Summary: Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sa
If you’ve ever been to our Anglican seminary - Moore College in Newtown - you may have also visited its unusual chapel, known as the Cash Chapel (named after the guy who donated it, rather than how it was paid for).
Now, when people set up a church building, they tend to design it with the communion table at the centre, and you’ll generally find words of Scripture written above or around the table. Ours has ’Holy, Holy, Holy’, which seems entirely appropriate, though not as common as the classic, ’Do this in Remembrance of Me’. On the table in the Cash Chapel though you’ll find the words ’He is not here’, which is an odd thing put at the centre of a church building, as most people turn up to church hoping that He (ie. Christ) is there!
Now, I know that verse has a particular significance for Sydney Anglicans when it comes to the Eucharistic table, but we won’t go there. My point here is simply that it seems like a very odd thing to do in a church - namely, to explicitly declare at the very centre of your building, the absence of Christ!
And yet, this is our Easter greeting! These are the words that echo down to us through the ages this Easter morning. This is the message given by the angelic host to Jesus’ most loyal followers - the women who came to care for his tortured body after His death that on that Easter Sunday: ‘He is not here’.
And we’re not told where He is. The angel tells them where he was. Indeed, the angel explicitly invites the women, ‘come and see the place where He was’ (vs.6), but no clues at all as to where He‘d actually got to!
As I say, it makes for a very odd Easter greeting: ‘You have come here today to meet with Jesus. I’m sorry. He left. He was here … and He did wait …’
In truth, when I read through the resurrection account here in Matthew and look at it side by side with the other accounts in the other gospels, the overwhelming feeling I get from each of these accounts is that there was a great deal of confusion on that Easter Sunday morning, and the question at the centre of the confusion was always the same - namely, ‘where is Jesus’, and nobody seems to know!
Now of course, losing Jesus is nothing new in the Gospel stories!
The only story we get from the boyhood of Jesus (at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel), is the story of Jesus’ parents losing Him! They eventually find Him in the temple of course, with Him saying, “where did you expect to find me?”
And this story becomes almost archetypal, I think, in the Gospels, where Jesus’ followers are repeatedly losing Him, and constantly in search of Him, trying to work out where He is and what He is doing!
Right in the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel:
And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he (ie. Jesus) departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, "Everyone is looking for you." (Mark 1:35-37)
But Jesus tells them, ‘we’ve gotta keep moving!’
And they do keep moving, and Jesus keep moving on ahead of them, and the story of Jesus and His disciples is, I‘d suggest, a story of the disciples constantly struggling to keep up with their master, who keeps disappearing into the distance in front of them!
And while we know that the pain of Good Friday was terrible, not only for Jesus but also for all who loved Him - for the women who had stood with Him as he died, and perhaps even more so for his male friends who had deserted Him in death … we know it must have been terrible, but just maybe there was some small degree of comfort for the disciples in the thought that at least now we know where Jesus is and that He isn‘t going anywhere! (or so it seemed)
And I can imagine Mary Magdalene, laden down with ointments and perfumes, finally looking to get some closure on this painful yet beautiful yet tumultuous relationship, only to hear the words of the angel, ‘He is not here’ and start shaking her head, ‘… oh my God. Here we go again!’
And so perhaps it should not surprise us that when Jesus, only moments later, suddenly appeared on the road in front of this group of women, what did they do? We’re told that they ‘held His feet!’
OK, I guess it would be easy to read too much in to this, but how does Jesus respond to their laying hold of them? Roughly the same way he does in the story in John’s Gospel where Mary meets Jesus in the garden and mistakes Him for the gardener. He says, ‘Do not hold me. I’ve got to keep moving!’