Saint Matthew’s account of the Empty Tomb contains this angelic message: “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.”
As I heard this Word proclaimed I thought of our experience as we release from their lambing pens our mothers with their lambs. When the ewes bear their young we dip the navels in iodine to dry them up and prevent infection. We then gently strip the mothers’ teats between our fingers to ensure that their milk is flowing, then we leave them alone together in a four foot by four foot pen, with food and water for the mother, of course. We give them a couple of days to bond.
When we release the mother with her lambs a curious little drama unfolds. The mother takes a couple of tentative steps into the wider world. There are many other mothers with their lambs out there in the big feed lot. It is cold and noisy out there. The lambs let out little bleats. The mother chortles. The lambs follow the mother, then hold back. Mother turns back: Two steps outward, a step or two back.
Often the mother may trot on ahead to a feeder full of hay. But suddenly realizing her frightened offspring aren’t with her she doubles back. If we have not chained shut their old familiar lambing pen, the ewe and her lambs will go back in. There is no food or water for them there. The old straw has been removed. But that was their home. For the lambs, that was their world.
Even a full 24 hours later we will find that the lambs are lying next to their old lambing pen with their mother hovering over them. Some are quick to get the message. Some are slower. But they all must eventually accept that now their home is bigger. Now their family is larger. Now the running, leaping, boisterous world of a flock of new lambs is where they belong.
For Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” the tomb wasn’t much, but it was all they had to go back to. For the early Jerusalem church, for perhaps a generation, it was Sundays at the tomb. I think the Romans had to try to destroy all traces of it to get these crazy people to stop. And for all generations of Christians ever since the weekly trek to the familiar pews, candles, crosses, statues and clerical uniforms, has provided all the comforts of home.
Comfort has its place. We are only human, and we need to touch the familiar to help screw up the courage to venture out. The trouble arises when we expect to find Jesus back there. The trouble arises when we are too much constricted by our fear. And after all, the tomb IS empty!
No, Jesus has left the building. He is way far away, in the noisy, chaotic world of ministry. It is there, in service to a hurting world—there in mission, that we see Jesus—that we come most in contact with the incarnate and risen Lord Jesus Christ. Not until we admit to ourselves that our intended world is bigger and our family larger than our faith or imagination can contain, will we see Jesus as we follow him outward.