The stone that rolled away from the tomb of Jesus continues to roll away from every sort of grave. Goodness cannot be held, captured or put to death. It evades its pursuers, escapes capture, slips away, hides out, even leaves the churches sometimes, but forever rises, again and again, all over the world. Such is the meaning of the resurrection.
Goodness cannot be captured or killed. We see this already in the earthly life of Jesus. There are a number of passages in the Gospels that give the impression Jesus was somehow highly elusive and difficult to capture. It seems that until Jesus consents to his own capture, nobody can lay a hand on him. We see this played out a number of times. Early on in his ministry, when his own townsfolk get upset with his message and lead him to the brow of a hill to hurl him to his death, we are told that “he slipped through the crowd and went away.” Later when the authorities try to arrest him we are told simply that “he slipped away.” And, in yet another incident when he is in temple area and they try to arrest him, the text simply says that he left the temple area and “no one laid a hand upon him because his hour had not yet come.” Why the inability to take him captive? Was Jesus so physically adept and elusive that no one could imprison him?
These stories of his “slipping away” are highly symbolic. The lesson is not that Jesus was physically deft and elusive, but rather that the Word of God, the grace of God, the goodness of God, and power of God can never be captured, held captive or ultimately killed. They are adept. They can never be held captive, can never be killed, and even when seemingly they are killed, the stone that entombs them always eventually rolls back and releases them. Goodness continues to resurrect from every sort of grave.
And it is this, the constant resurrection of goodness, not that of viciousness and evil, which speaks the deepest truth about our world and our lives. The Jewish-Hungarian writer Imre Kertesz, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2002, gives a poignant testimony of this. He had as a young boy been in a Nazi death camp, but what he remembered most afterward from this experience was not the injustice, cruelty and death he saw there, but rather some acts of goodness, kindness and altruism he witnessed amidst that evil. After the war, it left him wanting to read the lives of saints rather than biographies of war. The appearance of goodness fascinated him. To his mind, evil is explicable, but goodness? Who can explain it? What is its source? Why does it spring up over and over again all over the earth, and in every kind of situation?
It springs up everywhere because God’s goodness and power lie at the source of all being and life. This is what is revealed in the resurrection of Jesus. What the resurrection reveals is that the ultimate source of all that is, of all being and life, is gracious, good, and loving. Moreover, it also reveals that graciousness, goodness, and love are the ultimate power inside reality. They will have the final word and they will never be captured, derailed, killed or ultimately ignored. They will break through, ceaselessly, forever. In the end, too, as Imre Kertesz suggests, they are more fascinating than evil.
And so we are in safe hands. No matter how bad the news on a given day, no matter how threatened our lives are on a given day, no matter how intimidating the neighbourhood or global bully, no matter how unjust and cruel a situation, and no matter how omnipotent are anger and hatred, love and goodness will reappear and ultimately triumph.
Jesus taught that the source of all life and being is benign and loving. He promised too that our end will be benign and loving. In the resurrection of Jesus, God showed that God has the power to deliver on that promise. Goodness and love will triumph! The ending of our story, both that of our world and that of our individual lives, is already written — and it is a happy ending! We are already saved. Goodness is guaranteed. Kindness will meet us. We only need to live in the face of that wonderful truth.
They couldn’t arrest Jesus, until he himself allowed it. They put his dead body in a tomb and sealed it with a stone, but the stone rolled away. His disciples abandoned him in his trials, but they eventually returned more committed than ever. They persecuted and killed his first disciples, but that only served to spread his message. The churches have been unfaithful sometimes, but God just slipped away from those particular temple precincts. God has been declared dead countless time, but yet a billion people just celebrated Easter.
Goodness cannot be killed. Believe it!
Rolheiser, theologian, teacher and award-winning author, is president of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas.