As we reflect on the meaning of Easter in light of our gospel today, I would like to suspend theological considerations for a while and focus instead on a more personal question: Do you believe? This may seem like a funny question to ask a group of people filling a chapel on Easter Sunday, but you see there are many Christians who believe with their heads but who in their heart of hearts are actually convinced that they are damned. They are afraid to come out of or feel trapped in the tomb. They are convinced that they don’t deserve to return to life. Their hatred for themselves condemns them to their own hell. The woman suffering tremendous guilt from an abortion, the man who has destroyed his family through infidelity, the college student fighting an addiction to internet pornography, are just a few who feel that they are excluded from salvation - that there is no hope. They forget - we forget - that there is no one for whom Jesus did not die. Jesus descends into their hell to bring them out of the tomb. There is no one who he does not love. There is no one for whom he will not descend to the dead to bring to a New Life.
Christians through the centuries have focused a lot of reflection on that large stone laid to the mouth of the tomb - and for good reason. When Mary Magdalene went to the tomb she found the stone removed. That large material object – which was also the most convincing objection to faith – was gone; and she was the first witness to this. The Risen Lord would show later on that he could no longer be restricted by material conditions: “When… the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them”. And so, that stone could not have held him prisoner in the tomb. Its removal was a sign of the resurrection, not a condition for it. Bede the Venerable wrote, “The angel rolled back the stone not to throw open a way for our Lord to come forth, but to provide evidence to people that he had already come forth.”
No tomb on earth can hold the Lord; no material stone, however heavy, can imprison him. But we should not imagine that material stones are the hardest and heaviest things in the world. Who would have guessed that thoughts, which are made of nothing at all, could be heavier and harder than any stone? But experience tells us it is so. We are able to seal our minds and hearts with impenetrable stones of fear, anxiety and despair. “To behold the resurrection, the stone must first be rolled away from our hearts.”
All of us in some way or other find ourselves in a tomb. All of us suffer an inner chaos as our worldly lives fight our spiritual lives, as doubt contends with faith, and our personal integrity is torn apart. In many ways we are all afraid to let go of our dependence on the things of this world, afraid to let go of our selfishness, afraid to trust in God and the promise of his love. Christ descends into the chaos of each of our lives and says “Come out of the tomb with me and into a new life. Be not afraid.”