Their biggest worry, as Mark tells it, was how to move the stone. Carved from solid rock, in a channel of solid rock, slid downhill until it came to rest in front of the entrance to the tomb. Heavy enough to seal the stench of decay, to prevent animals from getting in.
This was their scope of possibility on that Sunday morning. That somehow, they might be able to get that thing moved, to get themselves through the entrance, so they could finally anoint his body properly and put it to rest.
They were obsessing over it the whole way there. Having awakened early, having gathered the necessary things, having embraced one another in the predawn darkness, that was their slim hope – that maybe they would find someone to move the stone away from the tomb.
Eyes down, they are hurrying on their errand, early, while the streets are still empty and it seems like they’re the only ones around. Grief does that to you. Loss does that to you. The crushing weight of accumulated losses adds up and your world gets smaller and smaller and smaller until getting a one-item to-do list checked off seems like a huge accomplishment.
If I can get my family to the dinner table at the same time for a home-cooked meal.
If I can get that report written. If I can pay that bill I’ve been putting off.
If I can just get dressed today. If I can just put this one thing to rest.
And so we hurry to the tomb, worrying about the stone.
We all have stones. Think of yours, right now. You know what it is…it won’t take long to bring it to mind. It’s that thing you think about while you’re driving, when you can’t sleep at 3 am, it’s what’s on your mind when you miss what somebody’s saying to you. It’s that thing that gets in your way, that obstacle that seems to take on a life of its own.
A stone is a convenient place to put your worry when the world as you have known it is crashing down around your shoulders. Relatively manageable, in the scheme of things. Your beloved teacher put to death? Your community – your friends – scattered? No clue what to do next? You focus on the stone. It’s a good proxy for everything else that just plain stinks.
Like the women, we keep walking in the direction of dead things, eyes down, worrying about the stone. The stone is Good Friday, the day of torture and humiliation and death. The stone is Holy Saturday, the day of waiting, the day when you are stuck in the knowledge that you can’t go back and un-do what has already been done.
The stone is the broken relationships. The unsafe sex, the food or drink or drugs you use to numb the pain. The stone is hurting yourself, starving yourself, stuffing yourself, isolating yourself. The stone is the words that echo around your head, the ones you’ve started to believe are true, the ones that say “not good enough, never good enough, not worth anything.” The stone is the power of death, sitting in the middle of the road, blocking you from truly living.
The powers of this world would like you to believe that this stone is your problem. And if it’s going to get moved, you had better figure it out on your own. The powers of this world would like you to believe that the best you can aspire to is a bite to eat, a roof over your head, a decent burial. The powers of this world would like you to believe that that is what hope looks like, that the best we can hope for is to pretty up death.
These are big stones. And we approach them in ones, in twos or threes, struggling through the predawn darkness with the weight of grief on our shoulders.
Children of God: there is more to the story. Who is going to roll away the stone? God is going to roll away the stone. It was already rolled away once, on that first day, and God is doing so again. Lift up your eyes and see.
“I am the resurrection and the life,” says our Christ. God is twenty, fifty, a hundred steps ahead of us. So when we set out from our homes in the predawn darkness, with our meager hopes, the stone has already shifted from its place. When we arrive, expecting the stench of death, hoping merely to slow the process of decay, Christ is already up and on the move.
In a moment of terrifying possibility, we hear the words: “He has been raised; he is not here.” The rolled-away stone opens doors that we did not even know existed, doors that we wouldn’t admit to dreaming of. “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here…he is going ahead of you to Galilee.” Life is ahead of you. There is no need to continue trying to pretty up death. God has rolled the stone away.
Dear Lord, what will we do now?
We have been singing the words; we know how to say “Resurrection” and “Alleluia” and “New Life” and “Christ is Risen.” Are you willing to try living them? He made lepers whole, he made blind people see, he made Lazarus come out of his own tomb, he overcame the power of death. What makes you think that he can’t move your stone?
Whatever your stone may be, your Savior is even now pushing it out of the way and moving out ahead of you. The Good News of Jesus Christ -- the Good News that Easter brings -- means that you get to walk out of that tomb, run out of that tomb, deal with the lump of fear in your throat and discover where this new road can lead.
Christ goes on ahead of you, child of God. And so together we sing: Christ is Risen! Alleluia, and Amen!
Text: Mark 16:1-8