Reflections During the Easter Vigil

on the Gospel of Mark 16:1-8—April 3, 2021 by Sister Mary Forman, Prioress

As I pondered our Gospel story this past week, what stayed with me were the words of the women, who are the first to go to the tomb, presumably to anoint the body of Jesus: 

“‘Who will roll back the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’” (Mark 16:3).  But when they got there, Mark relates: “They saw that the stone had been rolled back; it was very large” (Mark 16:4).  During this past year, a long lent indeed with respect to the pandemic, we have all experienced stones too large to roll back by ourselves.

–We’ve witnessed the huge stone of the pandemic, for which it took a huge number of scientists to study, analyze and devise vaccines; and all manner of directives to keep ourselves and those around us safe.

–We’ve witnessed the huge stone of sorrow and grief we all bear in our hearts at the loss of so many dear ones, not only in this country, but all over the world. The folks who pray, who listen with tears in their eyes and love in their hearts, who hug the lonely, scared and bereaved—they all roll that stone back a ways to show that God is standing there in the empty tomb of sorrow along with the sorrowing.

–We’ve witnessed the huge stone of outcries at police brutality visited on our African American brothers and sisters, which has been met with peaceful protests and movements that examine our consciences regarding racism and white privilege.

–We’ve witnessed the huge stone of violence and injustice resulting from prejudice visited on the Indigenous peoples, Hispanics and most recently Asian Americans in our land, with cries from them to be treated with dignity and respect.

–We’ve witnessed the huge stone of hate released at the Capital by those believing the election was stolen, yet the senators and representatives were kept safe by quick-thinking guards and the police, one of whom gave up his life.

–We’ve witnessed the huge stone of people fleeing violence and injustice and hunger in their homelands and seeking asylum, safety and the opportunity to live their dreams of hope. Yet, they are being met with mixed reactions of fear, protectionism, and shelter in over-crowded conditions, along with compassionate care, attentiveness to their stories of pain and fear, and provision of necessities.

–We’ve witnessed the huge stone of fear that strikes our hearts when confronted with the effects of climate change and all those left without electricity, drinkable water, their homes damaged by floods and tornadoes and the countless animals and people left homeless by fires in drought-stricken areas. Yet even that stone has been rolled back a little by firefighters, first responders, national guard men and women and neighbors reaching out to neighbors and strangers, who provide shelter, resources and comfort.

Then, too, there are the stones we carry in our hearts, which maybe are mere pebbles of resentment, memories of past hurts or perceived slights, or times we were unable to extend the hand of forgiveness or friendship to another.  The Risen Lord waits with us at the tomb of these wounds to heal and bring us to new life, if we but surrender to the grace of letting go.

Tonight we come to celebrate the God, who did not leave us this past year, although we may have had moments we wondered where that God was. The angel at the tomb tells Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome and us, “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here…He is going before you to Galilee [that is to any place where we live]. There you will see him, as he told you.” [Mark 16:6-7] My brothers and sisters, Christ is risen and you will see him in the faces of all who have reached out in kindness, in loving gestures of welcome, in healing care both to the dying and their families, in the countless numbers of anonymous folks, who carried on with courage, and fortitude and humble service.  The stones, though huge, are being rolled back and our empty tombs are signs to see the Lord of the Living in our midst—in our towns, communities and families. 

Many years ago my mother told me that after my father’s death, she regularly stopped by the cemetery to visit his grave after she finished her shift as nurse at the Veteran’s Hospital. One day as she walked the grounds of the cemetery, she heard this voice within, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5) She knew then that her immediate mourning time was ebbing and her memories of the love between her and my father were sending her to care for the living. Thereafter, no veteran about to die on her watch ever died alone, for she made sure to be in the room, holding their hand and praying silently for their release into the arms of God. In a sense she anointed the bodies of the dying by her presence and prayer. So, let us go into whatever Galilee, to which we are called, trusting the Risen One to be with us, assisting us to roll back the stones with the assistance of others.

Blessings in the Risen Lord!