“Roll Away Your Stone” is one of my two favorite songs off Sigh No More. It uses the most explicit Christian imagery of any song on the album and the music is simply glorious. It's a song of resurrection or new life. “Roll away your stone” can hardly refer to anything else than the stone rolled away from the entrance to Christ's tomb on Easter morning. Because of his resurrection, the rest of us can hope to “roll away” our stones and emerge from the lifeless reals to new life.
M&S also strike a biblical note in eschewing individualism and affirming that exploring this new life is a communal matter. Emerging from death to life is like leaving the womb for the world in birth can be a traumatic experience. We leave the known for the unknown, exiting the only security we have experience for the exciting but also scary unknown. We need one another on this journey and God intends that we walk it together and not alone.
“Roll away your stone, I’ll roll away mine
Together we can see what we will find
Don’t leave me alone at this time,
For I'm afraid of what I will discover inside”
Often we are at first more aware of what we leave behind than what we are moving toward in this journey to new life. M&S use imagery suggestive of St. Augustine's (5th century) notion of a restless heart that cannot settle down until it finds its rest in God. The idea of a “hole” that only God can truly fill draws on this imagery.
“Cause you told me that I would find a hole,
Within the fragile substance of my soul”
The singer sees all the crap in the “hole” in the soul and the life-stealing unreality of it all. It makes you a person who “knows the price of everything but the value of nothing”.
“And I have filled this void with things unreal,
And all the while my character it steals”
Life with God in Christian faith is not a rosy, trouble-free affair with sunshine and smooth sailing. Instead, seeing now in sync with the true reality of life and world, the darkness is all the more evident to us. It's like Jesus said in the second Beatitude: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted”. Seeing life in the world as it is often pains us, as it did Jesus when we wept over Jerusalem for its unwillingness to see what was happening in it and embrace him as God's anointed messenger.
“Darkness is a harsh term don’t you think?
And yet it dominates the things I see”
Then dawns as sense of the way ahead and the way this new life works. There's no way for the singer and his friends to do it on their own. They have no leg to stand on, as it were. No ladder to climb over the obstacles to make their way, no “bridges” on which to cross the rivers. They have to learn that grace makes its own way by God's power. We do not trust any longer on the ways we have heretofore made our way in the world, including the way of religion.
“It seems that all my bridges have been burned,
But you say that’s exactly how this grace thing works”
The journey in the company of kindred grace-led friends and the companionable hospitality of friends along the way, in other words, it's a community thing. There are no “Lone Ranger” Christians! We all need friends and to be friends to others to grow in the faith.
It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart,
But the welcome I receive with every start
Our journey is a walk into the darkness and shadows that remain in our world and in our life. Yet in the freedom of this new life comes a new resolve to resist the darkness, to not give in, give up, or give out in the struggle. This resolve enables us to resist the lure of the “stars” (astrological symbols of ambition, glory, fame?) and keep our desires focused on the path of freedom in our new life. In spite of the darkness around us and the lure of the unruly desires within us, we can “stake out our ground,” the grace-given freedom we now experience in the community of faith and let our light shine.
Darkness is a harsh term don’t you think?
And yet it dominates the things I see
Darkness is a harsh term don’t you think?
And yet it dominates the things I've seen
Stars hide your fires,
These here are my desires
And I won't give them up to you this time around
And so, I’ll be found with my stake stuck in this ground
Marking the territory of this newly impassioned soul
Nothing, nothing, no other being, power, or force in all creation has any rightful claim on our ultimate loyalty, love, affection, and obedience than the source of the grace that has given us this new life. The ambiguous “you” in the last verse captures this sense that nothing else but God
has “reason” or “rhyme” to claim “this soul that is so rightfully mine.” Only we can give ourselves to God. Nothing else, no one else, can take it by hook or crook (which is the only way they could get it) from us.
But you, you’ve gone too far this time
You have neither reason nor rhyme
With which to take this soul that is so rightfully mine
It's hard to avoid concluding a reflection on this wonderful song with the great words of Paul from the end of Romans 8:
“What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”