Although “He is Risen” has become the catchcry for Easter Sunday, that is, in fact, not the first step in the process. Before the women, at the tomb, are told “he is risen”, they are first told, “he is not here”.
Actually, I would like to see Easter Sunday become “He Is Not Here Day”. Imagine how that might help to reshape our faith. We would first need to mull over the affirmation that Jesus, the one who was crucified, died, and laid in the tomb, awaiting burial … was no longer there! He is not here. He is risen.
Mark tells the story of the “He Is Not Here” moment, with great skill. Mark’s Gospel offers a curious, seemingly incomplete ending: Jesus, dead on the cross, has been buried in the tomb. The women come to anoint the body, but they discover, to their surprise, that the tomb is empty.
And that is where the story ends. The women come, in grief, as mourners, to say their farewells….but they cannot bring about closure, for the tomb has been opened, and the body which they were to anoint has disappeared. He is not here. He is risen.
Paradoxically, it is only through the discovery of absence that a sense of the ongoing presence of Jesus can be identified. ‘He is not here. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’
Only in absence is the presence realised. Only through the empty tomb, are the women able to begin to perceive of the risen, ongoing presence of Jesus. This is the gift of the Markan account to people of faith.
Of course, the other Evangelists are quite uneasy with this ending, and they each provide some stories of how and where and when the disciples did actually encounter the risen Jesus. Even Mark’s Gospel receives a number of variant endings, offering to resolve the tension through providing accounts of these encounters.
But the story has this simmering tension embedded right at its heart.
He is not here. He is risen.
I would like to think that we could afford a day, or maybe even a week, to ponder this mystery: paradox at the heart of the story of Jesus, and the paradox of the ways that he engages with his followers in their lives.
His absence creates pain; the first challenge of Easter (on this He Is Not Here Day) is, how do we deal with this painful absence?