Good Friday afternoon I needed to go home. To change, to relax a moment, to prepare my mind and my spirit for what was to come that evening. I wouldn’t be there long. Just a moment at home before returning to be ready to greet the community who would come for the remembrance, for the re-enactment, knowing that they would be looking to me to make sense of a senseless moment, to put words to something beyond our experience and understanding. Something so cruel as to be unimaginable, something so holy as to elicit the silence of awe. I’ve been doing this a long time, yet no matter the deluge of words and actions I have used to speak on Good Friday, nothing seems adequate to explain, or even describe this day, this action, this choice made by the One who loves us beyond our comprehension. So, I needed a moment. Of home. A place to breathe, a retreat, an escape.
So, I got in my car and I drove the familiar route home. The traffic was unusually heavy for a Friday afternoon, but I made my way. Until I noticed the side roads were all blocked, jam packed with cars also trying to get home. I kept going north, having multiple routes I could take and still get home. But every turn, and I needed to take one sometime, was blocked. A slow moving train, crawling along the track that ran parallel to the road I was on, blocking my way home. I kept going, hoping to get around the end of it, but it went on forever, circling the globe it seemed, a train to end all trains, cutting the earth in half and I was on the wrong side.
As the seconds ticked on and my respite time grew shorter, I began to panic a bit, thinking I was going to have to go back without changing, without going home. I then remembered a way through, under the track, so I drove on north and found the turn. It was backed up for blocks, cars slowly funneling through the only route from one half of the planet to the other. And I knew I couldn’t sit in this line forever. I turned out of that lane and went on north, thinking there had to be an end. But there wasn’t. Every pathway, every route, blocked as if with a mountain of stone, impassable, stalemate. No route through, no escape, no hope. I turned around to go back to where I started, frustrated, interrupted, cut-off from that moment of light, that breath of life which I sought.
Mark 16:1-8 When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 They had been saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?" 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6 But he said to them, "Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you." 8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
It is hard to comprehend the mindset of those women who made their way to the tomb that morning. They went to serve, they went because it was what you did when there was a death. The rituals of death were certain, known, automatic, unthinking. Which was good. Because they weren’t capable of thinking. Just moving. Going through the motions. Moving like automatons. Gathering the spices, the oils, the cloth, wrapping it all together, preparing for the early morning journey. Then they slept. Or didn’t sleep. Stared at the walls, at the dark night, eyes burning with used up tears. They waited. Numb in the night. They all rose together, without a word, driven by a common need to serve, to do something that made sense in a senseless time. And they set out. Huddled together, but alone in their own pain and silence. They walked on legs they couldn’t feel, burdened by the weight they couldn’t have described if they had to. Then out of the silence was a sudden intake of breath, “the stone” someone whispered. They stopped their march. Stopped dead in their tracks. Their way was blocked. The tears that were barely held in check began to flow again, etching tracks in their dust covered faces, splashing to the ground like great drops of blood from an open wound. “The stone.” It blocked their way, their duty, their hope. They couldn’t perform this last service for Him, they couldn’t take their last look at Him, at the lifeless body that once had been more alive than any person they had ever known, would ever know. The stone. It blocked them, cut them off, stymied them. They almost turned back. But they started to move again. Toward the place of death. Uncertain, bowed and almost broken, but they walked on. Wondering. Who would roll away the stone?
Who indeed? Those stones are everywhere it seems. Across every path, choking every road, cutting off our way home. Maybe your stone is physical: an illness that has changed your life, redefined you in ways you never foresaw. Or a circle of friends, a relationship which manages to tear you down more than build you up, who wear away the surface of your self identity until you don’t know who you are any more. A job that’s killing you, a lifestyle that keeps you from achieving what your heart really needs and wants. Maybe your stone is social: a contempt for leaders who seem like schoolchildren locked in playground taunts and narcissistic braggadocio, the continual rape of a planet of living creatures driven to extinction and destroyed beyond usefulness and beauty, a community defined more by our antagonisms than our commonality. Maybe your stone is emotional: a grief you can’t transform into hope, a sadness that engulfs you, a numbness that shrouds you in a darkness not of this world. Maybe your stone is spiritual: the questions that nag at your attempts to pray, the emptiness of the rituals of worship, the inanity of praise when your world is careening off course at an alarming rate.
Who will roll away the stone? They started to move again. Their question was huge, their need greater than their own strength, but they started to move again. They put one foot in front of another, headed straight for the stone. As if it wasn’t there. As if it wasn’t going to stop them performing their service. As if it wasn’t going to keep them from the worship of their hands and hearts. They went on, to the place of death and impenetrable stones, as if. And when they got there, Mark says, the stone was rolled back. And in the place of death was a being of light and life, who told them that this wasn’t the place to find Him. He wasn’t in a grave. He wasn’t hanging around a cemetery. He wasn’t behind a stone too great for any one to roll away. He’s not here. He’s there. There where you live. There where you work. Where you love and serve. He’s there beyond the stones, all of which will roll away by His power, the power of love and life.
Then Mark says an odd thing. He says they ran. In terror and amazement, they ran. And said nothing. To anyone. The end. Most scholars agree this is Mark’s original ending. Silence, fear and awe. And running away. The early church didn’t like that ending and so gave us a more comfortable certainty in the verses that follow. But why would Mark do such a thing? Leave the story so unfinished? Because yours is unfinished too. Think about it. Mark is telling the story to people who knew that Jesus was alive, yet he says they told no one. How did the word get out? How did the Word get past the stone of their fear? He rolled away the stone. Even the stone of our own inadequacy. Their silence wasn’t the final word. God’s hope was the final Word.
When I turned around to give up and return to church, I got to the first road that would take me home and saw the track was clear. The Ouroboros, the world snake circling the earth eating its own tail now transformed into a train, was gone. Rolled away. Opening the way for me to return home for an even briefer respite. I’m not claiming divine intervention for something that simply required a little more patience than I had in that moment. But the stone was rolled away. When I turned and headed toward it, it was gone. And I could go home.
I don’t know how your stone will be rolled away. I don’t know what effort it will require, what struggle is before you. I don’t know if it will roll away as if by magic by another hand in the twinkling of an eye, or if it will take a life long exertion on your part chipping away at the impenetrable rock until the shines through. I don’t know if will happen today or tomorrow or when you draw your last breath in this life. But I know, I know, that the stone will roll away. He is Risen. Thanks be to God.