He Is Not Here
Sun, Mar 27, 2016


(LK 24:1-12)

                What an eventful last few days this has been.  Scarcely a week ago, we witnessed Jesus ride into Jerusalem, both humbly and triumphantly, claiming his rightful place as God’s Chosen, the long awaited Messiah.

                But when he arrived at the Temple, and saw the merchants and money changers there, this man of peace that we had all come to know and love, went into a rage the likes of which we had never seen before, driving everyone out of the Temple Court, accusing them of turning God’s house of prayer into a den of thieves.  People were so angry that we narrowly escaped with our lives.

                And then, a couple of days later, when we returned to the Temple and Jesus was teaching on the steps to a crowd that had gathered, he told the story of a man who had a vineyard that he rented to tenants.  When it came time for them to give him his rightful share, he sent a servant to collect what was due – but the tenants beat him and sent him away, empty handed.  So he sent another servant, who received similar treatment, and likewise a third.  Then the owner decided to send his son, and when the tenants saw him, they said “This is the owner’s son; let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.”  Jesus asked those listening “What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them?”  And looking directly at the Temple priests and scribes, who were standing off to the side, listening, he said “He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”  It was clear the priests and scribes understood that Jesus was speaking about them, as they angrily walked away … I feared they would seek to do Jesus serious harm, or worse, if he was not careful.

                And then, as the rich were bringing their offerings to the Temple, as prescribed by the Law of Moses, speaking of how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, Jesus said something very strange.  He said “As for these things that you see … all will be thrown down. … Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again.”  …..  Where his story of the vineyard owner and tenants had angered them days earlier, the priests and scribes burst into laughter when Jesus said this, saying “Does this man not know how many years it took to build this Temple … and he says if it were to be destroyed, he would rebuild it in just three days?  He must be mad!”  And I must admit, at that moment … I thought they might be right.   …..

                Two days later, Jesus instructed us to make preparations to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem – in the upper room of a house he sent us to in the city.  After all that had been happening in recent days, it was good to be together with my fellow followers of Jesus, as we were reminded of the power of God in granting us our freedom from the Pharaoh in Egypt so long ago, even as we hoped and yearned for freedom from Rome in our present day.

                But then, as our Seder was coming to a close, Jesus did something … different.  He took some of the bread from our Passover meal, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said “This is my body, which is given for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.”  And he bid us to eat the bread.

                And then he took a cup that still had some of the Passover wine in it, saying “This cup, which is poured out for you, is the new covenant in my blood.”  And he bid us to drink of it, which we did.  …..

                Much of what happened after that is a blur to me.

                He spoke of one that would betray him … 

                As we went to a nearby garden to pray, speaking to one another as to where each of us thought we stood among the larger group of Jesus’ followers, he chastised us, saying “the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the one who serves.”

                When we arrived at the garden, Jesus went a distance from us to pray, and in the warmth of the evening, and after a large meal that included much wine, we soon fell asleep – and he chastised us for that, saying “Why are you sleeping?  Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.”

                Shortly thereafter, Judas arrived, along with some Temple and Roman guards – and they arrested Jesus, and took him away.  He was taken before the Ruling Council, and then sent to Pilate, who sent him to Herod, who sent him back to Pilate, who said he found no basis for any accusation against him.  But the chief priests were insistent that he was dangerous, so Pilate had him flogged to appease them.  But still, the priests, and the crowd that had gathered and was growing, were not satisfied, and they called out “Crucify him!  Crucify him!”  And finally, in order to avoid a riot, Pilate ordered that Jesus be crucified.

                The Roman guards led him away, forcing him to carry his own cross piece, to a place outside of the city called Golgotha … the place of the skull.  And as they crucified him, do you know what Jesus said?  Looking down at the very people who had just nailed him to a cross, he said “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  And then sometime later, as he breathed his last, he simply said “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”  …..

                A member of the Ruling Council, who secretly had been a follower of Jesus, had arranged with Pilate to be given Jesus’ body, that it might be buried before the start of the Sabbath, which was soon to begin.  So Jesus was hastily wrapped in a linen cloth, placed in a nearby tomb, and a large rock was rolled into place to seal the tomb, just as the sun set.  It would have to wait until after the Sabbath to properly prepare his body spices and ointments.

                But then, this morning, when the women returned to the tomb to finish preparing Jesus’ body for burial, they found that the rock which had sealed it had been removed, and … did they say two angels asked them “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here, but has risen.”  When Magdala told us this, I couldn’t believe what she was saying, so I ran to the tomb to see for myself … and I found it just as she had said.  And as I stood there, trying to figure out what it all meant, I suddenly remembered back to that day on the Temple steps, when Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again.”  Friday … Saturday … Sunday – three days!

                Don’t you see?  Jesus wasn’t talking about the Temple structure – he was talking about himself!  And what else did he tell us … something about “After I am raised up, I will meet you in Galilee, where it all began”?  He knew … he knew that not even the power of death could defeat him – and he told us to meet him in Galilee, so he could prove it to us.

                Galilee, where it all began …

                Brothers, brothers – he is risen, and he awaits us in Galilee!

                We must go … we must go!

                [Turn, begin to run, turn back] … well, are you coming?!