Posted by: owizblog | April 1, 2016

“Where’s Jesus?” Sermon, UCB, Easter Sunday, 27 March 2016

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Before Easter, the question “Where’s Jesus?” is an interesting one. In fact, as far as Matthew’s Gospel, and Luke’s, it’s the question that shapes their stories. “Where’s the king whose star we saw in the East?” ask the Wise Men, at Herod’s Palace – and the answer they get is “Not here!” But that question sparks a follow up: “We’d be very interested if you could find out where he is, so that I, Herod, can come and… er… worship, yes, that’s it, worship him…”

And then Mary and Joseph have to make sure that nobody can find Jesus, while Herod’s obscene wrath plays out.

Luke’s Gospel begins with Gabriel finding out where Mary is. Luke’s Christmas story starts with a relocation, from Nazareth to Bethlehem, and then the summons to the shepherds, who didn’t know they were looking for anything, to come and look for this child that’s just been born. “And this is how you’ll know you’ve found him; he’ll be in a manger, wrapped in swaddling cloths…”

And then, eight days later, old Simeon looks up – the old man whose whole life has been an asking of the question “Where’s the one we’re all waiting for?” – and he sees Jesus being brought into the Temple courtyard, and he says “There he is…”

And then it all goes quiet. There’s a blip on the radar when he’s twelve – and notice how, suddenly, that story is suddenly dominated by a penny dropping, and Mary and Joseph asking “Where’s Jesus?” – and finding him in the last place you’d think, which is, as the child tells his parents, actually the first place they should have thought to look, in God’s house, “in my Father’s house…”

And then – Matthew and Luke agree with their model, Mark: John the Baptist calls people to baptism and the turning-around of their lives, and he tells them to get ready for what’s coming next. For who’s coming next…

Where is he?

Here he is, unnoticed in the crowd, coming for baptism.

And where did he go now? Where’s he disappeared to? To the desert, to be alone with God, to think, to pray, to prepare…

2

And then comes his ministry. This, especially, according to Luke, is the time, between the end of the Temptations, when the Devil leaves him alone, to the time the Devil returns to seduce Judas, when Jesus stands in what the German critic and theologian Hans Conzelmann has called “the mid-point of time.”

Jesus’ ministry is still marked by his coming and his going, by people expecting him, and wondering where he went, and seeking him when he seeks solitude. Both Luke and John, in their Gospels, have plots against him, but for both Gospels, in different ways, it “isn’t his time.” People wonder where he is, where he went – but he’s about, in much the same way that certain people in the public eye are about today. He’s in the collective mind, in the zeitgeist.

And just a footnote; isn’t it interesting how, with some celebrities, you suddenly find yourself saying “I wonder what happened to him?” I wonder where they went?” I wonder where she is now?”

But it isn’t like that with Jesus. He becomes more and more “about”, more and more at the forefront of people’s minds. And – as with blind Bartimaeus at Jericho, or with Mary at her house and Martha’s, whose story we were looking at a couple of Sundays ago – people start to realize that this is him going to Jerusalem, and that when he does come by, they will have to make the most of the moment.

And then, with the whole city asking “Where’s Jesus?” he enters it in spectacular style – yet, as only Jesus could have done, it’s a profoundly humble spectacle, a triumphal entry that turns the very idea of triumph upside down.

And then he turns the money-lenders’ tables upside down in the Temple, and everything changes again. Now he’s here, or there, in public – too public for the powers who have decided he needs to go. They can’t arrest him there, or he’d cause a riot. And then he’s gone again, with his disciples, melting away to solitude and prayer, lost, somehow, in this teeming, overflowing city at its Passover.

But Judas can answer the question “Where’s Jesus?” and can answer it in a useful, sinister way. Where is he alone?” “Where can we be sure of finding him, sure of getting him?”

And Judas takes them to the garden, he is their satnav, and his kiss tells them “You have reached your destination…” Here’s Jesus.

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And from that moment on, there is no doubt where he is, successively. Successively, he’s before the Sanhedrin, then Herod, then Pilate, and he’s precisely where the dark powers that hold him want him to be – and can know him to be.

They have his location nailed down – metaphorically, then literally. And then, he’s dead, and his location is of academic concern. But if anyone’s interested, there’s a grave you can go to, with a great big stone you can’t miss.

And today is the day all that changes. Today is the day the women go to the grave, and find the stone rolled away, and no answer to the question “Where’s Jesus?” Not even the consoling, cold reality of “He’s dead. And he’s here.” Because he isn’t. They came in the oppressive certainty that they would find him here. And they don’t.

The empty grave doesn’t create faith. Not for the women, who at the end of Mark’s Gospel run away: “They were frightened, you see…” Not for the hapless male disciples who, in John’s account, arrive with Mary Magdalen, look into the grave, can make nothing of what they don’t see. So, astonished – and, actually, astonishingly – go home. “I can’t process this just now. I’ll deal with it later.” And not, initially, for Mary Magdalen. And she actually voices the question. Where’s Jesus? Where have you put him? He isn’t here. He must be somewhere. In one location… One place… Where is that place? Where’s Jesus?
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The Gospel resurrection stories don’t fit together neatly. They’re told on the basis of differing traditions, and at differing distances from that first Easter.

But they agree on two things. On, and after, the morning of the third day, the question “Where’s Jesus?” doesn’t really get you anywhere. But you have to ask it anyway. The disciples on the road to Emmaus know where he was – on the cross, then dead and buried. The stranger who talks to them coaxes a new question into their minds: that may not be an exhaustive answer – so: where is he now? And as soon as the penny drops that he’s here – he isn’t. “He vanished from their sight…” Likewise with both Luke’s and John’s account of that same evening. The disciples are locked away from the world, fearful of the forces that killed Jesus, yet beginning to grasp that nothing is as simple as they’d thought, when they thought that Jesus was just dead, in the tomb, end-of. And he’s there. Profoundly there, sharing their meal with them, which has now (as it had at Emmaus, become his meal again, and they his guests. And then he’s gone.

And then, in John, comes Thomas, who missed the Sunday night, and can’t believe that he doesn’t know where Jesus still is. But there’s something that draws him back, even to the danger of being with the executed man’s followers all together in one place – and it turns out, for him, too, that there’s an utterly unexpected answer to the question “Where’s Jesus?”

“Here.”

And yet not.

And yet here.

And then, looking ahead to Pentecost, the answer becomes nuanced – well, it already has for John’s Gospel, whose Pentecost comes on Easter Evening, when Jesus breathes his spirit on the disciples. (So too, for Paul, only more radically, since the empty grave is not part of Paul’s narrative of the faith; he answered for himself the question “Where’s Jesus?” when he rode full-tilt into him on the road to Damascus, and was knocked off his horse by the impact!)

Where’s Jesus?

He is with God, and he is with us in his Spirit, because he has not left us alone, not left us bereft.

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And so with us. We come from our real lives in the world this Easter Sunday, as we do Sunday by Sunday, and we ask “Where’s Jesus?” And sometimes we do so in anxiety, or sadness, or even desperation.

But the answer is always the same. Here. Here in his Spirit, yes – and maybe to give it one little, further but absolutely necessary twist, here in his humanity too. Martin Luther’s answer to the question “Where’s Jesus?” is basically this.

Because of the whole story of the Gospel, his taking of our human nature, his walking the dusty earth of Judea and Galilee, his dying, his resurrection, his ascension – you can’t ask the question “Where’s Jesus?” now, without also asking “Where’s God?” And, says Luther, you can’t say “God is here!” without also saying “And here is Jesus, in the fullness of his humanity, too.”

Ask where God is – and there’s Jesus. Ask whether God is here, and you’re asking whether Jesus Christ is here too, in his humanity which is your humanity. Ask whether you’re in a loving, understanding, gracious and forgiving presence, and the answer is always yes.

Because before the Crucifixion, Jesus of Nazareth, in the fullness and completeness of his incarnate humanity, lived as you and I live, and on the cross, he died as you and I must die, but after the Resurrection, Jesus Christ lives with the life of God.

Where’s Jesus? You know the answer to that now.

Are you ever where Jesus isn’t? You know the answer to that, too.

But just in case it needs said – the answer’s “No”!


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