I recently got new glasses because my old ones were too scratched and weak. I am always reminded when I get glasses that I need progressive lenses, because I need different correctives for reading and for distance seeing. It also reminds me that bifocal vision is an important part of life. We need to look at things up close – the present moment. But we also need to look in the distance – both the future and a different perspective on the present moment.
The women who approached the empty tomb on that first Easter had bifocal vision. They saw their lives realistically, with all its pain and confusion: the arrest, the scourging, the crucifixion, the burial, and the interminable waiting through the Sabbath. Out of that reality they asked the question in future tense, “Who will roll away the stone for us?” How will we get beyond this stone of impediment to at least mourn properly? How will we fulfill the one duty left to us: proper burial.
But then they saw something that called them beyond that pain to a new beginning, which looked terrifyingly wonderful. They lifted their eyes from their reading glasses and saw that the stone had already been rolled away. The stone of impediment had become a stone of new beginning. Or, in the words of the Psalmist, the stone the builders had rejected became the chief cornerstone. The women still didn’t know what it meant, or what other surprises awaited them. They walked inside the tomb and, instead of a cadaver, found a young man dressed in white who said, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth. He has been raised; he is not here.” Yeah, right. Don’t be alarmed? Alarmed doesn’t begin to describe the confusion at this inconceivable news.
The young man invited them to look around and see that the body was no longer there. Then he said, “Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” They dropped their spices and ran, “for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
Mark’s story invites us to bifocal vision: realism about the way things are while we recognized the possibility and reality of God’s transforming intervention in our history. As we walked the Via Crucis, the stone of impediment seemed much real than the stone of new beginning. Perhaps we imagined stones of impediment:
• Addictions we can’t overcome
• Childhood patterns of behavior that no longer work but that we can’t break
• Bills we can’t get out from under
• Agendas that enslave more than they enable
• Illnesses that threaten the life we have known with loved ones, and
• Death itself, which continues to attack us
These ‘who-will-roll-away-the-stone’ stones symbolize everything that keeps us from continuing the story. They represent the paralysis when we conclude that Jesus’ vision of love, justice, forgiveness and compassion is just a well-meaning delusion. By the end of the Via Crucis it almost felt like it would be a relief for the whole thing to be over; just give up hope of transformation, conform to the way things are, and make the best of it:
• We’ll just let the minimum wage remain low, instead of joining the fight to raise it.
• We’ll just let corporations define our tastes and manipulate us to buy what they offer, instead of struggling free to manifest the unique and creative people we are.
• We’ll just let powerful people blame the victims of society’s wrong choices, instead of entering into solidarity with those who suffer most the sickness that affects us all.
• We’ll resign ourselves to boring routines instead of risking the uninvited and unexpected.
• We’ll remain codependent in our addictions instead of risking vulnerability to be free
There’s a certain comfort in this option: the world-as-we-know-it can continue; we avoid the anguish of having the stone rolled away; we are spared the disruption of struggling with the meaning of resurrection. There’s another false route. We can treat the rolled-away stone as a happy ending rather than a new beginning. It looked bad, but in true Hollywood fashion, everything turned out fine. We may not change the world, but we can find inner peace. The resurrection becomes therapy.
But that’s not the Gospel. The women at the tomb experienced Gospel when they took another look. Nothing outside had changed. What changed was the verb tense of their lives: from “who will roll away the stone” to “the stone had already been rolled back.” It’s not about choosing one lens over another. We need both. If we deny the overwhelming pain of present reality, the Easter message is disappointingly superficial. But if we deny that God continues to intervene in history, we will consign ourselves and others to the unreasonable boundaries others put on us. With the bifocal vision of Gospel our present pain and the possibility of God’s intervention allows us to both see our addiction and to live discontinuously with it.
Bifocal vision tells us that Easter is a new beginning, not a happy ending. The young man told the women, “Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” Galilee is where they started. It’s where they were called, named, sent out on mission and taught by Jesus. The Gospel story that seemed to have ended begins again
How appropriate that it was women present at this new birth. They know the pain of giving birth. So they were neither in denial nor avoidance. They were afraid. What a rude word for a nice day like Easter. But the women were facing the truth of resurrection, of the rolled-away stone. The women were facing the truth of resurrection. The terrifying stone of new beginning was being handed to them and the other disciples. Jesus’ path to the tomb had now opened itself to them. They had walked part way with him. Now they realized they had to walk the whole way. Sure, Jesus will walk with them. But they still have to walk; to keep their eyes open to recognize his companionship, because the stumbling stones will be much more obvious. Mark’s Gospel ends with a dangling adverb. Mark toyed with his readers: “I’m ending the book here, but the story continues.” The question: will we keep following Jesus? Will we take the vision he has given us to our Galilees and walk in the midst of the ambiguities of life there? Or will we remain in our fear?
In the National Palace in Mexico City there are a series of murals by Diego Rivera of the history of Mexico. Rivera presents bifocal vision through them. Each mural is partly in color and partly in black and white: on top the colorful reality everyone sees, and underneath the life of indigenous people upon whose backs all the colorful structure of life was built. Right in the middle of the final painting is a child wrapped in cloth on his mother’s back. His eyes follow you wherever you stand. And the look in his eyes asks the question: what will you do with all this?
That is what Mark did with his Gospel. The young man in the tomb asks the same question: what will you do with all this? Will you hang onto the stone of impediment – because it has become comfortable or because you are afraid to start over? Or will you take the stone of new beginning being offered to you – whether hesitatingly and fearfully, or joyfully as a response to your deepest longings?