‘And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, [the women] went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” (Mark 16:2-3) This stone sealed the Tomb where Jesus the Crucified had been laid. We are told: ‘It was very large.’ (Mark 16:4) In some senses, this immovable stone is symbolic of that great chasm which separates the Land of the Living from that of the Dead, and which stops any crossing of the living from here to there, and prevents any crossing of the dead from there to here. (C.f.: Luke 16:26) Death is that final, total and absolute alienation, the true consequence of sin. (Genesis 3:24)

‘And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back’ — a first glimpse of the Good News! (Mark 16:4. C.f.: 9:1) They enter the Tomb and hear its message: “The One whom you seek, the Crucified Jesus of Nazareth, is not here.” In St John’s account of this event, which will be read at masses later in the day, the emptiness of the tomb is stark: it has no appearance of the Risen Jesus, nor are there any angels who declare him Risen; all we have is Mary Magdalene’s distraught words: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” (John 20:2) This question, posed by an Empty Tomb, is the question of this Day: Where is he? (John 20:13)

The World’s answer, matter of fact and plausible, is given in Matthew’s Gospel: “His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.” (Matthew 28:13) By itself, the Empty Tomb proves nothing. In our Gospel this morning we are told of the women’s experience in the Tomb: ‘And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” (Mark 16:5-7) What we are not given in this morning’s reading is its very next verse: ‘And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.’ (Mark 16:8) Like the Empty Tomb, neither are visions of angels and ‘signs from heaven’ (Mark 8:11-13) enough to evoke faith in a Risen Jesus. (C.f.: Luke 16:31)

Where does such faith come from? The answer lies in the message these women were supposed to deliver: “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” The faith we seek comes in the encounter with the Risen One. And the Gospels record many such encounters. Mary Magdalene sees him but does not recognise him till he says her name. (John 20:16. C.f.: Luke 24:15, 31) Such encounters are personal. (C.f.: Acts 9:4) This Jesus then says a curious thing to her: “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.” In the encounter is a ‘knowing’ that tells us that this is no ghostly encounter but a real meeting with the Crucified One. (C.f.: John 20:20; Luke 24:41; Acts 9:5) Yet it is different; we have to let go of what we had, to meet him in a new way. And in that encounter we come to know where he is. (John 20:17) The encounter also re-gathers disciples scattered by fear (Mark 14:27; Luke 15:4; John 10:11), which deepens their call and commitment (Luke 24:33), commissioning them to go out and carry on the work that Jesus had begun; here we know what we must do to answer his call. (Mark 16:15; Matthew 28:19. C.f.: Mark 1:16ff; 16:7) And all this comes with an empowering that assures us that, although all the world condemns and ridicules the Christ and all who follow him (John 15:18ff), God has raised him up and vindicated him: we know where he is, and that all he said was true, and that he has not abandoned us but is working with us still. (John 20:21-22; 16:7-10; Mark 16:19-20; Hebrews 7:25) And we will know, too, that death does not have the last word; its Tomb has been breached … and his Tomb becomes for us the Universal Tomb, the Grave of us all, whose stone has been rolled away. (Matthew 27:51-53)

To understand what is going on here, we need to go back into the Old Testament, to the story of the Prophet Elijah with his disciple Elisha, when Elijah was taken up from Elisha. (2 Kings 2:1ff) The point in that story was that Elijah had to go away for Elisha, his disciple, to become Prophet in his stead, for Elijah’s spirit to come upon him. For, as long Elijah was with him, Elisha would always defer to him. So for us, Jesus had to go away for us to take his place, that the work he came to do may go on, and his departure came with the promise that we will receive his Spirit. (John 16:7) But as it was for Elisha, so it is for us: he had to see Elijah go that he may know where he is and know that the Lord has justified him, vindicated him, confirmed the truth in him.

So we, too, need to know where Jesus is for his Spirit to come upon us and confirm us in the Truth. (Mark 16:19-20; John 14:6, 17; 15:26. C.f.: 20:2, 13) This is the encounter we seek. For it is an experience that will breathe new life into us, empowering us to be prophet in his stead, so to speak, and transforming us from being disciples into apostles. (John 20:22; Genesis 2:7; Ezekiel 11:19-20; Isaiah 65:17; 1 Corinthians 15:10) Then we will walk in newness of life with a sure faith in Jesus raised from the dead. (Romans 6:4; John 3:14-15; 8:28) Then we shall be like those disciples in Jesus day, of whom it was said: ‘And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.’ (Mark 16:20) And we will have learnt to live in hope, ‘knowing’ that we, too, can be like him: raised up from the dead. (1 John 3:2; Romans 8:24-25. C.f.: Mark 9:10) This is the Good News we celebrate in the Easter Event and culminating, as it does, in the Pentecost Experience. (Acts 2:1- 4) In it and through it, we affirm that the Spirit of Jesus can and will come upon us, making of us his witnesses, … and then, we will be like him. (Romans 8:29. C.f.: John 15:26-27; Mark 1:10-11)

By Dom Steele Hartmann OCSO