Before dawn on Sunday, Mary Magdalene went to the grave and saw that the stone had been removed from the grave. So she ran and told Peter and the other student (the one Jesus loved), “They’ve taken Jesus from the grave, and we don’t know where they’ve taken him.”
Why is it that whenever Jesus isn’t where we expect him, we immediately conclude that someone – but who? – has stolen Jesus from us?
Someone has stolen Jesus from the church. The church has stolen Jesus for it’s own institutional justification. The right/left wing has hijacked Jesus for their own purposes. Someone has made off with our precious Jesus.
If Jesus is alive, then it seems that we ought to let Jesus be Jesus. A living person goes places. A living person makes unexpected choices. Sometimes even choices we disagree with. A living person does things for that person’s own reasons.
So it is with Jesus.
Next time Jesus isn’t where you expect him to be, instead of assuming someone has kidnapped him, consider that he may have just decided to step out of the box we like to keep him in to get some fresh air.
When the day of rest had ended, Mary Magdalene, James’s mother Mary, and Salome bought preservatives to go and embalm him, and early Sunday morning, at sunrise, went off to the tomb.
They’d been wondering amongst themselves who would roll the stone away from the mausoleum entrance. But when they arrived the stone, such a very large stone, had already been rolled back. And as they entered they saw a young man wearing a white robe sitting to the right, and they nearly jumped out of their skin.
But the man said to them, “Don’t worry. You’re looking for Jesus from Nowheresville, who was crucified. He’s been restored. He’s not here. Look, that’s the spot where they put him. But go now and tell his students, and especially Peter, that he’s on his way to Galilee ahead of you. You all will find him there, just like he told you.”
But they went out, fleeing in shock and awe from the mausoleum. They were so afraid they said nothing to anyone.
The First Gospel’s ending is the most difficult of the four gospel endings. So difficult, people tried several times to make up better endings for it.
The reason it’s so difficult, though, is that it’s the most realistic. The women come to the grave. Instead of Jesus, they find a stranger. They run away. End of story. No explanation. No angels. No lights or earthquakes. No other-worldly visions of Jesus or of anyone else. Just a man in a plain white robe saying, “There’s nothing to see here. Go home.” There is not a whit that is extra-worldly or fantastically magical about this. Nothing here that even a hardened skeptic would say is impossible.
It’s not difficult at all to affirm the plausibility of the story. What’s difficult is to come to terms with the hard truth that resurrection is emphatically not about some other guy coming back to life. It’s about whether we will get a life! What we want is a happy ending with all the loose ends tied together, all life’s questions answered, and salvation handed to us as a done deal. What the First Gospel gives us is an open question, and marching orders to go back home and meet Jesus.
For Jesus, “it was finished” on Good Friday, but for the rest of us, the story continues. The only guarantee is that if we will go home and look for Jesus, we’ll somehow meet him there. The whole First Gospel is the story of where the 2nd generation disciples found Jesus when they went to look for him, and what they found him doing.
So the question for disciples, then and now, is: Are we following orders? Are we going home to look for Jesus? And when we do, where do we meet him? What is he up to? What gospel (what good news) will you write with your life?
Jesus himself, though righteous, once suffered because of wrongdoing, for all of us wrongdoers. He did it so you’d be able to keep company with God. Jesus was executed like any human, but his spirit lives on. That spirit proclaimed release to imprisoned spirits, spirits that were insubordinate back in Noah’s time. That’s when God bided time while Noah built the ark in which only 8 people survived the flood. Now, baptism is like that. It doesn’t just get your body clean. It’s a good-faith down payment commitment that you’ll live in that same resurrection spirit as Jesus, who has reached the goal and is waiting with God, who now commands angels and all the powers that be.
This is another of those passages that is often assumed to be a prooftext for “transactional redemption.” It’s only because it’s been read for so long in this way that it appears so. Jesus’ suffering “for us” doesn’t require a transactional reading. It could just as easily lead to an exemplary redemption (which is also in the early background of Christian theology).
The point, in any case, is that Jesus’ spirit lives on. (Peter doesn’t seem to know anything about Paul’s resurrection of the body.) The spirit of Jesus lives on, both in the metaphysical realm of heaven, and in the real here-and-now realm of people who have been baptized – who have made a commitment – to live and die as he lived and died. Inasmuch as Jesus’ followers continue to make and keep that commitment, in spite of the very real suffering that is the consequence of such a life, Jesus spirit lives on. Indeed, Peter and the early Christians would have said that this, as much as any Easter event, is the meaning of Resurrection.
Then God said: “Land!” And the there was land, dry and earthy, distinct from the sea.
This was getting good. So God said, “Plants! Seeds! Trees! Fruit! All kinds of them!” And from the earth sprang up all kinds of plants and trees, bearing fruits of every description, and seeds. God saw how good it was. And so continued evening and morning. Day 3.
Day 1 brought order out of the formless void. Day 2 brought atmosphere.
Now, on Day 3, the pace accelerates. Instead of just one thing, all kinds of things start springing up. “This was getting good!” The variety of creation is nearly infinite.
But even more amazing than that is the capacity for renewal. The seeds. Resurrection built into the universe. Things die, but they leave behind the beginnings of something new. And the new thing is the same, but different, from what came before.
And, if resurrection is built into the universe, it’s built into you, too. Every day, you have another opportunity to be something wonderful. Every day, you have a new chance to do something great. Every day, you awake to more of the same, but different.
Some folks have a lot of trouble with the idea of resurrection. But if you have eyes to see, it happens every day. Everywhere.
Happy 3rd day! You’re awake! You’re up! You’re alive! Now, what wonderful thing will you do?