Sunday Week 1 of Easter

I live in Berkeley, just north of the Cal campus, just across from a fraternity house, the band fraternity in fact. And whatever the reputation that such places might have this house is a decent one, pretty quiet, pretty considerate. And as part of that consideration there was a knock at the door last Wednesday evening and two student-types standing there wanting to let us know that they would be having a party on Friday and they promised it wouldn’t go on too long and if we wanted to we could come along. A party on Good Friday? Blank looks. OK Well thanks for telling us.
So on Good Friday evening there was a party. Nothing extravagant or unusual. Just a party. Here we were, in our house, back from churches and prisons and services and processions – a little tired, a little emotional, pondering once again what it means to walk alongside Jesus on his unpopular way. And across the way the guys were whooping it up.
And that’s probably how it should be. Probably how it was that first passion weekend. As Jesus was nailed up for his troubles most of his followers were hiding while the rest of Jerusalem went on its busy way preparing for Passover. What percentage of the population even noticed? 10? 5? Jesus death was a non-event. The parties continued, considerately I’m sure, and the slaughtered lamb was eaten, the bread broken and maybe one too many cups of wine poured.
Saturday must have dawned with yawning hangovers for the many and yawning emptiness for the few huddled away for whom this one grisly death did matter.
And now it’s Sunday, the third day. The headaches are gone. The relatives are going and Passover is about to be forgotten until next year. But for a few nothing will be the same ever again.
Maybe forty years later when the Roman army sacked Jerusalem and fought their way into the bitterly protected Temple to the Holy of Holies. They were astonished at what they found. Past the gold and the finery, past the candle sticks and the veils, past the blood of lambs and defending Jews, they came to a small empty room full of nothing but the absent presence of God. The heart of the earth, the Holy of Holies, the sanctum sanctorum, was empty. Expecting treasure, expecting ornament, expecting glory they found instead an emptiness, a bare, vacant space. Only such an emptiness can hold the God of Israel.
It is fitting then that we are confronted this Easter, every Easter, with the truth that confronted Mary Magdalene that first witness, that first Easter. An empty tomb. A small space full of nothing. Where Jesus should be, where a corpse should be, only absence.
In weeks to come we are going to hear all the stories of meetings with the once-again-living Jesus but the first fact, the first awkward Easter fact is the empty tomb. It confronts us just like it confronted those first friends of Jesus with a puzzle and a challenge. Where we expected only death and decay, ruin and rot, we do not find them but we do not find life either … we are faced with a hole in our understanding. As the angels told us last night: “He is not here.” He is no longer dead but he is not here.
Each of us has to fill that hole. Together we have to fill that hole. Because Jesus did not come back to life to teach some more, or heal some more, or work some more miracles. He disappeared. He didn’t turn up to thumb his nose at Pilate or Caiaphas. He didn’t force out the Romans or depose the priests or shatter the temple. He is not dead but is not here. He is not here. The parties go on to this day. To most of the world Jesus does not matter. To most of this city he doesn’t matter.
But to us he matters. You and I are a people bound together by nothing, nothing but the empty air of an empty tomb. He is not dead but he is not here – but we are. And though he doesn’t matter to our friends and our neighbours, we must matter. He has left us this charge and challenge. We must matter. We must be his presence. We must be the living empty heart of our city, our nation, our earth.