By Fr. Mark Sietsema
Did you ever catch that odd detail in the icon of the Myrrhbearing Women? We read about it in the Gospel of Matthew (28:2): “ … for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat upon it.”
Since when do angels sit? Angels are messengers, helpers, warriors. They stand! They don’t sit! Angels are ministering spirits, ever on duty, speeding to and fro in the service of the Lord.
But this heavenly servant, having rolled away a rock, takes a load off, and parks it … right on the stone itself! Why? Warriors should stand and fight until the battle is done. If a soldier is sitting down, that can only mean one thing: the war is over.
And so it was. The mission was accomplished, the victory complete. By his death, Christ vanquished Death. The Grave and its ally, Corruption, had lost their power. Hades the captor was made a captive. The last little task was to roll away a stone—not so that Jesus could exit!—but simply so the truth of Christ’s rising could be witnessed by mankind.
With this task done, our angel takes a seat. But not just anywhere! He sits on the stone itself, that ominous, onerous seal, the symbol of the tomb’s finality and irreversibility. The message to Death is: “You aren’t going to need this anymore. For the grave is no longer an end, but a beginning.”
We speak this same sentiment in every funeral and memorial. “O God of the spirits and of all flesh, who has trampled down Death and abolished the power of the Devil, granting Life to Your world ...” In a world of uncertainty and insecurity, the warrior-angel at his ease tells us: “Christ always wins! In fact, He already won! Be not afraid! Our God reigns!” For all that we behold around us is simply the working out of His gracious and invincible will.
With that angel who sits, we will stand at Pascha and triumphantly tell one another: Christos Anesti! Alithos Anesti! Christ is Risen! Truly the Lord is Risen! Amen!