(A Meditation for Easter Sunrise 2018, based on Mark 16:1-8)
It is indeed interesting to note that Easter – our bright and glorious day of resurrection, the central event from which everything else in our Christian faith proceeds, and the time when by the grace of God, light and life reigns supreme – actually begins in the darkness just before dawn, and in a place of death. Easter, you see – this day that’s marked by festive celebration and nearly inexpressible joy – begins, in of all places, a cemetery.
When someone dies there is so much that you have to do, and yet ultimately nothing that you can do. Anyone who’s had a death in the family understands this; that those first few days are filled with countless details: there’s funeral arrangements to be taken care of, legal matters that need attention, people to call and preparations to be made. And while there’s so much that you expect to have to do at a time like that, there’s also that which you quickly discover you’re not prepared for at all! It’s no wonder that those who have been there will tell you they ended running on “auto-pilot;” methodically doing what needs to be done simply to get through the funeral and the burial, all the while feeling paralyzed from the weight of the grief. And there’s help to be had – from family, from friends, from the funeral home, from the church – but in the end, they’ll tell how they wondered who could possibly help them to take away all that pain they were feeling!
So it was for Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome, who very early on the first Easter morning were making their way to tomb to finish what needed to be done on this third day following the death of their master and friend, Jesus, on a cross. They were bringing spices to anoint Jesus’ body for burial, which hadn’t been done before this because of strict traditions surrounding the Sabbath; that is, there hadn’t been enough time on Friday before nightfall and the beginning of Sabbath to take care of such matters, and so they had to wait until the Sabbath was over (they probably hadn’t even purchased the spices they needed until after dusk on Saturday).
But now it was Sunday, and this was a task that needed to be done; but not simply out of tradition, mind you, but also as way of dealing with their grief. After all, in Jesus, they had not only lost someone dear to them, but all their hope for their lives and their world had died along with him. This was a loss that hurt so very deeply, and they felt so helpless that the only thing they could think of do is just “take care of things,” and have it be done with so they could move on with their lives. But even now as they drew close to the tomb, there was still one more detail they hadn’t counted on; quite literally a major obstacle in their way to getting it done. And they talked about it as they drew closer: “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?”
The women knew they could not possibly budge the stone by themselves; and it was unlikely at that hour of the morning there’d be anyone else around who could do the job. So here they were with this difficult, heart-wrenching job to do, unable to take care of it on their own, but without anyone that could possibly help them to do it! What a metaphor for grief itself – indeed, for all the pain of life that comes to us – facing this huge burden that we can’t get rid of by ourselves, but fearing in our heart of hearts that in the end, there will be nobody else to do it for us either!
Which is what makes it such incredible, joyous and infinitely good news that when the women reached the tomb, they discovered “that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back.” Mark, as is typical of his short and to the point gospel, does not give us details as to how this happened; truly, what happened is of much greater importance, and what happened is that Jesus had risen! Everything they needed to know came from the young man in heavenly garb who tells them that the one they’re looking for, Jesus of Nazareth, was not there, but “ha[d] been raised,” and that Jesus had gone ahead of them to Galilee, and that they would see him there! It’s no wonder, as Mark reports it, that “they went out and fled from the tomb, for fear and amazement had seized them,” for in that instant, the impossible had been made not merely possible but real! The women had come to the tomb that morning expecting to see a lifeless body and to deal with the very death of their hope, but had instead become witnesses to the resurrection! They’d come wondering who could possibly help them in their grief, and now they had their answer for this and for every question they ever had: It was God who helped them; it was God (!), the one who had rolled away the stone!
It was the most amazing surprise in all of human history; but then again, isn’t that how God always works? After all, we can’t do all the things we need to do on our own: we can’t budge the weight of sin off of our own shoulders, we can’t take our all-too-human impulses toward anger and hatred away from our hearts, we can’t free ourselves from the agony and torture of old and long past regrets and lingering hurts. The hard truth of it, friends, is that try as we may, we cannot ever bring life into that which would seek to deaden our very lives, but the good news is that God can, and does!
In the resurrection of Jesus Christ, dear friends, we discover that God can roll away any stone. God can take whatever keeps our hearts captive and make it go away. God can wash away our sin and make us people of love and joy and caring and unending hope. God can bring us to life as surely as our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was brought back from the dead! So do not be afraid; that’s the message of the gospel this Easter morning and always: do not be afraid for Jesus Christ is risen! Because the stone was rolled away, we can go forth from this beautiful place and into this beautiful day knowing that our lives are abundant, eternal, and ever and always brand new; that wherever it is that you and I go from this moment forward, Jesus will meet us there; and that it will be from that place we will go confidently into a bright, wide-open future… and that we will do it together.
For it is for us as the apostle Paul proclaimed it, that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!” (Romans 8:38-39)
Beloved, Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed!
Alleluia, and AMEN!
c. 2018 Rev. Michael W. Lowry