The very practical and simple question Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome ask: Who will roll back the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb, is one that these two faithful and brave disciples don’t actually have an answer to as they approach the tomb. And yet, their grieving and longing hearts will not allow this real obstacle to delay their urgent steps to honor what they believe will be the lifeless body of their beloved Lord and Master. Thinking ahead and planning for all eventualities are certainly important and even necessary in our everyday lives, but when it comes to our spiritual lives and our relationship with Christ, it is not always possible and perhaps not always desirable.
Paul’s reminder that we walk by faith and not by sight, underscores the fact that the actual means for attaining certain spiritual goals and obtaining the fulfillment of specific promises we feel God has made to us, are not always going to be clear. Indeed, Abraham was being asked to literally sacrifice the one means whereby God’s promise to him would presumably be fulfilled. But like the women resolutely making for the tomb and not knowing how they will roll back the stone, Abraham—drawing on pure faith—sets his face towards the land of Moriah. So too in approaching the major obstacle of the Sea, with Pharaoh’s army pressing in from behind, Moses and the Israelites had to likewise summon their faith and trustingly walk into the parted sea with walls of threatening water to their left and right.
In each of our lives there are (or have been) those seemingly immovable stones that seem to block our progress forward. At times, we have to admit, we have turned back or halted our journey because there seemed to be no point in continuing. As a monastic community struggling to grow and flourish we can’t help wondering who will roll back what seem like great stones impeding our progress and threatening to nullify our efforts and so undermine our resolve. The question, who will roll back the stone for us, is a consoling reminder that the questions or even the doubts that we may have concerning God’s promises to us are not problematic provided that like Abraham, Moses, the Israelites, and the two women, we keep walking even when doing so seems to make little sense.
For each one of us there is also that ultimate journey we are taking towards our own tomb and that crucial question of who will roll back the stone from our graves so that we may rise from them—not to resume this earthly life, but rather the glorious life that we believe is now Christ’s. Yes, we believe that it will be Christ who will roll back that stone but we don’t know that except by faith. As monks we have staked our very lives and our entire existence on God’s promise of new and eternal life proving true, otherwise our lives make no sense. We may not know exactly how that stone will be rolled away and allow us to emerge from the darkness of death into the glorious light of the resurrection, but along with Saint Paul we believe that the one who calls [us] is faithful and will also accomplish it.
And so, as the same apostle admonishes, let us continue to support one another as we press forward together in faith on our earthly pilgrimage. And during times of darkness, confusion and doubt let us recall (and imitate) that host of believers who have gone before us also not knowing who will roll back the stone, and yet pressing on regardless. Only in this way will we be able to say with Saint Paul: I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.