“Roll Away the Stone”
Rev. Elder Dr. Nancy Wilson
In preparing for this reflection, I realized that I did not really know very much about MCC’s first Easter.
So, I went to the source. Rev. Elder Troy Perry was happy to tell me what he remembered. That Friday, Good Friday, in 1969 was the inquest about the death of Howard Efland, a gay male nurse beaten to death by Los Angeles (California, USA) vice squad officers. He had been heard screaming, “Help me! My God, someone help me!” But no one did.
Rev. Perry and other community leaders publicly challenged the LAPD and the City of Los Angeles. For him, it was the event that lit the fire of his lifelong activism. It changed everything.
That Easter Sunday, the church had to move to a bigger room at the Women’s Club to accommodate 120 people — the largest crowd yet at the six-month-old church. From that moment on, attendance grew and never dropped back, even as they were forced to move from place to place. They became a movement!
I had never heard the sermon title from that day. It was “The Stone of Ignorance Has Been Rolled Away from the Tomb of Truth!”
In Luke’s version of the Resurrection of Jesus, the part about the stone being rolled away comes at the second verse. Earlier in the gospel, Luke has Jesus saying, at the Palm Sunday march into Jerusalem, that if his disciples were forced to be silent, “even the stones will cry out” their Hosannas!
That early Easter morning, a “Hosanna” stone was rolled away, and a “stone that the builders rejected” became our Chief Cornerstone. That morning, before the first rays of light, Someone moved that stone forever.
It was not a human hand but an act of a just, liberating God. It was the Exodus of truth from the tomb of obscurity and ignominy. The truth that can set all free. . .
I believe that the stone of ignorance that was being rolled away in early 1969 was also rolled away by the hand of the Divine Truth-Teller! As Rev. Perry and 120 worshipped that first Easter, they did so in full knowledge of the terrible cost of lies, of deadly closets, of sexual oppression, homophobia, sexism, and of raw, unchecked power. And they knew that the Word that was being revealed to them was a gift, a Word of hope, a light in the darkness.
The first women who witnessed the gift of a stone rolled away and an empty tomb were belittled and dismissed as carriers of “an idle tale.” But today, thousands of years later, their story is our story. And it is not just an idle tale; it is changing lives and history.
How many of those 120 worshippers would have believed that some of them would live to see this day, of spiritual justice, of marriage equality, of human rights advances? How could they have imagined tens of millions of all genders and sexual orientations hearing good news, despite the intransigence of so many churches and religious folk? Today, the stone of ignorance is still being rolled away from places truth is still entombed — in pulpits, in pamphlets, in encyclicals, in places where religious bigotry still fuels violence against our communities. So many people hunger to know a Jesus who came so that we may have life and have it abundantly! Today, someone somewhere cries, “My God! Someone help me!” Let us be that someone.
When we come together at General Conference this year, a few of those 120 will be there; many more will be surrounding us as our communion of saints. As we welcome spiritual activists and MCCers from Uganda, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Ukraine, as well as places like Peoria, Illinios (USA), we will hear the sounds of more stones rolling away. . .