“Jesus is raised!”… but he isn’t here. You would probably hope that Jesus would stand still for just a second. Mary, Mary, and Salome arrive at the tomb at sunrise on Sunday morning and they find an empty tomb. Jesus is gone. After the crazy and exhausting week the women had, you’d think that Jesus could stick around for a minute to chat. A week earlier on Palm Sunday, Jesus entered Jerusalem to shouts of hosanna and exuberant palm waving. On Maundy Thursday, Jesus shared his last meal with his friends, washed their feet, and was betrayed by one of his disciples. On Good Friday, he was arrested, tried, crucified, and killed. Saturday was silent. And now on Easter Sunday, Mary, Mary, and Salome come to the tomb to find it empty and they receive the good news that Jesus has been raised from the dead.
But Jesus isn’t present himself. They receive word from the messenger in white that “he is going ahead of you to Galilee.” Jesus is already on the move. It seems like he couldn’t have waited for more than a heartbeat to get up and be on his way. He has work to do and a resurrected life to live and he isn’t going to waste it by sitting in a tomb.
Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. He is on his way back to the place where it all began- back to where his ministry first began, back to where he met his friends and disciples, back home. Jesus is going back home. He is going ahead of you to Galilee. He is also going ahead of you to Trenton, Ewing, Hamilton, Pennington, Princeton, or wherever you call home. Whatever is waiting for you there, good or bad, you can be sure that the resurrected Jesus is going to be there.
The experience of the resurrection transforms you. The women at the tomb are not the same as they were when they first began this journey with Jesus. On Good Friday, they experienced the depths of power that are present in sin and death- the kind of power that whips a crowd into a frenzy demanding the humiliating and torturous death of an innocent man. Having experienced the depth of that evil power, they know much more the bottomless depth of the power of life and love in God. When they saw the empty tomb and when we experience the empty tomb, we have seen that sin and death are not the undefeated champions of the world that we once thought they were. They can be defeated and they are defeated. That changes our perception of life as we go back to our hometowns and encounter sin and death again. Now, we can believe that they can be defeated and that they are defeated.
This reminds me of the ending of the Lord of the Rings. In J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy classic, four hobbits or halflings (called that because they are about half as tall as human beings) go out on an adventure to destroy an evil magic ring. On the way they encounter terrifying armies of orcs, an evil wizard, and all sorts of other horrible and evil creatures. They also travel alongside kings, elves, dwarves, a kind wizard, and all sorts of other good and brave creatures. In the face of the great evil and looming death that lies ahead of them, the hobbits witness and participate in the triumph of goodness and life over evil and death.
After these events take place, the four hobbits return to their home, The Shire. Their peaceful home is not how they left it. In their absence a large band of humans (twice the size of hobbits) have taken over. They shake down the little hobbits for money, rough them up for sport, and anyone who stands in their way gets beaten and thrown into prison. More than that, they are led by the evil wizard, Saruman.
If this had occurred before their recent adventure, the hobbits would surely have succumbed to the terror of these men and the wizard. Prior to witnessing the defeat of the evil lord, Sauron, and his vast and terrifying army, the four hobbits would have believed as they had before that hobbits are weak, humans are strong, and wizards are still stronger. They would have believed that the power of evil and death is stronger than the goodness and life that they possess.
But having witnessed the triumph of goodness and life over evil and death, the hobbits believe that it can be done again. The four hobbits rally their friends and neighbors and together they drive out the wicked men and the evil wizard.
In the resurrection of Jesus, we have experienced God’s triumph of love and life over sin and death. With this experience we are given the hope to believe that Jesus really is risen from the dead and that he has gone ahead of us to our homes in whatever state they might be in. Jesus is there in our homes where our lives have grown stagnant, boring, and purposeless. He is in our homes where the demon of addiction is waiting for us. He is in our homes where broken or breaking relationship are waiting for us. He is in our homes where illness is waiting for us. He is in our homes where fear, guilt, sin, and death are waiting for us.
With Mary, Mary, and Salome we have experienced the empty tomb and heard the promise that Jesus is raised and has gone ahead of us. Believing this to be true, we can believe that sin and death have been defeated and will continue to be defeated wherever it rears its ugly head.
Easter is the celebration of Christ on the move. It is the celebration of the Jesus who doesn’t stand still. Nothing stops him- not fear, not doubt, not humiliation, not even death. Nothing stops Jesus and we share in his life and love that conquers death itself. Alleluia.