“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” (Luke 24:5)
Jesus is missing. He is not where they expected to find him. The Good News is that he is actively present in their lives. That very presence also poses their new and abiding challenge. We face precisely the same challenge. Let’s back up a few paces and look at what the Gospel tells us about that first Easter morning.
Along with some unnamed women, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Joanne have come to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ lifeless body. Since Jesus had died on the verge of the Sabbath, there had been no time for the proper burial ritual.
These women had followed Jesus throughout his ministry, and unlike most of his male followers, they had stuck with him to the very end. Standing at the foot of the cross, they had watched Jesus shudder with agony, endure public humiliation, struggle to catch shallower and shallower breaths, and finally give up his spirit to the Father.
In one sense, Jesus was already missing, missing from their lives. The women had entered the first phases of grief, experiencing with shock, numbness, and then harrowing anguish the unalterable absence of their friend and teacher and hoped-for Savior.
They could see his corpse, and then later give others directions to his grave, but Jesus was gone. Their universe now had an irreparable crack in it. Where once they would see Jesus’ smile, hear the penetrating truth of his words, feel him gazing into their eyes, and take comfort in the touch of his hand there was now just a ragged tear in their world.
Jesus is missing. The one they yearn to see is absent.
Now they’ve come to deal with Jesus’ remains. Not Jesus. His remains. All that’s left of him and their life with him and their life as they had dreamed it would always be. They’ve come to dwell on what was, or to dwell on its faint and fading echoes, for just a little while longer. They do it to say goodbye, to pay respects, to nurse the fracture within their own hearts.
The empty tomb was another shock. And another kind of shock. Jesus’ body is missing. There is no sense in Luke’s version of the story that they suspected grave robbers. No, they remembered what Jesus had taught them. That he would suffer, die on a cross, and on the third day be raised.
Besides, just in case their memories needed a little help, two angels showed up with a pretty blunt reminder. “Enough with the grief! You’re looking for a living guy in a tomb!?! Really!?!”
Jesus is risen. Neither these women nor we ever get a glimpse of the actual moment when the Spirit raises Jesus from the dead. They and we see what comes after. As that day unfolds and for a total of forty days, the risen Jesus appears to believers and doubters, individuals and crowds.
But in that first hour, the women see just the empty tomb. It tells them three important things.
For starters, Jesus is not only alive, he has done something to death itself. That tomb, and every tomb, has been broken open. The grave as such is now the incubator of a new kind of life.
Second, Jesus is alive in a way. His is a life too sweet and full and robust to be contained by any crypt. His kind of life has left suffering, sorrow, and death behind forever.
And finally, he is still available. Even more available to them now than before. Only his new way of living means that they have to adjust their way of recognizing his presence.
Before the resurrection, these women could see him, hear him, and touch him. That remains true in the resurrection, but there is more. He breathes his Holy Spirit into their believing hearts. He is perpetually present not only to them but within them. To us. Within us.
Even when his body is absent, Jesus is present within each of us. We see him with our hearts within us and with our eyes in the lives of our neighbor.
Jesus has not gone missing. That’s because he has sought us, and he has found us, and he dwells with us at the very center of our being. Now that love himself has found us, we can never go missing.
This sermon was preached at the Eater Vigil at St. Alban’s, Monroe, with St. Thomas and the Canterbury Ministry worshipping with us.