The tomb was empty.
The stone was rolled away from the entrance. The linen burial shroud they wrapped him in was still there, but the body of Jesus was gone.
Isn’t that just like Jesus. He never seems to stay where we put him.
Good thing: if he did, we might never really see him.
That’s the important part of the Easter story to me. The tomb is empty. He’s alive. Impossible? Exactly. Even though Jesus told us to expect it, it can’t be happening. It’s just not possible. Even the disciples, even Mary, suspected that someone had just moved the body somewhere else.
Wow. It’s not even that Jesus wouldn’t stay where we put him, it’s that someone else moved him. That’s an elephant-sized metaphor.
Still, I don’t think that where he isn’t is nearly as important as where he is.
As the Gospel of John tells the story, Mary turns from the empty tomb and sees him. Well, not at first. It takes her a minute to recognize him because she wasn’t expecting to see him. You’ve probably experienced one of those moments. You know, when you pass someone on the street, or in a store, maybe, and you don’t recognize them at first, just because you weren’t expecting to see them there. You probably know the feeling.
Mary wasn’t expecting Jesus to be alive. He was dead. It would not be possible to see him upright and walking around.
Except. This is the Jesus who had, himself, raised Lazarus from the dead. This is the Jesus who healed the sick, rid people of their demons, performed acts that can only be described as miracles, inspired people and restored people. This is the Jesus who called people to love, to love their neighbour as they love themselves, to love even their enemy. Talk about making the impossible happen.
So, having done all that, there’s one more impossible thing to do: he would rise from the dead. Given his track record, maybe Mary should have been looking for Jesus anywhere and everywhere. Rather than mistaking Jesus for the gardener, maybe she should have assumed that everyone was Jesus until she could see otherwise.
Maybe that’s a learning from the Easter story. Whether you hear this story of death and resurrection as literal or metaphorical, maybe it’s okay to acknowledge that it’s about the impossible happening. And then remember all that seemed impossible in the life of Jesus and remember, too, that things are really only impossible because we haven’t done them yet.
I think that’s a key part of Jesus’ teachings about love and grace. Loving your enemy and those that are difficult to love is hard, but it’s not impossible. Forgiveness is hard, but it’s not impossible. Peace is hard, but it’s not impossible. Inspiring new life in the broken and hurting is hard, but it’s not impossible. Are we ever one hundred percent perfect at doing that? Of course not. We fail. A lot. But Jesus never asked for perfection. Jesus asked for love. And when we love, we bring life and create possibility. We just need to let it out. Keeping love to ourselves doesn’t protect us and it’s not being safe. It just entombs it.
That’s the Easter story, too. We can’t contain Jesus, in a tomb, on a cross, in a book, in a tradition or in a church. Jesus lives. Everywhere. He is love and love is not ended by death. If we first looked at everyone around us as if they were Jesus, wouldn’t that change the world? If we were to see Jesus – first – before all the assumptions and biases of appearance, status, culture and religion, if we were to love one another as if we were loving Jesus, just as Jesus loves us, wouldn’t that breath new life into our world? Wouldn’t that let us out of the tomb, too?