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He Is Not Here…

One Easter Sunday morning my family and I arrived at our place of worship to find a large bare cross erected by the front door with a sign attached that read, “He is not here. He is risen!” These were originally words of comfort, spoken by angelic messengers at an empty tomb, to the women who had come looking for Jesus. What they were saying was: “You won’t find him here. Go back home and tell everyone the good news.”

I think the irony is rather obvious. In effect, we were being told, along with everyone else who came to church hoping to meet the risen Jesus, that this building was like the empty tomb, and we would be better off turning around with the hope of seeing him on the walk home. Of course, we understood what the good hearted people were trying to accomplish through this misguided use of symbols, but there is a lot of truth to be found in reflection.

Sadly, many people actually do go to church like the women in the gospel accounts, hoping to resurrect a memory of Jesus rather than encounter his risen presence in their midst. They go to remember his finished work on the cross and the forgiveness of sins rather than his continuing mission in the world and being sent out as his witnesses. They go to consume his dead body in thankfulness for what he has done for them rather than follow his living body to share what they have received with others.

The church can so easily become a tomb, and we quite like it that way. A dead Jesus can be contained, controlled, commodified and consumed. Worldly leaders can sell their product, and worldly people will pay for their goods and services. In the meantime, no one needs to worry about Jesus himself confronting their lifestyles, calling them to radical discipleship, committing them to his way of death and resurrection, or commissioning them to join in his ministry of reconciling love for the least and the lost.

As I remember, the service of worship that Easter was, in fact, an extended meditation on the cross of Jesus, in which the resurrection was merely a footnote on the hope of life after death. Forgiveness now, heaven in the end, and guilt management in the meantime. There really is no need or room for the risen Jesus in this program. No wonder the church is full of nominal Christians but few real disciples.

Extract from Following Jesus Himself: A Practical Theology of Disciple Making, by Philip R Meadows.

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