As we approach another weekend of the Paschal season – including the Fourth Sunday of Pascha – it is good to remind ourselves of the place of the Resurrection of Christ in our lives, as that truly “cosmic” event can disappear into the routine of daily life with its endless round of cares and concerns. When this happens, then even the Sunday Liturgy is reduced to the routine of church attendance, and we then re-bury the Risen Lord! Our goal is to experience what we claim: that Our God is a living God, permeating every moment of our existence. As a progressive rock band once sang, “He’s not the kind you have to wind up on Sunday.”
Returning to the Gospel narrative of the Resurrection, it is Saint Matthew who explicitly tells us how the stone had been rolled away from the tomb of Christ: “And behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone….” (Matthew 28:2).
In his book The Year of the Grace of the Lord, Father Lev Gillett offers a “spiritual” or “mystical” (some would say allegorical) reading of this text, so that we can actualize or apply the text to our own lives today. In his own words, Father Lev writes, “This verse is rich with meaning. When the angel of the Lord comes to take away the stone from the sepulcher, he does not roll it gently away. It is not an operation which can be accomplished without effort, without a deep and violent upheaval. An earthquake is necessary. In the same way, the removal of whatever obstacle separated us from Jesus cannot be thought of as a partial adjustment. It is not a matter of taking off or rearranging some loose stones, or modifying some details and leaving the whole as unchanged as possible. In this case too, an earthquake is needed. It is to say that the change must be total, reaching into every aspect of our being. Conversion is a spiritual ‘earthquake’” (page 185).
We cannot smoothly calculate the timing of that “spiritual earthquake.” It might also depend upon our own initiative, though ultimately it is the work of God. The context of Saint Matthew’s Gospel, of course, was the coming of the myrrhbearing women to the tomb. How did they anticipate the removal of the stone? As Father Lev further writes, “The women’s undertaking – humanly speaking – seems to have no hope of success. And yet, they set out. Without knowing how they will be able to get into the sepulcher, they walk towards him. In the same way, without knowing how the obstacles which may prevent us reaching the Savior can be removed, let us trust. We can make a first move: we can get up, we can set out. Let us walk towards Jesus who is separated from us by the heavy stone, and allow faith and hope to guide us.”
The women are not going empty-handed to the sepulcher. They “had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint Him.” We, too, can bring something to the sepulcher. Even if we are stained with very serious sins, we can bring a beginning of good will, the little we have of love, some generosity towards another, our feeble prayer. Doubtless our poor gifts will not bring about the removal of the stone, for our access to the risen Jesus and to the power of His Resurrection remains the magnificent and entirely free gift of divine mercy, but the fact that we do not journey towards the sepulcher with hands that are quite empty will show that our hearts are not quite empty too. Where are the ‘spices’ with which we wish to ‘anoint’ Jesus?” (page 185).
The Resurrection of Christ was the “impossible made possible.” Extraordinary as it is, it is also an “objective” event – or as one of Flannery O’Connor’s characters said, “Jesus is a fact” – that through faith, we appropriate and make our own. When this happens within our minds and hearts, we can rise to newness of life.