Every day the eyes of our souls, the eyes of our hearts, the eyes of our bodies encounter innumerable images. We wake and see the faces of people we love. We look to the sky and see the beauty of creation. We see skilled musicians bringing us the beautiful sounds of music we love. We see talented athletes moving as if without effort the length of a basketball court and placing the ball with deftness exactly where they will it to be.
And we see as well, near and far, the images of children who hunger for food and love; the images of people just like us suffering the pain and indignity of years of violence over which they have no control; the images of faces drenched in tears and twisted in pain.
This holy week each year, brings images of its own. The image of Jesus entering Jerusalem on the back of a colt, welcomed by a population filled with hope. And only days later, the image of that same Jesus, in the midst of that same population, tried in a kangaroo court, condemned to death, and executed publicly on a hill outside the city. Tonight, in the stillness, in the light first of a single candle, we see the image of the tomb open and empty, and angelic voices – the echoes of those that announced his birth – sharing the news that Jesus is risen, that death has been overcome, that he has gone ahead of us to Galilee where he asks for us, and awaits our coming.
For we who have been baptized into Christ Jesus, who have died his death with him, and who live his life in him, the images of this week, both of triumph and of pain, underlie and bless and bring meaning to all the other images that we experience all the days that we live.
In most of our four Gospel accounts, it is the women who first go to the tomb of Christ, just as it was the women who stood at the foot of the cross of Christ. (Sorry guys, our type fled for their lives; in this story girls rule!)
As they approached the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus before the sun had risen on the third day, they asked, “Who will roll away the stone from the entrance to the tomb?” By one measure, it is an eminently practical question. But scratch beneath the surface, and so much more emerges.
Those of you who’ve heard me drone on here before, know that I delight in poking around in the Greek that underlies our English translations of the Word we proclaim here. In this case, something beautiful comes to light. The Greek for the word “tomb” shares the same root as the word for “memory.” And so the women, Jesus’ friends, as they approach his grave to attend to him with love even in death, actually ask this question:
“Who will roll the stone away from the door of our memory?”
“Who will roll the stone away from the door of our memory?”
It is as if they ask, who will remove all the obstacles that keep us from remembering what it is to be alive, what it is to love with joy and abandon, what it is to be a human being living embraced in the arms of God? It is as if they ask, who will remove what keeps us from remembering the joy of childhood, the radical openness to the future, the hope that is unwounded and unafraid?
And what is the answer to all those questions, and all those other questions wrapped up within them that each of us can express in words unique to ourselves? The answer is what they came to know moments later: the stone had already been moved away. Other hands have done it. They are the hands that brought the universe to be. They are the hands that formed you in your mother’s womb. They are the hands that join you to the love of your life; they are the hands that heal you in times of illness. They are the hands that carry you through times of sorrow. They are the hands that lift you up in times of uncertainty. They are the hands that will raise you to life everlasting. The stone, all the stones, across the entrance of all the tombs, have already been rolled away.
That is the story of this day. That is the deepest truth of all the truth there is.
Among the images we see each day, or some days try to avoid, are those of loss, tragedy, Injustice, violence and hatred. They are hard to see, and we see enough of them that deep within we can begin to fear that these are the ultimate images of life, of the world, of humanity.
But this day’s truth, the deepest truth of all the truth there is, tells another story. This day’s Resurrection truth affirms that no matter how many the images of darkness, no matter how often they assault our vision, they are not the genuine portrait of the earth. They are not the class picture of the human family this far deep into our common history.
Instead the deepest truth is much-better captured in a phrase I read recently, though I can’t recall where. The words are simple and stalwart:
“We are living in a world in the midst of rescue.”
That rescue is underway. Long since. It began just as the gates of Eden swung shut behind us. This rescue reached its high point on the night we celebrate now. And this rescue will continue until it is complete. Nothing can stop it. And nothing will.
Let me share one final image of that ongoing rescue. In the Monastery of Saint Savior at Cora in Constantinople, there is a precious icon bearing the unusual title, ‘the harrowing of hell.’ There you see the figure of Christ, dressed in white, risen from death. In one hand he holds the tool by which he won our salvation, the Cross. With the other hand he reaches down and takes the hand of Adam, the first man. And Adam in turn gives his hand to Eve, the mother of all the living.
Jesus, alive forever, uses the strength of his life for one purpose, to raise humanity to new life. And each of us, like Adam, accept that ultimate gift not only for ourselves, but to share it with another and another and another of all who thirst for life, who wait for rescue, who have wondered who will roll away the stone from the door of memory.
God has acted on Christ’s behalf, not for Christ alone.
Christ reaches a saving hand toward every human hand that ever has lived or will live. We receive, each of us, new life in the waters of Baptism, not for ourselves alone but to share that life with all.
Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. He lives now and death has no power over him. In him, we too live life without end.
~ John P. McGinty
Easter Sunday 2018
[Image: Raphael, The Resurrection of Christ]