Had it occurred in Depression-era Mississippi, rather than first century Roman-occupied Jerusalem (and it very well could have), when the women arrived at the tomb they would have beheld a man dressed in a long, white robe, whittlin' away on a stick, who very likely would have said something like this: "You lookin' for Jesus, of Natchez. But he ain't here. He up'n r-u-n-n - o-f-t !" (That's a paraphrase of the account in Mark's Gospel).
All four of the Gospel writers tell the Easter story (as we now refer to it) differently. If we try to put the four accounts together like puzzle pieces to make one complete picture, we get confused and frustrated -- the pieces just don't fit together.
It did begin so early in the morning it was still dark. The stone had been moved; rolled away leaving the tomb open.
One Gospel says there was an earthquake.
Were there two figures dressed in white at the tomb, or just one?
How many women went to the tomb? Which women were at the tomb?
Was Peter there? Any of the other disciples?
Did Jesus appear at the tomb? To whom did Jesus first appear? What did He say?
Read just one Gospel and you'll get solid answers to some of these questions. Read all four Gospels and you'll likely give up trying to make sense of it all. And that's probably because, like life itself, these events simply do not make sense.
Frederick Buechner writes, "When it comes to just what happened, there can be no certainty. That something unimaginable happened, there can be no doubt. The symbol of Easter is the empty tomb."
Doops was born and raised in the local small-town Baptist church, but refused to get baptized and never joined any church. That's not because he didn't believe in Jesus, but because in fact he DID believe.
One Easter Sunday, Doops gets drunk and walks into the local Baptist church in which he was raised -- right in the middle of the preacher delivering the Easter sermon. Doops interrupts the preacher and disrupts the sermon, yelling out "He is NOT here! He is RISEN!"
Then Doops runs out and goes to the other churches in town -- Methodist, Presbyterian, Holiness, and so on -- yelling out in each of them, "HE AIN'T HERE! HE DONE GOT UP AND RUN OFF!"
Doops sounds like one of the Old Testament prophets the way he runs in and out of churches implying that the pretty buildings and orderly worship services and confident preachers in their new Easter suits are themselves the very tombs today that cannot hold the Body of Christ...
The story of the Empty Tomb reminds us today that the Body of Christ is NOT confined by buildings, nor by doctrines and teachings.
The story of the Empty Tomb reminds us today that even on those occasional Sundays when we go to a church service needing to see Jesus but we do not find Him, that if we listen, we may hear those words spoken to the women at the tomb, "Don't be 'fraid. Jesus ain't here. He up'n r-u-n-n - o-f-t ..."
And, that is NOT necessarily a condemnation of the church as Doops intended it to be. It may just be the hope we need -- that the Christ who lives is on the move; that the Christ who lives is alive in the world around us; that while we celebrate the resurrection inside our churches, the Body of Christ is alive and well and walking outside our walls.
O Jesus, where art thou?
A band called The Lost Dogs tells us to simply try looking where Jesus told us himself he would be:
That's Jesus in the homeless faces;
with the junkies in their livin' hell;
that's Jesus with the drunks and in the lonely places -
the rest home and prison cells.
That's where Jesus is,
where we ought to be;
here's where Jesus works,
inside you and me;
with the folks with AIDS,
and the suffering kids...
that's where Jesus lives.
Christians around the world are "going to church" to celebrate the resurrection. And that's good.
Now, may we follow our risen Lord out of our protected, locked enclosures and into the world where it's dangerous and dirty, where the lonely and suffering and hurting folks are -- for that is where Jesus is.