They arrived too late. The stone had already been rolled away. The cloths on his body had already been cast aside. He had already gone. The Resurrection of Jesus, the most important event in history, the event that takes history beyond history and into the realm of the divine, was seen by no-one. It was cast by some as a theft, a theft of the dead body of Jesus. And yes, it was a theft. The risen Lord steals away. He steals death away. He steals back from the murderous and greedy hands of Satan his beloved human race. Satan had stolen mankind from God. By the Resurrection, God stole us back to himself.
The death of Jesus had been so public, so noisy, so messy. Some of his followers were there; others were not. At His resurrection, even those who might have wanted to be there were not there, were not allowed to be there, not even the Virgin Mother. For the Resurrection is a divine action upon a human being. It belongs to the inner life of the Trinity in its coming about. It is entirely a matter between the three Persons. It is the mysterious living out in the flesh of the Son, of God’s inner divine life.
We humans always arrive, and always will arrive, too late to see God in action. We experience its effects, its glorious and wonderful works. But what human being was there when the big bang took place, when the wonder of creation exploded like a ginormous plant from a seed, a plant still growing and expanding, still unfolding in its spectacular majesty and wonderful adventure? What human being is consulted by God before he is created or which one of us knew the moment of our conceiving? Which man or woman suddenly struck by the deep and saving pain of sorrow and conversion was aware of the prior advances of God to prepare that life-giving revival to bring about eternal healing to his soul?
It is not ours as creatures of God to grasp or get behind the mind and will of God as if we could somehow understand or control it by knowing it beforehand. We can’t demand transparency of God or subpoena him to explain himself! The ways of God will always not be our ways. The thoughts of God will always not be our thoughts. The marvels of God will always be beyond our wildest dreams. The wisdom of God will always stump and astonish us. And more than anything, the love of God will always outpace and outstrip our fears of failure and death, our prophecies of doom and our predictions of catastrophe. For the Lord’s is the earth and its fullness, the world and all its peoples.
Why look among the dead for someone who is alive? Why think the logic of death applies to the one who said I am the resurrection and the life? Why try to square the circle? Why be surprised that forgiveness defeats sin? Why search among what is finite for infinite love or joy? Why ask what the truth is, as Pilate stupidly did, when Truth in Person stands before you? Why say no-one loves you, as some do say, when Love in Person has died and risen for you? Although very understandable in many situations, does it in the end make sense to languish long in despondency and discouragement when your destiny is to sit with God on his throne? And although no-one can know the pain of a broken heart, why blame God, as some do, for grief and sorrow when He has borne it all for you and restored you to joy?
Even today, we continue to be too late with our questions about life, love, suffering, death and destiny, because the answers are already given in Jesus. But many don’t seek him out as alive and risen; to all intents and purposes many live as if he were dead. To paraphrase a question Jesus once put to the Pharisees, why do you search here there and everywhere for true happiness when I alone can give and guarantee it? Even today, Jesus is at work preparing hearts to be won back to him. He is paving the way for the salutary pain of repentance and conversion and for the relief and release of tears of sorrow in those who still resist him, misunderstand him, reject him or despise him. He is risen for them and will, to their amazement, be their one desire and delight when they stop thinking he is still dead, or stop wishing he were still dead. Christ needs no-one’s permission to rise from the dead. Those who may as yet be dead and sin do not by their choice somehow keep Christ imprisoned in the tomb. On the contrary, it is they who are in the moral and spiritual tomb; but it is not an impenetrable tomb: it is a tomb which is accessible to the risen one, as the upper room was accessible to him when he appeared to the Apostles on Easter Sunday.
It is our glory that we are too late to witness the Resurrection. I used to always feel deep child-like joy that my father got up very early in the morning and was gone from the house before the rest of us stirred. I was glad that I was too late to catch him in. It meant he was already working for us when we were still asleep. It meant our well-being came before his own comfort. It meant that we could have deep reliance and trust in his providence. He always went ahead to make sure that we would be safe.
The Lord as Creator of the universe and of our individual selves; the Lord who always went before his people when leading them to the Promised Land, planning and preparing it with exquisite detail for their greatest good; the Lord who foresaw humanity’s fall but would not be snookered by it and developed the intricate and beautiful plan of redemption; the Lord who took to himself the tragedy of our human condition and lived through it even to die on a Cross and lie in a grave; that Lord, meek and mild, humble and gentle, unassuming and unobtrusive could not rise from the dead in any other way than in silent concealment. The Resurrection was as humble and astonishing as his incarnation. It was the hidden glory of the obedient Son, always ahead of us, always preceding us, always anticipating us, always preparing for us.
One day, he will return openly and gloriously when the work of the Trinity in preparing the Kingdom of Heaven has run its course in human history. On that day, we will find neither him nor ourselves among the dead. For our mortality, our sin and failure are not our destiny. Our natural habitat is not the grave. Provided we have sincerely sought to love him, we will share in that final revelation of what eye has not seen, ear has not heard, of what has never entered into the human heart: all that God has prepared for those who love him.
On this holiest of all holy days, we cry out with joyful thanks to you our Mighty Hero, our Divine Warrior, valiant and strong: Alleluia! Victory and honour and power and glory and thanksgiving to you for ever and ever. Amen.