“Who Will Roll Away the Stone?”
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?”
4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed.
6 But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”
8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
Father James Martin tells a story about his visit to Jesus’ tomb. Tradition holds that the tomb in which Jesus is buried is now inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Sepulchre means tomb in Latin. The church itself is now large, built over centuries, but the room to see the Tomb of Christ is tiny. It only fits a few people within it at a time. So waiting in a packed, long-snaking line, along with everyone else to get into this tiny room, Fr. Martin began to think about what he wanted to do when he entered in. This was a holy spot. Jesus was buried here.
He knew that when he entered this space, he was going to ask God for something. And so as he crouched in to enter this tiny room, he prayer for his mother. She was moving into a retirement community, and he wanted it to be a good transition for her. He said the prayer, and then he knelt down on the floor, and bent his forehead to the cool stone.
What he experienced next was something he never could have expected or hoped for. The moment his head hit the floor, he had a powerful vivid image of Jesus lying on the stone in front of him and then sitting up. He writes,
“I could see him, feel him, rising up. The image filled my mind…and I started to cry. Stumbling out of the tomb I stopped by the columns and knelt down…Why had I not understood that this was not simply the Church of his tomb? It was also the Church of the Resurrection.
He goes on to say:
“He rose from here. I thought of how he did it for everyone – past, present, and future… And how it changed everything.”
In that spot, on that day, Fr. James Martin came expecting to do something for Jesus – to pray, to bow down, to worship, to honor. What he did not know before going in there was that Jesus was meeting him to do something for him. Jesus was there to show him and offer him more love, more grace, more joy than he could have ever dared to hope for.
That is what happened for Mary and Mary and Salome on that first Easter morning. They came to show Jesus honor and respect, to bury him well out of their own love and care. They ask, like Fr. Martin, for a small bit of help. “Who will roll away the stone for us?”
But as they approach they realize their prayer is not simply answered. Yes, the stone is rolled away. Yes the barrier to anointing him is gone. But soon they realize their entire world has changed. They realize they have come not to bury a friend, but instead to receive his love and grace. And it’s more beautiful and wonderful and scary and surprising than they ever could have imagined or hoped for.
Inside that tomb, these three friends of Jesus come face to face with a messenger from God. And his message is the best news of their lives, and the best news of ours. “Jesus is not here. He has been raised… And you will see him, just as he told you.”
On Easter morning, in that empty tomb, our hopes and dreams aren’t just answered. They are exceeded beyond our wildest imagination.
And this is what happens whenever and wherever we meet the Risen Lord. Whether it is here in worship, or in our private prayers. Whether it is reading the words of the gospels for the first time, or seeing God in the face of a child. God doesn’t give us just a little bit of love and joy and grace. God gives us everything.
The oldest versions of Mark’s gospel end here, abruptly with the women going away from the tomb in terror and amazement. And for us, who are used to stories wrapped up nicely, something feels off about it.
But I think there is a message in it too. Easter is not the end. It is the beginning. It is the beginning of a long journey of faith and discovery – of who we are as redeemed by Christ, of who God is as savior and king and destroyer of death, and of what salvation looks like, not just in the life to come, but here in our world today.
So in the next few weeks, we will be journeying together in discovery, looking at what does it mean to be saved? What does it mean to be Easter people?
Like the women at the tomb we may not have all the words yet to describe it. But we know this. It is beautiful. It is grand. It is full of the unexpected. And it will be far more than we ever could expect or imagine. Amen.