When something completely unexpected happens, how do you respond? Are you a person who panics or are you a person who thinks quickly and makes a plan? As we have journeyed through Lent and through Holy Week with Jesus:, from Palm Sunday, last Sunday, through the events of this past Holy Week, as we have explored the ‘I am…’ statements of Jesus we have journeyed with Jesus towards his death, and yes Jesus died on Good Friday, As the Saviour of All, even for you and for me.
Today as we come to celebrate an empty tomb and the Risen Christ, we know what to expect, because we have been through Easter so many times before – we know how it ends. If we read from John’s Gospel chapter 20, John gives us a glimpse into the world recorded in the Bible and how Mary and the Disciples handled the unexpected. The reading starts very early in the morning on the first day of the week, Sunday, with Mary and some of the woman going to the tomb to pay their respects to Jesus and give him a proper burial, by preparing his body properly. Mary came expecting to find the lifeless body of Jesus, she came expecting to face death. However as they approached the tomb they found that the stone had been rolled away, that the tomb was open, and that Jesus body was gone, missing. So Mary responds to this unexpected find by running to tell Peter and John. They all in turn run back to the tomb and find it as Mary has said, empty – Jesus body is gone and all that is left is the strips of linen and burial cloth that had been around Jesus head.
Peter’s response to the unexpected it to check it out – to examine for himself the empty tomb – running straight into it. While the other disciple also goes inside eventually to take a look, probably after preparing himself for it, but as both disciples have looked and perhaps even spent some time there, they leave back despondent. Perhaps they assume that, and quit rationally too, that the final indignity has happened – somebody has stolen Jesus’ dead body. They all encountered an unexpected absence on that First Easter morning, and like them perhaps there are times in our lives where we feel or find an unexpected absence, even when it comes to God, God seemed absent to us.
John goes on to say that Mary continues to linger at the tomb crying – perhaps out of grief at the loss of Jesus and this unexpected turn of events regarding his dead body. As Mary lingers there, she sees angles and then another person appears, who she assumes is the gardener, so she asks “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” It is in this moment that Jesus responds by calling her by name, “Mary”, to which she responds in startled recognition, and I can imagine she then clings to Jesus.
Our encounter with Jesus doesn’t end on Friday at the Cross as we expected, instead the Risen Christ shows up, transforming our painful sense of absence by his comforting presence, reaffirming for us the promise of the steadfast love of God that refuses to leave us. Just as Jesus found Mary crying at the empty tomb and asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” We don’t have to go looking for Jesus, he is looking for us, we don’t have to search to find him, as he did with Mary, he finds us and he knows us by name just as he knew Mary by name.
What is your great hope in life, in death, in life beyond death? Is it that the same Saviour, the Risen Christ, who showed up to Mary will show up in our living and in our dying – that he will keep showing up – often when we least expect it. As we come to this Easter to remember the Risen Christ let us always remember that our Risen Lord often works in unexpected ways.
Christ has not only risen, but risen indeed;
Christ has shown up.