After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men.
5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he<sup class="footnote" data-fn="#fen-NRSV-24199a" data-link="[a]”>[a] lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead,<sup class="footnote" data-fn="#fen-NRSV-24200b" data-link="[b]”>[b] and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.”
8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
It’s sunrise Sunday morning. The early rays of morning sunlight are streaming through the Garden and onto the tomb of Jesus. But Jesus is already gone. The tomb is empty…but no one knows it’s empty because the stone is still in front of the entrance!
So why did God (or, much, much more probably, the anonymous author of this particular book) find it necessary to send angels down to earth to open a tomb that was already empty??? Did Jesus, in his new, immortal body, need angels to help get him out of the tomb? No, of course not. He now had his vast supernatural powers at his full disposal. He could either walk right through the stone or teleport out of the tomb, just as he teleported on the Emmaus Road. So why have angels move the stone?
I believe that this detail about angels moving the stone is one in a long list of embellishments to the original story of Jesus’ death and alleged Resurrection. The Church came to realize that if all they had was a group of wild-eyed, uneducated Galilean peasants claiming to see dead people (or in this case, one dead person) their supernatural tale was not going to be very believable. So sometime circa 65-75 AD they invented an empty tomb. (Paul, who wrote his epistles several decades before the first Gospel was written, never mentions an empty tomb.) Once they had the empty tomb, first presented by the anonymous author of Mark, they then began adding details. And Matthew added some whoppers. Wild details; angels in brilliant white garments moving stones and dead saints, rocked out of their graves by an earthquake, roaming the streets of Jerusalem.
There was no need to move the stone in front of the tomb if Jesus was already gone. The detail about angels moving the stone is an embellishment to counter charges that the post-resurrection appearances were merely hysterical visions and hallucinations by superstitious, ignorant peasants.
It’s all one…big…tall…tale, folks!