The Stone at the Center of Time

Priest Jonathan Tobias | 22 April 2017

Pictured above is the stone slab inside the Aedicule of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. On the night after the Crucifixion, after Jesus was taken down from the Cross, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus lay the Body of Christ down upon this actual stone.

Some day, I would love to venerate this stone, as these two pious young women are doing so. And so would you.

The Aedicule looks like a little church. It stands in the center of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Ever since the first Easter in 29 AD, a bluish flame leaps up from the middle of this stone slab on Holy Saturday.

This is the oldest, ongoing miracle of the Christian faith. Since the fourth century, the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem has entered the Aedicule on every Holy Saturday. There he kneels in front of this stone slab. After he offers prayer, the same miraculous flames springs up on the stone, and leaps out to lit the two great candles held by the Patriarch. Then he emerges from the interior of the Aedicule and lights the candles of the Armenian and Coptic Patriarchs. The flame is then passed around to the many, many faithful present, as you can see from the photo below.

Sometimes, the Holy Fire bursts from the external walls of the Aedicule itself, and jumps to the candles and oil lamps within the larger structure of the Church.

There is no satisfactory explanation for this, other than Divine Grace — the Grace and Love that is at the center and base of all things at every moment (“every beat of the heart, every breath you take, every shining of the stars, every molecular bond”) … the Grace and Love that intervened at this Holy Fire Moment of the Resurrection of this stone slab, that intervened at the death-crisis of humanity, when all of us — along with Adam and Eve — turned away from the fellowship of Paradise and ran away like fools into the toxic pollution of passion and sin. Where there is existential leprosy and psychic dread at the selfish end of all prodigals (yes, this includes you and me).

holy

Thank God, even in a fallen world, the leaves are still green and the roses  bloom. The nuthatch sings even in winter. And the infant smiles, children still play and Love still shines as a sign that the Holy Fire is here to save, and to stay.

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is actually the Holy Trinity joining the Life of God to our dying humanity, and invading the dark shadows of death unto its deepest depth. The Cross destroyed the wrath of sin’s curse. The Descent into Hell destroyed the proud authority of death’s sentence.

This Holy Fire is a reality, and is also a mystical symbol. “The Light of Christ shines for all!” as we’ve sung repeatedly in all our Pre-Sanctified Liturgies. “It shines in the darkness, but the darkness does not and cannot overshadow it” (John 1.5).

“Come, receive light from the Light Eternal, and glorify Christ Who is risen from the dead.” Thus, we passed the flame from candle to candle at the beginning of Resurrection Matins.

You may have thought from the title, “the Stone at the Center of Time,” that I was referring to the stone that was rolled away from the tomb.

No.

In fact, that stone no longer exists. It could not keep Jesus within. Like the Holy Fire leaping out from the Aedicule, He rose from death, from the grave, from Hell’s ruins.

The stone rolled in front of the tomb to seal it has vanished from history. It is not the center of time: it is the center of meaninglessness now. Nothing could keep the life of Jesus down. Nothing could contain the fire of the Trinity. Nothing could keep it from rising — an ongoing, unstoppable Resurrection — in your heart, through your body and soul, to your family and friends, neighborhood and world.

Nothing. The stone is rolled away by the power of the Resurrected Christ Himself, through the agency of an angel (Matthew 28.2). Not so He could get out. But to let you in, just so that you could see, with your own eyes, the emptiness of the grave and the overcoming of death.

I am tired of death. Aren’t you? Tired of endings, of saying goodbye. Tired of the inevitabilities of a death-prone world, a sin-addicted age. Tired of hopes deferred, of distance and loss. Tired of decay. Tired of anger and pride, despondency and greed, violence and despair.

The Resurrection of the God-man Jesus Christ is the launch of the Divine Revolution at the center of time. From now to the Return of Christ, in this period we call the Last Days (which can last for a moment or thousands of years), the glowing embers of the Holy Fire of Christ’s rising will go forwards and backwards in time: rescuing what was lost … returning friends and loved ones to from mere co-existence to perfect love … restoring all that had fallen … renewing everything that had grown old and cold. Eden Again.

Because of the Resurrection of One Who is Man as well as God, then all death must be overturned. The Resurrection Today means Rescue. It means Return. It is Restoration. It is the Renewal of every Winter into a Spring that has no end.

And that is why I believe. I cannot tolerate loss and death as a permanent thing. I must, must always hope that an end is only temporary, that I will see, and love, again. I must because I am human. That is how I am. That is how you are, too. It is not in our nature at all to tolerate death. It is the DNA-character of our family to hope, to rise, in the Risen Body of Christ.

Today, Jesus has Rocked the Grave.

The stone is rolled away. The gravestone is now meaningless, at the center of nothing.

All we have left is the stone He was raised from. That stone (and every Altar of the Eucharist) is a Sign, which signifies: “Why seek the One Who lives among the dead? He is not here, the Angels said to the Myrrhbearing Women, early in the morning, “He is risen!”

And what we have this Day is a Holy Fire, in our hearts set ablaze by Deathless Love.

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