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
and goosing statues
and even thinking
and kissing people and
making babies and wearing pants
and waving hats and
and going swimming in rivers
in the middle of the summer
and just generally
'living it up'
but then right in the middle of it
comes the smiling
It is not only our own death but the deaths of those we know and love that can weigh on our hearts like an immovable stone. St. Paul observed that “if for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:19) When death has the final word, life can begin to look like a desperate and doomed enterprise.
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And so, along with those women on Easter morning we ask: “Who will roll the stone away?” Who will lift these immovable stones that weigh on us and stand in the way of full and abundant life? The burden of sin. The weight of anxiety. The inevitability of death. Who can roll such massive stones away? Certainly not you or me – or all of us together. Not any psychology or philosophy or medication or technology or political program.
When those women arrived at the tomb, they found that the stone had been removed, the tomb was empty, and Jesus was no longer dead, but alive. It is the same Jesus Christ, who rose from the bondage of death, who is our Savior. What is impossible for us is not impossible for him.
The stone of guilt is a heavy weight to bear. Jesus lifts that burden from our souls, saying: “I do not condemn you – I forgive you, now and always.”
Anxiety is a relentless, onerous burden. Jesus rolls that stone away, saying: “I am with you always. My peace I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled.”
Death is the last, dreaded stone. Jesus says, “I come that you may have life and have it abundantly. I have gone to prepare a place for you, so that where I am, there you may be also – forever.”
Easter is the story of how the stones that are immovable for us are rolled away by the Lord of Life. Sin and Anxiety and Death are overcome by Christ’s blessings of Grace and Peace and Eternal Life.
Who will roll the stone away?
Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord!