I don’t know how I missed it before in all of the times I’ve read the story of the resurrection, but the women went to the tomb knowing full well they would not be able to roll the stone away. Early in the morning while it was still dark, they woke up and went to the tomb with their spices. This was what you did as a woman when you were grieving. This was the job, the next thing, the expectation that would get you up out of bed in the morning when all your other routines and comforts were lost in the fog of grief. Their Lord had died, and while they did not know what to do without him, they knew that they had a job to do. They needed to anoint his body.
And so, the text tells us, they made their way to the tomb that early, dark morning. But then, Mark gives us a curious detail. Mark’s Gospel is short, concise, and to the point. When Mark gives details, they serve a purpose. In verse 3, it says this: “They [The women] had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’” They went knowing that they could not do the job they set out to do unless they had help. But, they went anyway.
They went because they heard the song of Love. They heard Love calling out to them to go and tend to their friend and Lord, even when it didn’t make sense and seemed impossible. They heard Love calling out to them on that dark morning, and they gave in to Love.
Love is calling out to us, too. Will we give in to it and follow? I love the way Bishop Michael Curry says this: “When God, who is love, becomes our spiritual center of gravity, and love our moral compass, we live differently, regardless of what the world around us does. The world changes for the better, one life at a time.”
I am reminded of this verse written by hymn writer P.C. Croll:
Who shall roll the stone away?
Thus the pious women spoke,
As they went at break of day,
While each heart with anguish broke;
Though the way was dark throughout,
Though fond hope was mixed with doubt,
Yet an impulse made them brave—
Holy love led to His grave.
When we are disoriented by grief, or shocked by the ways of the world, or confused by a situation and we don’t know what to do, we are called to do what the women did: give in to love. They got up. They put one foot in front of the other. And even though the task in front of them seemed impossible because the mighty and heavy stone was in the way, they set out to do it anyway. They gave in to love.
And, a funny thing happens. Mark continues in verse four: “When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back.” Just as they wondered what they would do about the obstacle in the way, they looked up and it had already been taken care of. Doesn’t that happen so many times? We worry that something won’t work out, or that we won’t have what we need, and we look up and God has taken care of it. With the obstacle out of the way, the women continue to do what they came to do, but instead of finding the body of Jesus inside the tomb, they see a young man dressed in white clothing. They are told that Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! And they are told to go and share the good news with the disciples.
Instead, the women are afraid and they run away. Verse eight tells us that they said nothing about the resurrection to anyone. Throughout the Gospel of Mark, Jesus tells people not to tell anyone who he is. Some scholars call this “the Messianic secret.” Jesus tells people to keep his identity a secret, but instead they go and tell the world about this teacher who can heal, teach with authority, and proclaim the kingdom of God. But now? Now that the time is right and this messenger tells the women to tell the good news to others, they are too afraid to do it. They scatter and tell no one. How’s that for irony?
But we know – both from later verses in this chapter from Mark and from the other Gospels that the women didn’t remain afraid. When the reality of the resurrection started to sink in for them, they gave in to Love and they obeyed.
They obeyed Love by telling the others. Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, and she obeyed Love and told the others. The others did not believe her. Jesus then appeared to two more, and those two obeyed Love and told the others. The others still did not believe. They did not believe until Jesus appeared to them himself, and then he gave them the charge to go into the world and proclaim the good news to the whole world.”
We are here celebrating the resurrection because the disciples obeyed Love. They went into the world. They risked their lives to obey Love. And because of them, we heard the good news and had the opportunity to believe.
In the year 400, John Chrysostom preached an Easter sermon that says everything. Every Easter, I read his sermon again and I wonder what my sermon could say that his didn’t already say. He concluded his Easter sermon this way:
Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?
Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!
Friends in Christ, we have gathered here and found the tomb empty. We have listened to love and trusted love. In these days of Eastertide and resurrection, let us also give into love and obey love’s call. After all, Christ is risen – he is risen indeed. Alleluia! Amen!