Summary: The disciples look for the body of Jesus, but He is not there! He has already gone on ahead of them somewhere, just as He continues to keep moving beyond our reach!...
When I went to seminary - to Moore College in Newtown - there was a resident chapel there known as the Cash Chapel (named after the guy who donated it, not after how he paid for it). Now when people set up a church building or a chapel, they tend to design it with the communion table at the centre, and you’ll always find some words of Scripture written on the table.
Ours has ’Holy, Holy, Holy’, which seems entirely appropriate, though it’s not as common as ’Do this in Remembrance of Me’. On the table in the Cash Chapel you’ll find the words ’He is not here’, which seem like an odd thing put at the centre of your church building, as most people turn up to church hoping that He is here.
Here we are, Easter Day 2005. Some of us are here as we are here every week. Others of us are here as we are here every year. Perhaps some of us are here for the first time. But however you come to be here, I suspect that if we asked you to give the reasons why you are here, it would have something to do with the fact that you believed that God was also here. And yet the good news that we are greeted with this morning takes us on an entirely different tack. ’You come looking for Jesus. Sorry. He is not here!’
And then we get these angels telling us where He was. ’He was here: ’Come, look at the grave cloths’. You can see where He was.’ And they tell us too where He soon will be - ’He will be in Galilee’ - but they shed no light at all on where He is!
When I read through the resurrection account here and look at it side by side with the other accounts in the other gospels, the overwhelming impression I get is one of confusion. Nobody quite seems to know what is going on.
Some things are clear. The body of Jesus is gone. No one disputes that. And the stone was no longer over the tomb. That’s clear too. How the stone got moved is not so clear.
Matthew says there was an earthquake that shifted the stone, though the other gospel writers don’t seem to know how it got moved. There is also some dispute over who first discovered the empty tomb. We know that it was the women who came first and that the men only came later. As to how many other persons there were who were at the scene of the empty tomb on that Easter morning, nobody seems to be entirely clear.
Matthew mentions one character dressed in white who was found sitting on top of the stone. Luke mentions two guys in white, while John didn’t notice either of those guys, but only the guy they took to be the gardener, and we’re not told how he was dressed.
Easter is confusing! We thought Jesus was dead. We thought we knew where to find Him. Now it appears that He is not dead. But what exactly has happened to Him, why He is not dead, and where He is now - these things are all complete mysteries. Nothing seems to be turning out quite like we expected it to. ’Sorry. All we can tell you is ... He is not here!’
Now that’s not quite true, is it? We don’t know where He is, but we do know where He’s going. He is headed in the direction of Galilee, though you may be forgiven for thinking that this detail adds no greater clarity to the overall picture whatsoever. Indeed, it is a bizarre detail!
It was there twice in our reading this morning. The man in white said ’Behold, he is going before you into Galilee.’ And then Jesus Himself meets a handful of them and says ’Tell the others to meet me in Galilee’. Likewise in Mark’s gospel the women are told ’go, tell the disciples and Peter that He is going before you into Galilee and there you will see him.’
It’s such a bizarre detail that it has the ring of truth about it, I think, because it seems such a strange thing to record, unless that’s actually exactly how it happened.
Why on earth would Jesus go ahead of them into Galilee? Why wouldn’t He meet them there at the empty tomb? Why wouldn’t He come looking for them? And if He wanted to meet them somewhere off-site, why Galilee? Why not Jerusalem, which is where they last gathered together? Or, while we’re looking at capital cities, why not somewhere grander? Why not Rome?
It seems like such an odd detail to record, unless that is exactly what happened. And it seems particularly odd because, in three of the four gospels, no mention is ever made of any meeting in Galilee ever taking place!