Rolling away the stone

At the break of day, as the sun was rising, just before the dark of night had made its final retreat, a few women went to the tomb where Jesus had been buried. They went to anoint his dead body. They went to pay last respects to the master they had followed and loved, and perform the final possible act of kindness. They went for one last look, one last moment with all that was left. But on the way they wondered aloud, “Who will roll away the stone for us?”

That stone was not something two or three women could move themselves. It was too large, too heavy, too unwieldy, and they knew it. They also knew that the stone separated them from Jesus, and that unless it was moved, it would keep them from their shared purpose of giving him a proper burial.

“Who will roll away the stone?” The women must have thought and talked about who they might find in the garden. Perhaps the soldiers would still be there. Perhaps a caretaker, or gardener could help them. I can imagine they even prayed that God would send someone, anyone, to roll the stone away. He did.

As Matthew records it, “After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, approached, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it.” (Matt. 28: 2 ff) Imagine, the great object of their concern suddenly rolled away by an angel of the Lord! The stone too large for them is gone! Now the women can enter the tomb, but they cannot embalm the body of Jesus because he is not there!

Easter is the single most compelling event in human history. But none of us, not even those who went to the tomb of Jesus on that first Easter morning, have access to the empty tomb unless the stone has been rolled away. If the stone had not been moved, we would not even know that the tomb was empty, that Jesus had been truly raised, that he had risen just as he foretold.

I think that for too many baptized Catholics that stone is still in place. Somehow, something has blocked our ability to experience the truth and the power of Christ’s resurrection. Perhaps many of us don’t even bother to make the early morning trek. We know that he has died. We also know that we cannot, of our own power, remove the obstacles that keep us from him. The largest stone is always the one in our own hearts.

We say we believe in angels. Every gift shop I know has a whole section devoted to them. We say too, that we believe in God. And, largely, that is true. Yet when it comes to the obstacles that separate us from the joy of salvation and the fullness of faith, we seem unwilling to trust God or his angels. We think that it is somehow up to us to roll away the stone.

It is God who saves us, not we ourselves. Salvation in Jesus Christ is offered to us all as gift because we could never have done it. The stone that blocked the entrance to the tomb is not unlike the sinfulness that separates every one of us from God. We cannot move it, lift it, or destroy it. Yet, when the glory of heaven comes down to earth to meet humanity in the graveyards that are the wages of sin, the unmovable boulder is pushed aside. And even more, and angel of the Lord sits upon it to tell us all that through Christ Jesus, death itself has died.

Oh Lord, whatever stone remains across my heart, whatever rock stands between us, whatever barriers are too heavy for me, roll them all away. And help me push at the stones of others too; that all may see for themselves that the tomb is empty, the gates are open, and that the Crucified One is risen as the Lord of Life. Alleluia!

Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an author, speaker, musician and serves as Faith Formation Coordinator at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Lynnfield.