Easter Season Guest Author Series: the Rev. Bert Baetz on Mark 16:5

“As [the women] entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed.”                                                                                - Mark 16:5
 
Following the Maundy Thursday service, a woman who has spent her entire life in our church said to me, "I have never noticed the altar looking like it did tonight.  With everything gone, it looked like a tomb." 
 
Every year, with the stripping of the altar on Maundy Thursday, we ritualize the words Jesus spoke from the cross: my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  It is on the Thursday in Holy Week when we celebrate the Eucharist for the last time in the season of Lent, and we then remove all the vessels, hangings, worship books, candles, the consecrated elements, and everything else that feeds our deepest spiritual hunger.  That night, when all had been stripped away and all the living sacrifices had been taken out of the sanctuary, our limestone slab of an altar and the large rough rock on which it rests looked like a tomb, no doubt. 
 
Three days later, on Easter Day, the sanctuary had a completely different look and feel to it.  That morning, the children in our parish had flowered the cross inside the sanctuary, and so at the appointed time for their sermon, I invited the children to come forward and peer into the sanctuary.  They could see the flowered cross, the Easter lilies, and the living bodies dressed in white robes.  Coupled with the Easter story from the gospel of Mark, we could still see the large stone in our sanctuary, but in that spiritual territory, the stone had been rolled away, and we discovered life.
 
In the final verses of Mark's gospel, the stone clearly assumes great significance in the story; it represents something to everybody involved and invested in the outcome of this story.  In an Easter Day sermon, the Rev. Dr. Sam Wells brought this to light for me in just how strong of a symbol the stone can be in the story.  We can imagine that stone, he says, through the eyes of the different participants in the Easter story.  [1]
 
Interestingly, on their way to the tomb, the women were concerned about one thing in particular, the stone.  The women had been saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us?"  The stone was that inanimate, but seemingly immovable object that kept them in the past; the stone only represented the memory of the dream that had died.
 
The stone represented something else to the Roman and Judean authorities; it was the immovable object that seemed to demonstrate their power and control in that present moment.  For those authorities, the stone seemed to suggest that things were going to stay the same. 
 
And yet, because the stone had been rolled away, we can be sure that everything about the past, present, and future has changed.  In his sermon, Sam Wells says, "For Jesus, the stone represented the future.  It was the symbol that nothing can separate the Father from him or him from us."
 
We have our own stones, and we might ask the same question as the women: who will roll away this stone?  It is that large and seemingly immovable object between us and God.  Who will roll away this stone?  And then, on Easter Day, with the women, we discover the Truth; the stone has been rolled away and nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  We enter that space where we come to know the future with Christ raised from the dead.
 
On Easter Day at St. Peter's, I watched the children enter the sanctuary and flower the cross.  They entered that space so freely; it was not unlike the first Easter when the women so freely entered the tomb to find a young man, dressed in a white robe.  In my white vestments, surrounded by lilies and children, I sat on the small wooden step-stool inside the sanctuary, told the story, and shared in the good news of Easter.  Alleluia.  Christ is risen.  The Lord is risen indeed.  Alleluia.
 
Bert is the rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Kerrville, TX.

[1] http://chapel-archives.oit.duke.edu/documents/April24TheRollingStones.pdf
 
 
[1] http://chapel-archives.oit.duke.edu/documents/April24TheRollingStones.pdf