I had a sudden flashback to my childhood, this week. I was standing in front of a schoolteacher, defending myself against an accusation of wrongdoing. There was no point in denial, so I tried to throw the blame, “I only did what Michael was doing”, I bleated. The riposte was instant; no doubt she had used it many times before. “Would you follow him into his grave as quickly?”
Three of the four gospel accounts of Easter morning place someone inside Jesus’ tomb. Matthew and Luke tell us the women enter; John says that it is Peter followed by the beloved disciple. Only Mark has the entire action take place outside. It’s traditional to use these passages to illustrate the emptiness of the grave and to contrast Jesus’ absence from his burial place with his appearances elsewhere over the hours and days that follow.
I’ve no problem with any of that, but it feels as though there is another dimension that has got squeezed out of the picture. Matthew, Mark and John all tell us that the visitors to the tomb hurry or even run away. There is a dynamism, vitality and urgency here that we too easily overlook. Luke expresses the same thing slightly differently by having the first resurrection appearance being to two disciples on a journey to Emmaus.
If we have made the most of these last few days of Holy Week we will indeed have followed Jesus into his grave. And now we need to follow him as quickly out of it! Ironically of course this is the moment when many clergy and laypeople heave a great sigh of relief that the rush of services has come to an end and head off for a few days well earned rest. I’m not begrudging anyone their holidays, but simply noting that whatever momentum we have built up over the previous week will, if we are not alert to the danger, have dissipated by the time we emerge from our post-Easter break.
Whether it is full or empty, the grave is too obvious and natural an ending place. It imparts an inaccurate sense of finality to the Easter story. For the disciples it isn’t the end but the beginning. A new relationship with Jesus beckons them forward. As Matthew puts it, Christ is “going on ahead of them to Galilee”. And Galilee itself is no safe place of rest. It is border country; where unpredictable encounters are always likely; where Jewish traditions vie with outside influences; where the Good News they bring will have to engage seriously with cultures and lifestyles outside of their own.
As they hurry along their journey they will encounter Jesus on the way, in both likely and unlikely places. Their meetings will strengthen them and revive them. So my prayer for us all this Easter Day is that we who have followed Jesus into his grave will continue to follow him out and onwards. And that such rest as we take from our labours will not cost us the momentum that Holy Week has granted us.