These women got up before daybreak, they gathered together the spices and salts they could find in order to tend the body of their beloved teacher, unjustly killed three days before. They did not deny the harsh reality that faced them; their lives looked very different without their Jesus at the helm, and yet in spite of their grief, perhaps because of their grief, they kept putting one foot in front of the other. They did not quit, or refuse to move, they plodded along, they lugged the heavy baskets of spices with them to do for Jesus’ body the same thing they’d done for their parents and friends, their neighbors and relatives, when they had each breathed their last.
Their actions were ordinary, everyday rituals. Theirs was a world full of death, where illnesses and accidents abound, the frailty of human life obvious at every turn. Their beloved teacher’s death was a tragic one, and all the more infuriating for its injustice, for he had done nothing wrong. Their response to this harrowing ordeal was to enact the same ritual they’d done countless times before, the same habit that their mothers had taught them; they came to tend the body.
Women, even today, are given special authority over the bodies of loved ones. Moms feed families and friends with produce from the fridge and stove — maybe even produce from the backyard or an urban chicken coop. Daughters are more often the children at parents’ deathbeds; mothers grow and birth children from their very own bodies, nourish them with water made milk from their own bodies; nurses are more often women, and in medicine, nurses are the front line of ailing bodies. The women who love Jesus show their devotion in the tending of his body, even after death, even in numbing grief, even in grave injustice.
As they are on their way to the tomb, “They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us?’” They had started out on this pre-dawn journey, this trek through the dark, without clear certainty for each step of the way. I wonder why they had the boldness to get up and go; I wonder why, in the midst of dizzying grief and paralyzing fear, these women went anyway. What made them get out of bed while it was still dark, while their mourning was still sharp in their hearts, while their goal was mired by obstacles, and their bodies full of sadness.
Hold these women and their question — who will roll away the stone for us — in your hearts as we travel further back in time, as we think about the long readings earlier this evening.
Who will roll away the stone for us? Who will take away the obstacle that’s too big for me to move? Who will clear the path?
This gathering we’re in right now, the kindling of fire we undertook, the reading of Scriptures, the singing together, the prayers; they’re all modeled on an ancient Jewish ritual, the Passover. As slaves in Egypt, on the Eve of their release from Pharaoh’s grasp, the people of God came together and told each other their stories, their witness, their testimony, of how God had shown up for them in the past, of the sort of character that God has, of the kind of actions God takes to show his love to his people. We have done the same thing tonight, and here on the other side of Jesus’ resurrection, that is, in 2018, as we are, we look back to the work that God has done with humanity over thousands of years, and we look back through the glasses of the resurrection, through the perspective of the life, death, and raising of Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Look back with me, and stand yourself next to Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome.
“In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth,” God made light. God formed the water, and God breathed his own breath and life into humankind. This God, revealed in Scripture, creates out of his own love, out of his own joy. In creation, God is shown to be the one who makes light and life, those two things by which we exist.
In Exodus God says to his people through Moses, I “will fight for you, you have only to keep still.” The recounting of what God did for his people on the shores of the Red Sea is, indeed, the only reading that’s required to be part of this Passover service; God’s complete provision, of his leading the people through the threatening waters to dry land, separating his precious people from their oppressors, from the ones who held them captive, from the ones who were their masters, this truth of God’s character is not separable from what we witness at this Vigil of God’s coming again in Jesus, and of his complete and eternal triumph over death.
Who will roll away this stone for us? Who will clear the path? Who will lead us through the obstacles that leave us helpless?
God. God will roll away the stone for us. God will clear the path. God will lead us through the obstacles that leave us helpless.
The women had spent years with Jesus, some of them were no doubt, good Jewish women who had grown up hearing the stories and witnesses, the accounts and testimonies of God’s faithfulness, love, relationship, and work with his people throughout time. The women set out on their journey before they had worked out exactly how the stone would be rolled away, they knew their work and went about it, not overcome or defeated by the work they could not accomplish anyway.
What path are you called to? To what journey does God in Jesus Christ call you? Brothers and sisters, step out; despite grief and anger, illness or despair, put one foot in front of the other, just do the next right thing. Know that the God of history, the God of creation, the God revealed in the person of Jesus Christ will make the path before you, will smooth out the obstacles, will help you over and through the stones which bar your way.
Who will roll away the stone for us? God.