Once upon a time, three friends die. They find themselves standing in front of the pearly gates with St. Peter. He tells them that before they can enter heaven, they have to tell him about the meaning of Easter. The first friend says, “Easter is a big holiday where we give thanks, have a big feast and eat turkey.” “Nooooo,” said St. Peter. “You don’t get in.” The second friend says, “Easter is the holiday that we celebrate Jesus’ being born of the virgin and give gifts to each other.” “Nooooo,” said St. Peter. “You don’t get in, either.” The third friend says, “Well, I know what Easter is all about. Easter is a Christian holy day that coincides with the Jewish Passover. After Jesus celebrates Passover with His disciples, He is betrayed by Judas and turns over to the Romans. They crucify Him on a cross. After He dies, they bury him in a tomb and put a huge boulder in front of it.” “Very good!” said St. Peter. But, the friend continues. “Now, every year, the Jews roll the stone away and Jesus comes out. If He sees his shadow, we have six more weeks of basketball.” Needless to say, St. Peter fainted!
Who rolls away the stone in front of the tomb of Jesus? It is only the Gospel of Matthew that claims that an angel descends from heaven and rolls away the stone. The other three Gospels write that when the women arrive at the tomb the stone is already removed. So, who removed the stone? Think about this: what if Jesus rolled it away?
There is a fascinating song by the music group, Mumford and Sons that goes like this:
Roll away your stone, I’ll roll away mine
Together we can see what we will find
Don’t leave me alone at this time,
For I am afraid of what I will discover inside
You told me that I would find a hole,
Within the fragile substance of my soul
And I have filled this void with things unreal,
And all the while my character it steals
Darkness is a harsh term don’t you think?
And yet it dominates the things I seek…
What if…what if today you ask Jesus to roll away your stone, and, I’ll ask him to roll away mine? What would happen? When people arrive at the tomb of Jesus all sorts of reactions take place. Some are afraid. Some are astonished. Others run to see the proof. Some say that the empty tomb is women’s gossip. Only a few believe. It is not until they hear the Risen Christ, it is not until they see they eat a meal with the Risen Christ, it is not until they behold the wounds of the Risen Christ that the witnesses come to believe that the dark damp tomb of death is empty.
To illustrate, if you follow the news about Pope Francis you will remember his brave and prophetic service of Holy Thursday. At Rome’s prison for incarcerated teenagers, Pope Francis washed the feet of ten young men and two young women. While this is a gigantic in and of itself, this gesture moved Fr. Mike Kennedy, the Jesuit director of the Jesuit Restorative Justice Initiative in Los Angeles. Fr. Mike works as chaplain at the LA juvenile prison and assists these teen convicts to roll away the stone from the tombs. “When the young boys at the juvenile detention facility in LA heard of Pope Francis’ wish to celebrate the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper at Rome’s Casal del Marmo prison with the young inmates there, many of them expressed their desire to participate from afar and in close solidarity to what the Pope was going to do in another juvenile hall. To do this they have written letters to Pope Francis, thanking him for his gesture of love and service, praying for him – as he has asked all of us to do, describing the sadness of their lives in detention, and asking for prayers to help them endure the darkness and hopelessness of their situations… As father Kennedy points out, some of these youngsters will spend the rest of their lives in prison.”
Dear Pope Francis,
Thank you for washing the feet of youth like us in Italy. We also are young and made mistakes. Society has given up on us, thank you that you have not given up on us.
Dear Pope Francis,
I think you are a humble man. When you read this letter you will have washed the feet of other kids like. I am writing this letter because you give me hope. I know one day with people like you us kids won’t be given sentences that will keep us in prison for the rest of our lives. I pray for you. Don’t forget us.
Dear Pope Francis,
Tonight we pray for all victims of violence. The families of people we have hurt need healing. Our families need healing. We are all in pain. Let us feel Jesus’ healing tonight.
Dear Pope Francis,
I don’t know if you have ever been to where I live. I have grown up in a jungle of gangs and drugs and violence. I have seen people killed. I have been hurt. We have been victims of violence. It is hard to be young and surrounded by darkness. Pray for me that one day I will be free and be able to help other youth like you do.
These young people are asking the Risen Crucified Christ to help them roll away the stones from their tombs And it all began on Holy Thursday with the humble example of the Holy Father!
Who rolls away the stone from your tomb? I have a few monks at home who keep me honest and who challenge me. They make sure that I do not walk back into the darkness. It can be safe there- back in that tomb. No one sees what I do, who I am and what I become. But this is not the Christian life. The Jesuit Fr. James Martin once said that for the most part many of us are Holy Saturday people. While we will probably not experience the horror of Good Friday, the majority of us sits and waits for the stone to be moved so we can experience Easter Sunday.
Today Jesus tells us that he will help us move away the stone. You roll away your stone. I will roll away mine. Become like yeast, St. Paul says. Clean out the old. Let the new batch rise. Brothers and sisters, Christ is Risen from the tomb. Truly, He is Risen!
The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.
Easter Sunday at Sacred Heart Monastery Chapel