April 4, 2021 / Easter Sunday/ Richard Holmer
First Reading Acts 10:34-43 / Second Reading 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 / Gospel Mark 16:1-8
Who Will Roll Away the Stone?
On Easter morning, as the three women made their way to the tomb where Jesus was buried, they faced a daunting problem: “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” They came bearing spices and ointments for anointing the body of Jesus. They were prepared to carry out their burial traditions and to say their final farewells. Their hearts were heavy with grief, but they were committed to fulfilling the care that the living owe to the dead. However, despite their preparations and good intentions, they had no plan for dealing with the obstacle that stood in their way: Who would remove the massive, heavy stone that sealed the door to the tomb?
In their hurry to get to the tomb, they had not bothered to consider how this obstacle would prevent them from doing what they came to do. Moving such a stone was certainly beyond their capacity. It was an immovable object.
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Before going any further with their story, let’s pause to consider the stones that stand in our way. What weighty, immovable things keep us from living fully and abundantly? What are the impediments that weigh on our hearts and minds – burdens that stand between us and the fullness of peace and joy? There are three that are common to most all of us. One stone has to do with our past; one with our present, and one with our future.
The stone that weighs on us out of our past is the stone of guilt, regret and remorse. Every one of us has lived a life that is far from perfect. We have all done things that we sincerely wish we had not done. We have said things we would dearly love to take back. We are guilty of betrayals – both large and small: We have disappointed people who were depending on us. We have betrayed our own ideals and aspirations. We have been unfaithful to the God who loves us.
We have failed to follow through on good intentions: failed to love; failed to forgive; failed to understand; failed to do the right thing. Our preoccupation with I, Me and Mine, our priority on self-interest and self-satisfaction, keeps us from following Jesus in the way of selfless, generous compassion for others.
In the gospels, Peter is a prime example of a person burdened by the weight of guilt. Peter means well, but he doesn’t always do well. At the Last Supper, Jesus tells his disciples that they will all fall away and desert him. Peter insists: “Even though all become deserters, I will not.” Jesus then tells Peter that before the night is over, he will deny three times that he even knows Jesus. All the more vehemently Peter insists: “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” We know how that turned out.
Good intentions are not enough. Like Peter, we are left with guilt and remorse. Past sins weigh like a heavy stone.
The stone that stands in our way in the present is the stone of anxiety and fear. We become anxious about threats, both real and imagined. Most of the things we worry about never come to pass – but worry itself is quite real; it becomes a disabling burden. Our longing to be in control predisposes us to be anxious about all the things that are beyond our capacity to control: the economy, our health, the weather, other people, the future. We persuade ourselves that it is appropriate to worry about circumstances beyond our control – that it would be reckless and careless not to worry.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus urges us not to be anxious: “Do not worry about your life.” Do not worry about tomorrow.” But we find it difficult to keep from wondering: “What if?” What if I lose my job? What if my marriage doesn’t last? What if I have an accident or get sick? What if I fail? What if people see my faults and weaknesses?
Fears and anxieties can disable us. We ourselves can become like a stone – unable to live and move freely, immobilized by our many worries.
The stone that weighs on our future is the threat of futility and despair. The immovable stone of mortality can overshadow our days in a way that can make life seem hopeless and meaningless. Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti died in February at the age of 101. He was blessed with a long life. Yet his poem, “The World Is A Beautiful Place”, reflects how the inevitability of death casts a shadow on life:
Yes the world is the best place of all
for a lot of such things as
making the fun scene
and making the love scene
and making the sad scene
and singing low songs and having inspirations
and walking around
looking at everything
and smelling flowers