Considering arguments that Jesus’ resurrection was a physical event in space-time, in human history, by definition involving a resuscitated corpse (imbued with supernatural abilities) and a vacated tomb, we can only ponder with some puzzlement the Gospel narratives of the “rolling away” of the tomb’s “great stone”.
Even if we consider that Jesus’ resurrection was not purely spiritual, mystical, and visionary – that is, even if we consider that it very much involved his resuscitated corpse, a corpse that could be seen, felt, that could prepare meals and eat – still, the empty tomb and the rolled-away stone loom as highly problematic elements in the resurrection narratives.
The reason for this is that even the “physical resurrection” stories incorporate distinctly non-physical, and even supernatural details. For example, although the risen, bodily Jesus can offer his crucifixion wounds to be probed, still he appears out of nowhere, in the midst of locked rooms; although he can prepare a breakfast of grilled fish, he can bilocate between Jerusalem and Galilee, again appearing out of nowhere; although he can walk with two disciples and break their bread in Emmaus, he can just as easily “vanish from their sight”.
The problem emerges. If Jesus’ post-resurrection physicality presents no difficulty for him in appearing/disappearing at will, no difficulty for him to simply ignore solid walls and locked doors, then what in the world is the rolled-away stone doing at Jesus’ tomb – and more importantly, what is it doing in the Gospel narratives at all?
After all, if the risen Jesus can disregard matter, how is it that the great stone has suddenly – among all manner of other physical barriers – become the one insurmountable barrier? If Jesus can pass through walls, why can’t he pass through the tomb’s walls without needing to remove the stone? If Jesus can simply will himself to locate/travel from one point to another, then how is it that he can’t simply will himself from the tomb’s enclosed depths to its external entrance, bathed now in the light of the world’s first Easter Morn?
The stone has become a stumbling-block. It contradicts the other reports that insist that matter presents no barrier to the risen Christ. It collapses the “spiritual body” of the risen Christ back into a mere resuscitated corpse – like Lazarus – still constrained by the limitations of normal biology and space-time functioning. It suggests that the risen Jesus – far from being an exalted, glorified being possessing an unprecedented, new kind of “spiritual physicality” – either has to muscle his way out of the tomb, or requires help – human, angelic, or divine – to free himself. Such a vision of the Victorious Christ vitiates the rest of the Gospel resurrection accounts. Additionally, it is a horrific artistic and dramatic faux pas. It simply does not fit the image and concept that the Gospel writers convey in every other resurrection scenario.
Ironically, the rolled-away stone has become the Gospel’s single strongest argument against Jesus’ resurrection. Ideally, the tomb ought to have been discovered as-was on the evening of Jesus’ crucifixion: a sepulchre tightly sealed by a large stone. With as much help the task required, the tomb-visitors would roll away the stone … and then discover that Jesus’ body is missing. This scenario would preserve the Easter affirmation that Jesus’ “spiritual, resurrection body” could pass unhindered through physical barriers.
As it is, however, that darned stone most unattractively lies as a fly in the very center of the resurrection ointment