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Easter Sunday

He Is Not There

Why did Mary Magdalene visit the tomb of Christ? Was it simply an act of sight-seeing? St John doesn't tell us, and St Matthew does tell us that 'Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb', but the other two Gospels add the detail that the women went to anoint the body of Jesus, taking the first opportunity to do so once the Sabbath was ended.

So of course this was no act of mere curiosity, but an act of love. Mary's love for Jesus did not die when he died on the cross, and like all true love, Mary's love drives her to serve the one she loves in the only way she now can, by an act of tender reverence towards the body of Jesus.

This is the same instinct that impels us Christians not only to pray for those we have loved who have died, but also to give them a respectful funeral, to tend their graves, and to long for the day when we shall be re-united with them and hold them once again in our arms. We do not pretend that death is nothing at all - it is a profound tragedy, but our love is stronger and deeper.

Mary comes, then, to perform that act of love for one who is dead. But she discovers the strange, hard to grasp truth that stands at the centre of our faith - he is not here, he has risen. The tomb is empty. This empty tomb that once held the corpse of our Saviour and our God is the place that roots our religion in the world of history, the created world that God so loved. Jesus was buried there, the slaughtered victim of all the world's hatred and fear. But he is not there now. The Lamb once slain now lives for ever.

As yet, Mary does not understand what the empty tomb means. How could she? Her conclusion that his body has been stolen makes the best sense of what she sees, and so her love seems to be frustrated; it has reached a dead end. But we know what will happen next - she will encounter the risen Christ in the garden, and he will call her by her name, and she will understand. When this happens, she will know that her love for Christ is not blocked but re-directed.

It is not that Jesus's body no longer matters. On the contrary, it matters all the more, for now it is not only a living but a life-giving body, a glorified body that must be served in new ways. The oils and spices can be left behind, for the loving service that Mary Magdalene must offer to the body of Christ is one that will impel her far from this garden of the dead, to serve Christ in the new garden of Eden which is the Church.

'Go and find my brothers and tell them', Christ will say to Mary. He calls her by name to a new act of loving service, one that has given her the title Apostola Apostolorum, the Apostle of the Apostles. We too are called today and every day to go and find Christ's brothers and sisters and tell them - tell them of our encounter with the risen Christ.

We must indeed tell them of the empty tomb. It matters that God so loved the world that he sent his only Son, it matters that he died on the Cross and was buried in that tomb two thousand years ago. And it matters that the same tomb which could not hold him was empty on the morning of the third day.

But if these historical truths are to prove to us what we so desperately long to believe, that love is indeed stronger than death, then it matters too that we have encountered the risen Christ. It matters that we who find that encounter with the risen body of our slain Lord in the life of the Church should go out to the whole world and proclaim the Good News: he is not there, he is risen, alleluia!

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