HE IS NOT HERE
A sermon by Rev. Richard Miller, Minister Trinity United Church, Montreal, Quebec. April 20, 2003. Mark 16:1-8.
Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him.
- Mark 16:6
The proclamation of Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead is at once the simplest and the most complex event in the Christian story. On the one hand, it can be completely stated in three or four words: "He is risen." Or, more accurately, "He has been raised." Those few words say it all. And at the same time, those words change it all – they change everything in our lives, and everything in the whole world.
Let us review the story again, as we read it in Mark's gospel. After the death of Jesus and when the Sabbath was over, three women arose early in the morning to go to the tomb and anoint his body with spices. This was their way of embalming, and it would be the last thing that they could do for their teacher and friend. No longer able to hear his voice or follow him they way they had done when he went about teaching, now they came to do this final act of devotion. In the passage we read that they asked each other who would roll away the stone from the door of the tomb, but aside from that, we can only imagine what they were thinking that morning.
When they arrived at the tomb, they were surprised to find that the stone was already rolled away, and a young man dressed in white spoke to them and said, "You seek Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here; see the place where they laid him."
"You seek Jesus," is what the young man (or angel) said. I have deliberately not used the wording of the Bible we have in the pews, which says that "You are looking for Jesus." Yes indeed, they were looking for him, but in more ways than one. For Mark seems to be telling us something about the thoughts or the heart's desire of those women. They were not just “looking for” Jesus, but they were “seeking” him. They were seeking the one who had become their Saviour and Lord.
Did they really go to the tomb just to anoint his body with spices? Or was there something else, something more which drew them there that morning? Was there also the desire to be near the one who had been so important to them? And was there possibly some hope of further understanding – of new awareness – about the events which had destroyed their world just three days before? We don't know, of course, for the gospel does not tell us these things. But there is this hint in the narrative when the young man, "You seek Jesus."
What about us? Do we come to our church on Easter morning just to perform some rituals in Jesus' memory? Or do we come because we are seeking him – seeking him in our hearts and in our lives? We have been taught about the resurrection – just as his followers had been taught about it. Don't we come seeking for something more than familiar words and ritual actions? Don't we come in the hope of some new insight that will change our lives and give fresh meaning to our daily walk? Don't we come seeking Jesus in our hearts and lives too?
Surely that young man at the tomb knew exactly what those three women wanted – and what we all want. We come seeking Jesus. Seeking to know that he is alive and at work in us, in our community, in our church. Surely those three women were prototypes of all other followers of Jesus ever since, for we all come because we are seeking him, don’t we? And when we come in faith seeking him, he does indeed meet us, and make new people of us, and satisfy the longings of our hearts.
Ah, and what else did the angel say? "He has been raised; he is not here. See the place where they laid him." In the midst of our elaborate Easter services, our exultant music and hymns, we may miss just how simple and quiet – how peaceful – is the Easter announcement that Jesus was not there. Let us ask ourselves how many times have we asked for someone and been told, “He is not here”? Likely it happens on the phone, but sometimes we may go in person asking for a friend, only to be told, “He is not here.” “She is not here.” And we have some sadness about that. Perhaps the initial reaction of the women that day was one of sadness, yet, this announcement that “he is not here” had a different result, for it changed their lives and their whole world, and it can do that for us too.
How so? What happened next? What happened next was that the angel said to "Go..." "Go and tell...." "Go and tell the disciples and Peter...." Go and tell them that he will meet them in Galilee, the place where they had lived and worked together – the place where they had been his disciples. In this message is the promise of forgiveness and restoration for them. To the disciples who had fled, and to Peter who had denied Jesus – to all of them forgiveness is offered. Restoration is possible. And the same is true for you and me. When we have failed and denied our Lord, and deserted him, we too are offered forgiveness and a new beginning. We are given a new call to live as his disciples and as servants of the gospel – the good news.
Mark’s story of Jesus concludes by telling us that the three women "said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid." What then? Why does it just stop there? You see, instead of there being a conclusion, there is an open ending. What does this mean? What else can this mean except that it is up to us – the readers and hearers – to go and tell? If the resurrection story is going to be told, it will be because people like you and me – people who read the story or hear it – then go and tell the story. You and I are the ones who must tell the Easter story. Go and tell.
At the end of this service – after the resurrection has been celebrated, and the benediction has been given, and the last Amen has been said and the last anthem has been sung, we are sent to tell others – indeed the whole world. We are sent to tell them the Easter story – the good news of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. So then my friends, come to this church, seeking Jesus. Come to this gospel, seeking Jesus. Come seeking him who is the living, resurrected Christ. And when you have found him – or rather, when he has found you – go and tell. When he has met you, and forgiven you, and restored you, and raised you to new life, go and tell. Go and tell other people. Go and tell your family, your friends, your neighbours, even your enemies. In season and out of season, tell the story of what God has done and what a difference it has made in your life. That is how the seed of faith gets planted. And as St. Paul has promised us, one plants, another waters, and still another cultivates, but God gives the growth.
Sometimes we may tell the story with exuberance and excitement. Other times we tell it in peace and tranquillity. And in other ways at other times. Whichever way is appropriate for us and for the situation, come seeking Jesus; and then go and tell the Easter story with the assurance that forgiveness is ours, that new life is given to us, and that we may begin again the life of discipleship – knowing that the risen Lord is always with us. The young man at the tomb said that Jesus was not there. And that, my friends, is good news, for he is with us here – and we may rely on him to be with us at all times and in all situations. Thanks be to God for the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and what it means to us, and to the church, and to God’s world. Amen.