“Who will roll away the stone?”
They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. – Mark 16:3 & 4
More than any of the other gospels, the Gospel of Mark attaches a deep sense of mystery to the resurrection. St. Mark begins his account of it by telling us about the four brown women who are groping in the dark seeking a missing body. It ends with them fleeing in wonder and fear-stricken silence.
Part of the theological underpinning of St. Mark’s narrative of Jesus’s resurrection is that it draws all participants into the center of the drama – each revealing their own insecurities. As much as it is about the missing body there is much more on how each person responds based upon their individual relationship with Jesus. The women who journeyed to the tomb carried spices in their hands, but they also carried their own baggage, histories, and aptitudes. Their grief-stricken souls were heavy. And the question of who will roll the stone away means much more than just moving a rock from a hole in the wall.
We are like them. Many of us throughout this past year have been carrying Covid-19 fears along with the mental and physical burden of a future that is not yet revealed or fully conceptualized. Yet we continue onwards on our personal pilgrimage and communal journey.
My friends, over the past week we have been drawn to our televisions to witness the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin. As much as we would prefer to look away from the horror of the last brutal moments of George Floyd’s fleeting life, we are gripped by the display of pure inhumanity of one person against another. Mary Magdalene and the other women were stunned by the white-clad figure who greeted them when they arrived at the open tomb, telling them not to be alarmed.
We are similarly stunned anew by the callousness of the knee planted in George Floyd’s neck. And it hurts us to hear the testimony of the trial witnesses as they tell us about their struggle with the question of whether they could have done more to save the life of someone they knew was equal to them in humanity. But they couldn’t have done more. Being there, recording it was a miracle. They were helpless witnesses to a death-imbued drama written by a centuries-old history of racism and hatred and inhumanity. Our hearts break as they confess the burden of guilt they feel. But they were caught in a tide in which they were all as powerless as George Floyd. And a part of each of them died on the street with him.
My friends, I must confess that this trial gives the fullness of the Good Friday drama new depths of understanding. On Good Friday many years ago, it wasn’t Jesus who was on trial. On trial was human frailty, greed, lust for power, and all the other evils that occur when God is pushed out of the room. Each step of the way on Good Friday those many years ago and on the street corner of Minneapolis last year, whenever God sought to intervene and transform the outcome, deeper pressure was applied to the knee on the neck. Jesus, like George Floyd and many other black men and women, died from suffocation. He and they could no longer breathe. Slavery and its descendants has the harrowing power of dehumanizing God’s people. The new State voting laws arising are modern off springs.
How can one explain the death of innocence in each witness from the youngest child to a teenage boy to an elderly man? From a professional standing afar to a medic who much like the Good Samaritan could not just pass by. Each one of them shouted loudly for mercy, compassion, and care. Yet the more they shouted the greater was the force applied to chase God off the street corner. Care and compassion bled and died in the corridors of power and politics in Jerusalem and on the streets of urban communities. They died in supermarkets in Colorado in classrooms in Sandy Hook, Parkland, the Capitol building and in cages at the Mexican border.
My friends, on trial today is not just a police officer but a nation built upon three hundred years of human depravity. What is on trial are all the societal norms and structures which support a horrible, unjust system. Who is on trial is not Jesus and his acts of love, or George Floyd and his addiction and mental health issues? The trial is about the communal power of sin committed by leaders in Government, Corporate America, and yes, Religion! Together they conspire to stir up a brew of hatred, fear, greed, and lust for power. The result is a continuous flow of innocent blood in the streets.
For too long the church has either turned its eyes away or added its own flavor to this demonic pot even as its leaders sheepishly claim willful ignorance in order to wash their hands like Pontius Pilate did on Good Friday thousands of years ago.
My friends, we can no longer allow ourselves the luxury of rushing to Easter without appreciating the depths and darkness of Good Friday. I am one of those who believe that Good Friday was the real turning point of Christianity. No other Biblical incident receives this amount of detail in all the Gospel narratives. Easter in many ways is the afterthought … a hung jury. On Easter Sunday, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome are seeking a verdict. In many ways, Easter Sunday leaves us with more questions than answers. Is this story for real? Can we build our faith on a mystery in a world which abhors vacuums and knowledge gaps? Can we build our faith on a mystery in a time of Google, Wikipedia, and interplanetary travel?
Dear friends in Christ, as we celebrate the joys of Easter it is valuable to know the extent of the victory we are called to share. It is important to understand that we Christians are called to reach a verdict. On Easter we each must make a personal statement that we universally declare to the world: Jesus was innocent! And He retains the power not only to soothe the victims and the witnesses, and to forgive the persecutors.
We must challenge the myths of Easter being about a white-clad angel gloriously telling the story of the Resurrection to three brown women. No, Easter is so much more. Easter reminds us that God in Jesus remains the only source through which broken witnesses can become instruments of healing salvation and freedom because Jesus removes the stones and bears the burdens. Easter is you and me boldly declaring that we will spend the rest of our lives looking at life through the eyes of the victims of the world. For it is through the eyes and the stripes of the victims that can we be restored to the fullness of our humanity. “and by His stripes we are healed.” (Is. 53:5)
Easter is not just about an empty tomb or a resurrected Jesus myth. At its heart, Easter is our only hope for human salvation and survival. Easter is our personal opportunity to declare Jesus’ innocence and to live into that declaration of innocence by resisting evil, seeking, and serving Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves, striving for justice and peace among all people and respecting the dignity of every human being. (Episcopal Marks of Mission)
Unless we do this, we will continue to hurtle along to our mutual demise and destruction. Even as the wealthy plan their escape to Mars after their unabated greed and covetousness has destroyed the world and left us behind. God help the Martians! What is your verdict?