Who will roll away the stone for us? – Mark 16:3
It was the first day of the rest of history and Mary, Mary, and Salome had a problem. They knew where Jesus’ body had been laid. They knew that they wanted to give him a proper burial by tending his body, anointing him with spices, straightening his mangled limbs, and mourning over him. But they also knew that they would be unable to get into the tomb. It was blocked. The stone was too big. They needed pry bars and muscle, and there were only three of them. “Who will roll away the stone for us?”
But the women went anyway out of deep devotion to Jesus. They had to get to Jesus. Whatever happens, happens. Maybe they will be able to put their shoulders to the stone, angle it away? Maybe there will be a gardener who could help? At the very least, they could slump against the flinty chill exterior, weep there, pray there, wonder why God’s steadfast love had seemed to cease that morning, feet from Jesus’ body. The women had devotion. Wherever Jesus was, they wanted to be there with him. So they just went to see what would happen.
To get there, they had to overcome the immovable objects within them: fear of the Roman guards, precipitous sadness, cinder-tasting doubt that anything mattered. We’ve all got these things, the blockages that keep us from going to Jesus: our ambivalence or tiredness or supposed busy-ness. We’ve got modernity’s ancient-new cynicism, sleek as a smart bomb. And so we don’t go to Jesus. Like the rich young ruler, we have too much at stake (Matthew 19:21-22). We’re too rich or proud or jaded or bored.
The external immovable object they faced was easy by comparison: it was just a big rock. In one way, getting that rock out of the way was only a matter of applying brute force and some brainy wedging. Give them a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it.
In this last year, we’ve had some of these sorts of externals as well, inertial forces like stones: lockdowns and shutdowns as we count down the days when normal might come inching back.
But Jesus said that if we have small faith, mustard seed faith, we can move mountains–or rather: he can move mountains through us. Like the women at the tomb, those apostles to the apostles, we begin to have the faith to go to Jesus regardless of the obstacles. We don’t wait until we have it all figured out. Yes, there are stones in the way that we cannot deal with ourselves. Yes, the path is dark, blocked, and unknown. But Jesus is there, so we go.
It seems to me that this is where the church is at right now, in this new space opened up after Easter. Things fell apart last year, in all the ways you already know. But the big, external stones have begun to be shunted to the side and now what’s left is the hard inside angles of apathy and acedia as we move beyond where planning can take us. Will people come back? Is there hope for our congregation? What’s next?
For now, forget the hows and whats. Jesus knows the way out of the grave, and because of that there’s already little shoots of hope and new life. There are Easter baptisms and a longing for something fuller after a beggarly year. The church gathers again. We all see the obstacles, hard as granite and veined with impossibilities. But like those first women at the tomb, now is the time to simply go to Jesus in devotion. And see what happens.