When that stone was rolled in front of the tomb of Jesus, it must have seemed as if it was slamming shut on everything Jesus and the disciples had hoped for. It must have seemed, for example, as if it brought to a close his project of renewing the People of God. We think of the twelve disciples as representing the twelve tribes of Israel, and as the forerunners of a whole new expansion of the People of God. All those hopes and dreams were now shattered. The rock across the tomb was a precaution to protect the body from wild animals, and a common enough step in Judea at the time, where burial was difficult in the hardscrabble earth and caves were often used. But the rock must have also seemed like a sign that the hope begun by Jesus had been stopped, brought to an end. His light was extinguished.
The rock becomes a symbol of something bigger. It represents the deadweight of the world's sin, blocking out the future, rolling across our best and brightest hopes. It is a symbol of the weight of the past, which makes us cynical or hopeless. We have all heard those voices that tell us there is no point in trying. In this process of settling down into despair we cease hoping for anything. I remember hearing a story about a man who rebuked some rampaging football fans for behaving badly after their team had lost. One of the men shouted back at him: 'We're only human, you know.' Ah, yes. To be human is to be associated with whatever is gross or weak-willed, and what is more, to justify it as well. This is a kind of death, long before the last breath is drawn. It is the death of ideals, the death of inspiration, the death of any kind of hope. The rock sits firmly across the tomb, and our fate is sealed.
But one of the first lessons you learn in high school physics is the power of the lever. We are taught that a weight which seemingly cannot be moved becomes easy to move, once the lever is brought to bear on it. As pressure is applied through the lever, a weight is raised or resistance is overcome.
With the resurrection of Jesus, the lever of God's love is brought to bear on the rock, which is to say, brought to bear on the very forces of death itself. The rock cannot resist this power. It is rolled away. And as the rock rolls away we discover that Jesus the Christ is not dead, but is risen. God's love has brought him through death into life. Remember, too, that we are in Christ through our baptism. This resurrection is ours through our sharing in the life of Christ. We are taken into eternal life through the power of his resurrection. This is why this Easter, and every Easter, in this church and around the world, people are being baptized. Baptism brings us into the life of Christ risen from the dead.
The life of Christ begins here and now. We inherit its fullness in eternity, but it has already begun through the power of God's grace. We could not believe in Christ's resurrection and want to leave the world the way it is. We could not, for that matter, believe in Christ's resurrection and want to leave our own lives untouched. Think of the symbols that we use this evening. We began with fire.
Fire is energy, an energy that can be dangerous, yes, but an energy that drives our whole universe. To believe in Christ risen from the dead is to find in him an energy and an urgency about the fate of the world. Clothe the naked, he tells us. Feed the starving. Challenge complacency - including your own. Do not allow cynicism or despair to erode life within you. Where I am with you, says Jesus, my life will be like a spring of water ever-flowing within you, to refresh and renew.
The gospel according to John tells us that near the end of his hours on the cross, Jesus cried out: 'It is accomplished!' (John 19.30). In the light of the resurrection we now understand that what is accomplished is never a past event. It is always present, here and now, reaching into our lives. No wonder that when the priest takes the paschal candle at the start of the Easter Vigil service, he says 'Christ yesterday and today, the beginning and the end.' Christ is our end not just in the sense of our destination, but in the sense of the one who gives us our purpose, our goal, who helps us orientate our lives. In Christ the love of God made known among us rolls away the stone and calls us out, just as Lazarus was called out of the tomb. He sets us free for new life, and joins us to many others, all of us an Easter people.
Fr Terry is Parish Priest at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Brook Green, west London. His new book: Ronald Knox and English Catholicism is published by Gracewing at £12.99 and is available on Amazon, from religious booksellers and from the publisher.
For more information see: www.holytrinityw6.org