She just wanted to be alone with Jesus one more time. She knew him, she served him, she followed him, and she loved him. Now, away from the noise and the crowds and the chaos of the past few days, she wanted nothing more than to take care of him. For someone in shock and deep grief, it was a simple, natural, heartfelt desire.
Mary Magdalene was worn out. Watching Jesus die on the cross was one of the most horrific things she had ever witnessed, especially knowing that he had been wrongfully condemned and mocked and beaten before he was ever crucified. Now as Mary trudged solemnly through the pre-dawn darkness, there was one thought she could not escape. In Mary’s heart and mind, the ending was supposed to be different. God undoubtedly could have intervened. Angels should have rescued Jesus before it came to this.
Yet the last minute reprieve Mary anticipated never materialized. Instead, enemies tormented Jesus. They broke his body. And they left him to die on a cross until Joseph of Arimathea was allowed to bury Jesus in a stone tomb. So Mary came, two days after his death, to be alone with her friend and master one more time.
But Jesus was not there…
The shock and disbelief was almost more than Mary could handle. Yet a stubborn part of her was determined…determined to go find Jesus wherever he was and bring him back to the tomb where his body belonged. Because even seeing a shell of Jesus was better than seeing no Jesus at all. Even seeing the palms of his hands which Jesus used to touch and heal Mary was better than never seeing those hands again. And even seeing Jesus’ gentle face was better than never seeing his face again.
Mary wanted to take care of Jesus in his death the same way Jesus took care of Mary and countless others during his life. Unimaginably, however, when Mary arrived at the tomb, Jesus was gone. Where was he? Who took him? How do I get him back? The Easter story in the Gospel of John turns on those exact questions…
On the other hand, was Mary so consumed trying to figure out why Jesus wasn’t where he was supposed to be that she couldn’t see where Jesus actually was? To put that idea in modern perspective, does our need to keep Jesus where we want him to be blind us to where Jesus is in the world? Does our desire to hear Jesus say what is familiar and comforting prevent us from hearing what he’s really saying in the world?
Does our need to tame Jesus, to keep Jesus in a box, to hold him under wraps, hinder our ability to participate in the fullness of the resurrection? Bluntly speaking, why are we looking for the Risen Christ in a graveyard when he’s already out there somewhere dancing and celebrating and basking in God’s great glory?
Don’t get me wrong…I’m not trying to badmouth Mary. She’s no different than any of us who are loyal and vigilant and faithful and could see ourselves standing in a cemetery and asking the same thing. “Where have they taken Jesus? Where is the Jesus I know and love?
It is the obvious question…where is Jesus this Easter morning? Think for a moment about the chorus of answers we would hear if we asked that question and listened carefully in 2016.
He’s right over here, someone would respond. Jesus lives in the brightly colored panels we see etched on stained glass windows. Jesus dwells just below the vaulted ceilings we see in gothic cathedrals. He wanders around pristine church sanctuaries and you can find him in elegant shrines and marble statues and classic paintings. Wherever something is deemed holy or hallowed ground. That’s where the Easter Jesus is.
The truth is that the Easter Jesus is over here, someone else would counter. He’s squarely in the middle of our national political process. He’s the number one plank in our political platform. He’s the commander we point to when we talk about someone leading us into war against the forces of evil and terrorism in the world. He’s the silent partner we implicitly pay homage to in our rallies and our advertisements and our mass mailings. He’s the one who wants to make America the best it can be unless you happen to be poor or non-Christian or an immigrant or someone who doesn’t quite look like they are made in God’s image.
Or the people who would argue that the Easter Jesus is on the other side of the political spectrum. Down for the cause and up for the struggle. A great teacher. A model of non-violence. A mentor, a voice for those down and out, a sympathizer, an advocate, a wonderful example, politically and morally and socially correct in every way. Never mind the Jesus who was resurrected in power and glory, in mystery and majesty, fully prepared to turn the world upside down. We prefer a Jesus who will stay by our side while we keep him under our wing and mold him into the kind of Savior we want him to be.
And there are others would say that the Easter Jesus is just hanging around to make us feel good. We’ll call on his name if we need him. We’ll turn to him if it’s truly necessary. We’ll pay attention to him if and when the occasion warrants. Until then, the Easter Jesus is a good excuse for family to gather together for a meal. He’s the underlying reason why we dye eggs and go on Easter egg hunts. He’s the inspiration behind getting dressed up in our finest Sunday outfits and marking the arrival of springtime.
Where did Jesus go? Where could he possibly be? Two thousand years ago, it never dawned on Mary Magdalene that nobody took Jesus. Jesus got up on Easter Sunday and walked out of the tomb all by himself. The Risen Christ, the Living Christ, doesn’t stick around when it comes to tombs and graveyards. Death was not a lifestyle for Jesus. Death was merely a doorway to new life.
There are plenty of people in this world who prefer a dead Christ who stays in his place rather than a living Christ who is out of control. All kinds of people can recognize Christ…that is if he reveals himself in a familiar way under normal circumstances.
But there is nothing familiar or normal about Easter. And no matter how hard you and I try, we can’t hold onto the Risen Christ. He’s out there doing what God needs him to do…a Savior on a mission.
So instead of looking for Jesus where you think he’s supposed to be this Easter morning, I invite you to open your heart and use your imagination. The Easter Jesus is over in Brussels, Belgium, comforting the loved ones of those who lost their lives and the many who were injured in the bomb blasts earlier this week. And telling men and women and youth and children around the world not to be afraid, the same way Jesus reminded his followers time and again over the course of his ministry.
The Easter Jesus is sitting on street corners in towns and cities and suburbs across New England counseling heroin users whose desire to find a way out of addiction is routinely clouded by the overwhelming obsession to figure out where they will get their next fix.
The Easter Jesus is roaming up and down hospital and nursing home corridors, stopping in to visit patients who are struggling to come to terms with a terminal diagnosis. Soothing those who are seeking relief from chronic, debilitating pain. Accompanying those who are lonely and hopeless and ready to give up. Embracing those whose minds and bodies have been ravaged by Alzheimer’s and cancer and AIDS and Huntington’s disease.
The Easter Jesus is alongside military veterans who are reuniting with spouses and children and family members and friends for the holiday after long tours of duty overseas. And Jesus is encouraging service men and women who have lost limbs and lost mobility and lost eyesight and now must find a way to rehabilitate and manage their daily routines according to a new reality.
The Easter Jesus is out there giving strength to single parents who barely find a way to make ends meet at the end of each month. The Easter Jesus is out there advocating for people of all ages who have been discriminated against because of the color of their skin or the faith they choose to practice or the orientation or identity they claim. And he’s right here by our side in these pews reaching out to the ones among us who need a measure of reassurance, a word of forgiveness, a promise of better days ahead…
It’s impossible to hold onto the Easter Jesus in our churches. There is no way for us to contain him in our religions and in our denominations and in our movements. The Risen Christ did not pour himself out and reveal the truth exclusively to one person or a particular group of people.
Just like Jesus wasn’t where Mary thought he would be long ago, he’s not where you and I expect him to be this morning. Jesus is up from the dead now and far removed from the confines of the tomb. He’s busy showing up in places and in people you and I never thought possible.
Most of all, Jesus is alive and still speaking. And if we try to hold him down or hold him back, he won’t stand for it. Jesus is the way of abundant life. He is the Son of righteousness. He is the bright and morning star. He is the living truth. He is resurrection power and glory and victory. He is the light and he is the life, now and forever more Christ is risen! Alleluia!