Late last month, I brought my car to a Chevy dealership for some routine servicing. As I got out of the car, I was greeted by an employee who said he had a question for me. He wanted to know how the stone was moved away from the tomb. His reference of course was to Jesus’ tomb. I told him that the moved stone signaled the Resurrection had occurred.
In today’s gospel, Saint John describes for us how Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early in the morning – while it was still dark. (cf. Jn 20:1) Despite the darkness, she saw that the stone was removed from the tomb. (cf. Jn 20:1)
The moved stone is not insignificant, I contend. It is interesting to note, for example, that when the Risen Lord appears to the apostles in the upper room, He passes right through the locked doors. (cf. Jn 20:19) He obviously could have done the same with the stone at His burial place – pass right through it. Nevertheless, our text says only that the stone was removed.
We can figure on two reasons for the stone in front of the sepulcher. One is given by the Pharisees and chief priests: “that the grave be secured . . . lest his disciples come and steal him.” (Matt 27:64) The other reason of course has to do with health. Like Lazarus who had been dead for four days, there would be a stench. (cf. Jn 11:39)
We have no way of knowing the precise dimensions of the stone at Jesus’ tomb. Nevertheless, we can presume it was very large and that it would require a team of men, perhaps even having to use an animal with ropes to re-locate the stone.
A very large stone imposes restrictions, it inhibits you from moving about freely and functions just as bars do in a prison. You are confined to a prescribed place and there you remain until someone removes the impediment.
A very large stone at the entrance to Jesus’ tomb was put there by men – sinful men, you and me. And there is only One who can move it and that is God. The scribes and Pharisees were right: “[O]nly God can forgive sins.” (Mk 2:7) But they were wrong about Jesus: He is not a blasphemer. (cf. Mk 14:64)
The Son not only forgives our sins, He has also conquered death. When Jesus first said that He has overcome death, many of His listeners did not accept it and they walked away in protest. (cf. Jn 6:66) The apostles, though, remained with the Lord on this occasion because they knew Jesus had the words of eternal life. (cf. Jn 6:68)
Jesus has the words of eternal life because He is eternal life. (cf. Jn 11:25) If anyone eats the Lord’s flesh and drinks His blood, the Lord will raise him up. (cf. Jn 6:54) The Eucharist is thus the gateway to eternal life, and no stone – however large – can keep the forgiven sons and daughters of God from delighting in the risen life of Christ.
He who knew no sin was made sin for us, says Saint Paul in the New Testament. (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21) With this expression, the apostle describes what Jesus does to make us righteous before God. (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21) Making use of a similar irony and paradox, Saint Peter proclaims in a post-Resurrection confession of faith. “He is the stone rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.” (Acts 4:11)
We have built for death and we have used stones of mortality by our sinning. Jesus has reversed this pattern by His Resurrection. In Him, the destroyed temple (cf. Jn 2:19) has been astonishingly re-made. Our bodies, in imitation of His, can be gloriously transformed. (cf. Phil 3:21) In the Risen Lord, we have become temples of the Holy Spirit.
This Easter, Christ comes to us, a living stone. (cf. 1 Pt 2:4) Here, at this Eucharist, like at our Baptism, we are being built into a spiritual house. (cf. 1 Pt 2:5) In the household of God (cf. Eph 2:19), all that we are and all that we do is inexorably related to the Holy Eucharist. It is the Lord’s sacramental presence which forms and shapes us inwardly, ratifying our identity as the sons and daughters of our heavenly Father before any other allegiance.
“In my Father’s house,” Jesus tells the apostles at the First Eucharist, “there are many dwelling places.” (Jn 14:2) Even if we bristle under the Father’s headship and throw off the easy yoke of our dwelling with God (cf. Matt 11:30), our status as sons and daughters remains intact because of what Jesus accomplished through the sacrifice of His life upon the altar of the Cross. He has reconciled us with the Father, sealing the covenant in His blood. It is the memorial of the Lord’s passion and Resurrection, the Holy Eucharist, which guarantees our access to the richness of the Father’s mercy. (cf. Eph 2:4)
Who, then, would ever want to stay away from such a splendid thing as the Eucharist? We could stay away if we prefer isolation and withdrawal over union and intimacy and fear and loneliness over trust and solitude. The Risen Lord, though, has conferred a matchless power on union, intimacy, trust and solitude and defeated the enemies of isolation, withdrawal, fear and loneliness. This great movement in history began when the stone was moved out of the way on that first Easter Sunday.
Praised be the Risen Christ!
Solemnity of the Resurrection
Acts 10:34a,37-43; Col 3:1-4; Jn 20:1-9
April 8, 2012