Easter Sunday – The Stone that was Rolled Away

Resurrection of Christ, Nicholas Bertin

Mark 16:1-8

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel. For it is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes…” Rom 1:16

Mark’s gospel is not one to pick if you’re looking for an easy afternoon read. It’s a roller-coaster of emotions as you make this journey with Jesus. Mark, more than anyone else captures the effect Jesus had on all those around him. The moment they think they’ve got him, he eludes them and leaves them surprised, and sometimes terrified. That’s one thing about Jesus – if you think you know Jesus and find him or religion boring, you’ve not really met Jesus. For the disciples, it certainly would have seemed like he reserved his greatest surprises in his Passion and Resurrection. No one believed Jesus would die like this, even though he told them. The disciples are traumatised, and they all abandon him. The women, however, stay. They show amazing strength of character. But even they are not prepared for the final surprise. They come to the tomb and seeing the angel, are struck by fear and run out terrified. 

Of all the things they could have worried about as they come to the tomb, the biggest on their mind is who will roll the stone away for them. The one thing they are not worried about is that Jesus might have gone missing. People didn’t rise from the dead. The resurrection prophecies have not registered. Ironically, the only ones who seem to believe that something is about to happen are the Scribes, so that they put a guard on the tomb. It is unclear what they hoped the guard would achieve. But the women come with spices, for Jesus’ dead body. They want to grieve, as people do at a grave. They want to do this final act of love. Jesus once again surprises, or rather terrifies them – more now by being alive than dead. Just when these women thought they knew what he was about – dead – he shocked them with his greatest miracle yet. But this encounter with the risen Christ, from the women at the tomb, to the apostles, to all who came later, has always been the life energy of the Church. The event of the Resurrection has sustained the Church through two thousand years. The apostles, who ran away, would now literally go to the ends of the world, proclaiming the gospel. They would freely give up their own lives. And this did not end with the apostles – thank God. Paul’s encounter with the risen Christ on the Damascus road, would change the one who was bent on destroying Christians to became the greatest missionary the world has ever known. It is this power which has breathed life into the saints. What is it about this event which changes people so dramatically? 

In the modern period, there have been other Scribes, in the form of biblical scholars who tried to guard the tomb; they provided ‘rational’ explanations for the Resurrection. Christ didn’t really rise from the dead. But the disciples ‘felt forgiven’ and they carried on the cause. This is even more laughable than the attempt of the first Scribes. You don’t have to be a psychologist to know that this is probably the last ‘feeling’ you are going to have. Judas didn’t feel forgiven. Peter went out, bitterly weeping. They had all gone through the most traumatic event of their lives. They had seen the one they loved torn apart, quite literally. And at the time of his greatest need, all of them had betrayed him.

When they walked with Jesus, the disciples had been fascinated by him. They hung onto every word of his, they wanted more of him. But not much of their lives changed. Where it mattered, they failed. But in meeting the risen Jesus, something dramatic happened. They began to change in a way they did not before. First of all, they knew now, that everything Jesus said was true. But even more, they experienced his forgiveness. They had been loved at their very worst. They saw him. They touched him. His wounds healed them. It is why Paul would say that if Christ was not raised from the dead, ‘you are still in your sins’ (1 Cor 15:17). Only the risen Jesus could forgive them, because this is exactly what God accomplished in raising Jesus from the dead.

It is in fact, the very worry of the women that gives a clue to this. The stone rolled away. All the gospels mention it, though John uses a different word (taken away). Why is this seemingly insignificant thing recorded by everyone? Because, I believe it points to an obscure but important event in salvation history. As Israel begin to come into the promised land under Joshua, they camp at the edge of Canaan. By now, all the first generation of those who came out of Egypt have died. It’s been forty years. The ones now entering the land are those who were born in the Exodus. These are children of faith. Unlike their parents who refused to believe God, these have seen God work from day one. But they have not been brought into covenant with God. They are children of slaves. And they bear the reproach, the shame of their inherited slavery. As slaves, they have no identity. And here, God instructs Joshua to circumcise all of them – because he is making a covenant with them. From now on, they are not going to be nameless. They are not going to be slaves. They were going to be children of God. Then they will eat their first Passover, just like we have done over these three days. At this place, God tells Joshua, he had adopted them as his own. Here, God says, he has ‘rolled away the reproach of Egypt’ from them (Jos 5:9). The place would then be named Gilgal (meaning ‘rolling’). They don’t need to be ashamed anymore. They had a Father in heaven. 

Honour and shame were as real in the ancient world as being rich and poor. Even today, it is true in most places. This might seem an alien idea in the West, but the experience of shame is more universal than we might care to admit. It was first experienced by Adam and Eve in the garden when they sinned. We all carry something of this because of the sinfulness we inherit and our own sins. We experience this as alienation in ourselves and from each other. It is only in being forgiven, that we can be free. On the Cross, Jesus took all of this shamefulness on himself as he died a criminal’s death, rejected by everyone. But on the morning of the first day, God rolled that stone away. He was saying, because of my Son, your sins are forgiven. You don’t have to be ashamed anymore. You are now my children. This is the announcement of the good news. Those who met the risen Christ experienced this for themselves. It is this risen Christ who comes to meet you and me in the Eucharist. God has rolled your guilt away. If you want, you can be forgiven. Your life can change. Happy Easter!

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