28 is slightly different from the other three Gospel accounts. It was only two women (Mary Magdalene and the “other” Mary) who got the shock of their lives. An earthquake happened at the tomb where Jesus was buried. The rocks were rolled away by a dazzling angel. Rocks moved with the power of the earth shaking. What was supposed to be a quiet tomb, occupied by a dead body, suddenly was opened. And the first words from the angel were, “Do not be afraid!”

I will confess I would have been terrified. An earthquake in the 21st century is still frightening. I am scientifically informed about earthquakes, including what measures to take to protect myself. Yet in the first century, surely the shaking earth would have been extremely scary. Run away! Get away now!

But the scripture interrupts the onset of fear with a word of hope, truth and instruction.

“Don’t just stand there! Jesus is going to Galilee. Go there! Tell the disciples! Now, go, quickly!”

Christians who have told the resurrection story many times still wonder about this incredible event.

How big was the tomb? Where did the angel come from? Did the women follow the instructions? What did Jesus look like? Did the chief priests think Jesus’ body had been stolen and fear for their lives?

These and other questions are modern queries. We want details. We want proof. We want assurance that the women were not dreaming nor hysterical.

All of us need reassurance that our faith is foundational. We read the Bible. We pray. We worship the triune God. We share our faith through our service, witness and gifts.

Yet we all run into rocks, obstacles set in front of us, like the stone before the angel rolled it away. Some of these rocks talk. They tell us not speak out about God’s mercy. They warn us that taking a stand for justice could cause us to suffer discrimination, even injury, even death. Some are our own fears, hesitancies and cowardice.

In this season of pandemic, we are confronted with real and imaginary obstacles. What are the rocks saying to you today?

On the other hand, we can point to angels who have encouraged us, taught us, mentored and supported us.

My aunt, a seventh-grade Sunday school teacher, connected the Bible story with our ancestors leaving Russia because of pacifist convictions.

Our pastor baptized me with the assurance that my questions about Bible verses were not ones of doubt but of healthy faith development.

Professors prodded me to think creatively about living a justice-filled life.

When I was sick, friends brought me food and sent notes of cheer.
An encouraging email lifted my sagging spirits.

This Easter, reflect on the stones in your life and the angels who ministered to you. Then be encouraged to say, “Don’t be afraid! There is good news! Rocks talk, and they can be rolled away as you make disciples of all nations. There is a wonderful promise: Jesus is always with you! Do not be afraid!”

Dorothy Nickel Friesen, a retired pastor and denominational minister, is board chair of Springs Forth! Faith Formation Inc., which publishes online, multiage curriculum. The newest product is God Rocks!, which features the Matthew 28 text.

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