You know the story. It is the festival of Passover, and Jerusalem is full of pilgrims. They welcome Jesus with shouts of joy, pulling palms off the trees to wave in the air, pulling coats off their backs to lay in the streets. Jesus preaches and prays among them, overturning tables and changing hearts until, on Thursday, he is betrayed and arrested. Until, on Friday, he is tried and crucified and breathes his last.
Then Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the council and a man of great faith, requests Jesus’ body. Joseph takes Jesus down from the cross, wraps him in clean linen and lays him in a new rock-hewn tomb in the presence of women. He rolls a great stone over the door of the tomb.
The Saturday, the Sabbath day, passes in silence. Then, on the first day of the week, at early dawn, Mary Magdalene and other women – in this gospel telling, a whole group of women – come to the tomb with spices to embalm the body. They gather in the dim light at the new tomb where they watched Jesus be buried.
But something has changed. The heavy stone that sealed the tomb has been rolled away. Mary and the women cannot find the body of Jesus. As they stand, perplexed, two angels appear beside them, saying, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” The women remember Jesus’ words. They go and tell the news to the disciples and all who are gathered.
You know the story. But it is still a mystery. What happens on that Saturday, on that Sabbath? What happens to the body of Jesus in the silent darkness of that tomb? How does the great stone roll away? How do we arrive at Alleluia?
How do we arrive at Alleluia? It’s not only this one story. There are others like it.
A woman scarred by childhood abuse is filled with anger and resentment. But working with a psychologist, she is able to imagine her violent mother as a little girl. She recognizes her mother as a wounded child full of pain: someone just like her. And so, she forgives her mother, without ever having received an apology. She forgives her mother, for her own health and happiness. Through this forgiveness, their relationship is transformed into one of close friendship. The woman, a filmmaker, creates a film to share her story. She says: “I am lucky to have gotten to this place and blessed I can help others do the same” (Read more here). Alleluia.
20 years after genocide in Rwanda, perpetrators and survivors come together to consider reconciliation. One perpetrator says: “The day I thought of asking pardon, I felt unburdened and relieved. I had lost my humanity because of the crime I committed, but now I am like any human being.” The survivor says, “When he asked my pardon, I said, ‘I have nothing to feed my children. Are you going to help raise my children? Are you going to build a house for them?’ The next week, he came with others, more than 50 of them, and they built my family a house. Ever since then, I have started to feel better. I was like a dry stick; now I feel peaceful in my heart, and I share this peace with my neighbors” (Read more here). Alleluia.
How do we get to Alleluia? What is the mystery that turns a full tomb into an empty one? What is the mystery that changes a relationship of hate into one of love? How can that mystery enter into our lives, into our stories of loss and pain and broken relationships, and begin a new life within us?
As followers of Jesus, we give this mystery the name: resurrection. In these stories, it doesn’t happen right away. Resurrection takes time. When tragedy strikes, we wrap the body with clean linen and place it in the tomb. We find a safe space to hide our hurt away. When we are ready to heal, we prepare spices and return to the tomb. We come back to the memories we have hidden. All this is something we can do for ourselves, something we have to do for ourselves and for one another. But it is God who rolls away the stone. It is God who empties the tomb. It is God who raises the body. It is God who sends angels to help us understand what has happened. It is God who takes our hard heart work and makes the miracle, moves in the mystery, liberating us from pain and death and giving us new life.
The angels say: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” At Easter God invites us to visit our graves and then to leave them behind. At Easter God invites us to abandon the heavy burdens we have been carrying, to let those heavy stones roll away and allow our bodies to rise. May it be so with you, with each of you, with every one of us. May we rise into new life, and then, perplexed and amazed, let us share the good news: Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.