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God needs stone rollers—people with willing hands and open hearts

Enraged Pacific
Fire, water, endless destruction
Hope and hopelessness collide.   Nohea

This haiku poem, written following the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, reminds us of the reality of the world in which we live.  The reality is apparent to us:  We are truly living in a world, in which hope and hopelessness seem to be meeting one another in great, crashing waves—destruction and devastation for miles, uncertainty about loved ones, food shortages, the ongoing crisis of high levels of radiation that threaten Mother Earth herself.  It’s difficult to imagine how life goes on after this level of loss. 

At the same time, we watch events unfolding in Libya and the Middle East, surely another area where hope and hopelessness are colliding in the struggles for change and the threat and reality of violence. 

Those of us with some physical and emotional distance from this crisis find ourselves responding in different ways.  Some of us respond by remaining glued to our television sets or computers, hunting down “breaking news.”  Others can barely stand to pick up a newspaper, so overwhelmed that we’d rather not know.

In the Easter story, there is a moment, just at the dawn of the morning that sheds new light on times such as these.  

The author of Mark describes women, followers of Jesus, walking toward the tomb—the dead place—to anoint Jesus’ body.  As they walk, they ask:  “Who will roll away the stone for us?”  Every gospel writer has a different “take” on the stone roller.  In Matthew, it’s an angel.  In Mark, it’s unclear.  In Luke and John, the stone is simply rolled away.  There’s a certain mysterious anonymity to the stone-roller job description.  It’s a job that perhaps anyone—and everyone—must do.

Easter invites each one of us to become the tentative, weary hands that risk rolling away the stones.  It demands no less than that we each take a journey to those places where death seems to rule the day, where hope and hopelessness are colliding, and there to place our heart, our light, our intentions and our actions. 

We listen, learn, and watch, but not with a sort of voyeuristic, “reality television” attitude, waiting for the next news bulletin, the next tragedy to unfold. 

Rather, our faith calls us to look with eyes of compassion and with a heart filled with prayer, for each of us to be a part of inviting God into the midst of the suffering we see.   We are invited to roll up our sleeves and engage in the risky business of rolling away the stones that too easily seem insurmountable.

Right now, an example of modern-day “stone rollers” in our world would be the engineers working at the nuclear power plants in Japan.  I can’t name a single one of them, but I am in awe of the tireless, exhaustive work they are attempting to do—rolling away the massive stone of death and destruction.  I thank God for them and pray for them, as they put their lives at risk.  Stone rolling can be risky business.

At times, it seems our prayers and good intentions are all we can offer, and they don’t seem nearly enough. 

When I open myself to understanding the suffering of another, I’m amazed how often an opportunity arises to do something, to be part of some meaningful gesture or action.   Jesus based his ministry upon bringing his gifts of healing, compassion, teaching, and justice-seeking into the suffering he encountered in the world around him. 

During the ongoing season of Easter, we are reminded that the resurrection is, at its heart, about God acting, not in miraculous and mighty, super-hero ways, but acting through the pushing, straining, trembling touch of stone rollers. 

It’s not always easy work.  In fact, it demands nothing less than our whole presence in the present moment, eyes and hearts wide open, ready to risk and to see, ready to allow the Easter moment—the rebirth of the Body of Christ—to happen through us.

Who will roll away the stone? Easter promises us that God will roll away the stone, that God goes to every dark place, every place of death before we arrive.  God goes there and promises us new life, new hope, new possibility. 

Here’s the catch:  God needs stone rollers.  God needs the willing hands and open hearts of all of us.  Only then are stones rolled away.  Only then does the new dawn of Easter open up within us.  Only then does the resurrection find its way into a world that desperately cries out to be reborn.  We bear Jesus’ ministry into our own beautiful and broken world.  Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.

The Rev. Kristine Zakarison - guest editorial - Community Congregational United Church of Christ - Pullman