Who is to roll the stone away from the tomb?

Fr Alec
Friday, April 17, 2015 - 3:45pm

On Good Friday we marked the death of Christ. We recalled the pain he suffered for us and we shared the anguish felt by his followers as they watched the wreck of everything on which they had built their hopes. The Three Hours of Good Friday are an emotionally gruelling time, and many of us came away feeling a genuine and tangible sense of loss and bereavement.


The sense of grieving dislocation was something I carried with me through rest of the day. Jobs presented themselves, chores had to be done. I had to go out and fetch groceries for our Easter visitors, and all the while I felt strangely disconnected from those around me. Don’t they know? Can’t they understand? Why are they carrying on as if everything were normal? Today is not like any other day.


We can surely forgive Jesus’ disciples for feeling the same way. After all they had lost not only a friend, but a leader. A man who since they had known him had given a meaning and a direction to their lives. They had dropped everything to follow. They had left families and livelihoods and invested themselves completely in the promise of a kingdom yet to come. But Jesus’ death was a fact. A brutal fact that left them fearful and disorientated and deflated and rudderless.


What was there to do now but tend to the body? The body, to which these women could devote the love and care they couldn’t help but continue to feel for Jesus. The body at least gave a sense of reassuring purpose. The task of treating it with spices was the kind of comforting ritual duty they knew how to fulfil. With bereavement come a host of jobs, at once tedious and useful in that they keep our minds focussed on something and give us time to grieve.


The mind of the three women is on practical matters…who is to roll the stone away from the tomb…?

But now what is this? The stone has already been rolled back? And who is this figure inside? And what is this startling news? He has been raised? He is not here? He has gone ahead to Galilee?


Events have moved too fast. One minute they are taking charge of a dead body. The next they have been left behind by a living man. The initiative has been snatched from their grasp.


At Gethsemane, it was the men who fled at Jesus’ arrest. Now it is the women who flee from the news of the resurrection. It is one thing to grieve. It is another to be denied the comforting torpor of that grief. To be thrown back suddenly into the torrential momentum of life with Christ.


Sometimes hope is a thing to flee from. Not because we don’t long for joy that it promises, but because we’ve learned to fear disappointment.


The Resurrection of Jesus is a challenge to us all. All too often we can settle into a numb fog of practical housekeeping. Attending to the mundane tasks of the moment and oblivious to the overwhelming reality which gives them their bearing and purpose.


We can live as though the world had not changed, as though Christ had not been raised, as though God was not victorious over death and hell. We can live as though our lives and actions were futile – doomed to end in oblivion.


But now, today of all days, we know this is not so. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. In him there is a New Creation, and he is with us – never to be snatched away again.  His kingdom has been established on earth, and we are heirs to that kingdom. There is no place in the Kingdom of God for any of the horrors to which we have become accustomed, for poverty and neglect, selfishness or greed, violence or exploitation.


If Christ were dead, we would have to come to terms with these things. We would have to accept that we live in a world where there is starvation, and war, child labour and human trafficking. That these are just unavoidable consequences of human frailty.


If Christ were dead, we would have to accept our own limitations, hunker down and make the best of a bad lot. We’d have to look at our lives – the tragedies, anxieties, failures and frustrations, and accept that there is nothing to be done. Hide ourselves away, and distract ourselves until the inevitable end.


And this is how many of us live. Wilfully distracting and amusing ourselves from the fear that one day everything will amount to nothing. Fearing to take the risk that comes with Hope.


But the empty tomb presents a problem. If Christ is risen from the dead, if he is present for us now, we have a newfound responsibility for our lives. They have a meaning and a goal. There is value in who we are and what we do. Not just ourselves, but all of us, the whole of the human race.


We are no longer victims, but victors. We are no longer prisoners but free. We are no longer looking wistfully backwards, but eagerly forwards, where he has gone ahead, beckoning us on.


In Christ and with Christ, our lives are transformed. However bad things get, however bleak thing seem, there is hope, because we know now that this is not the end that God intends for his creation. Christ is Risen from the dead, and we are risen with him. He has gone ahead of us, we must throw of our funeral clothes and follow.