Thursday, March 12, 2020

He’s Not Here, But Where Is He?

A Sketch on Easter

Narrator/Elder: A bright morning in Jerusalem. The early Church is in hiding, gathered in an upper room reflecting on recent events.
(A man enters, pushing his way to the front shouting)

Lucius: Is he here?

Elder: Who are you looking for?

Lucius: Jesus. Is he here?

Elder: Why do you want to know?

Lucius: (insistent) I need to find out where his body is. Do any of you know? I’ve heard strange stories about him appearing to his disciples. Have any of you seen him? If so where, when? I have to know the truth!

Elder: You are a Roman, one of our oppressors. How do we know you don’t intend betraying us to the authorities?
(Pause. Murmurs of concern from the group)

Mary: (Gets up slowly from her seat and raises her hand for quiet) Please allow me to speak (she turns to Lucius). I was the first one to see him.

Lucius: Where did you expect to meet him? Are you sure you weren’t dreaming?

Mary: No. I hadn’t slept that night even though I was exhausted with weeping. So many things spinning around in my head, the places we’d been to, the people we’d met, the amazing things he’d done. How could it have all come to this?

Elder: Mary and some of the other women had busied themselves preparing the spices to anoint Jesus’ body. It was one last thing they could do for him.

Mary: When we set off for the tomb it was still dark. Nobody said a word as we made our way through the deserted streets.

Lucius: Were there no men with you? How did you think you were going to move the stone?

Mary: We hadn’t planned that far ahead, by then we were worn out, too tired and confused to think straight. But as we got closer to the tomb we could see that the stone had already been rolled away. Some trick of the light perhaps? Day was just breaking by then but the entrance to his tomb was clearly open. I looked in. There was no sign of a body.

Lucius: Did you see anyone else? A man dressed in white perhaps?

Mary: Yes. Well, not in white exactly. His robe had a strange glow in the morning sunlight. I can’t describe it really, but he said Jesus wasn’t there anymore, he had risen from the dead and we were to tell his disciples what had happened.

Lucius: So you didn’t see him straight away.

Mary: No. The others left immediately but I lingered by the tomb. I still felt close to him there somehow. That’s when I saw him. At first I thought he was the gardener. He wanted to know why I was crying and if I was trying to find someone, so I asked him if he knew where Jesus’ body had been taken.

Lucius: Why did you think he was the gardener?

Mary: I was distraught. I didn’t expect to see anyone I knew standing there. Then he said “Mary” and I recognised his voice. That same dear voice I thought I’d never hear again. Everything the angel had said was true. My Lord was alive! My heart was bursting with joy so I ran back to tell everyone what had happened.

Lucius: What did the disciples say when you told them?

Mary: They didn’t believe me, said they couldn’t trust the word of a “hysterical” woman.

Elder: It’s to our shame that we didn’t believe you.

Thomas: (coming forward) No, Mary, we didn’t believe you. I for one was in no mood for fanciful tales about someone rising from the dead. It was all over, the great dream about bringing in the Kingdom of God. Good while it lasted, I suppose, but what fools we’d been to think he could really change anything. Jesus was dead and buried. We were all terrified we could be next.

Lucius: Why are you still here then if you were so disillusioned?

Thomas: We split up, arranging to meet again a few days later. That’s when I got really angry. As soon as I arrived I could tell something had changed. “We have seen the Lord!” they said. I thought they’d all gone mad. So I told them unless I could see the nail wounds in his hands and put my fingers into them I wouldn’t believe any of it.

Lucius: A man after my own heart. “Seeing is believing”, that’s my motto too.

Thomas:  I admit I was hurt, blurting out my words. How could he have come back when I wasn’t there? Had I meant nothing to him?

Lucius: So what happened to make you change your mind?

Thomas: About a week later we were all gathered together once more. The door was locked. Then suddenly Jesus appeared amongst us saying “peace be with you”! He turned to me, offering me the chance to examine his hands and side if I needed further proof it was really him.

Lucius: What did you do?

Thomas: I needed no proof. It was him alright, the Jesus I’d known and followed for the last three years. My Lord and my God (he sits, overcome with emotion).

Elder: (Pause) You saw him too that first evening didn’t you Cleopas? Tell us again what happened.

Cleopas: It was on our way back to Emmaus. We had left it quite late to set off home but after talking it through I thought we’d both be safer there. In any case I needed to get outside. I couldn’t bear the idea of spending another day stuck in that room. So we left. There’s nothing like a good long walk to clear your mind.

Lucius: I agree. I hate sitting around, waiting. A soldier’s life can be quite boring sometimes.

Cleopas: Well, we were talking so intently about what had happened during the Festival we didn’t notice that a stranger had joined us as we walked along. He asked what we were discussing and why we looked so sad, so we stopped and told him everything that had occurred in Jerusalem over the last few days. Surely he must have heard about how Jesus had been arrested by the religious authorities and handed over to the Romans to be crucified?

Elder: Yes, everyone in the city was so shocked when they found out he had been executed

Cleopas: We told him how his body had gone missing that morning, but some women in our group had seen an angel who said he was alive!

Lucius: Did this man know what had happened to Jesus then?

Cleopas: Let me finish my story. The stranger began explaining the Scriptures, telling us how the prophets had clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things to achieve his mission to save us. How our hearts burned inside us as he spoke!

Elder: Yes, he taught with an authority we’d never heard before. But in the past whenever he explained how he would have to die to save us, well, we just didn’t want to know.

Cleopas: The time had gone by so quickly we hadn’t noticed we were nearly home. The stranger intended to continue his journey but as it was getting dark by then we persuaded him to accept our hospitality for the night. After we’d sat down to eat our guest took the bread and blessed it. He broke the bread, gave it to us and that’s when it happened. We suddenly recognised him, it was Jesus! And at that very moment he disappeared!

Lucius: What did you do?

Cleopas: What else could we do? In spite of our weariness sleep was out of the question. We retraced our steps to Jerusalem straight away, praising God. It felt like we had wings on our feet. We just had to tell the others that Jesus was alive and we had spoken with him.

Lucius: Why then hasn’t he shown himself to the authorities. He could silence those who had him put to death, the chief priests, the Sanhedrin, Herod or Pilate even.

Elder: Jesus has risen but his resurrection can only be experienced personally. It’s a celebration of his continuing presence amongst the weak and fearful and can appeal to anyone who is feeling powerless and vulnerable.

Lucius: (Pause) My name is Lucius. My life is in danger as I was one of the soldiers responsible for guarding his body. That’s why I’m desperate to find him. If I do they might be prepared to reduce my punishment.

Elder: So you failed in your duty. Are you in hiding too?

Lucius: Yes. When the officer told us to guard a dead man for three days we thought at first he was joking. I’ve had to carry out some strange orders in my time but nothing like that. But we soon settled to our task, things were quiet, so we talked as usual about our next leave home, seeing our families, going to the games. It was freezing cold that last night. We huddled together around the fire wrapped in our cloaks, none of us getting much sleep. Dawn was just about to break and we were looking forward to going back to the barracks to warm ourselves up when there was this terrific rumbling noise. The earth shook. Anyone standing was thrown to the ground. It took a few moments for us to gather our senses, then Gaius turned to me pale as a shroud and said “look, the stone’s been moved! “ When we entered the tomb we could clearly see it was empty. Then we noticed some women nearby speaking with a tall man in dazzling white clothes, but they soon left.

Elder: Was it you who started the rumour that the disciples had taken the body?

Lucius: I admit we took a bribe from the chief priests to say this was so. More than a month’s wages as it turned out. We lied about his body being stolen, but I knew any explanation we gave to our superiors wouldn’t stop us from being arrested. Sleeping on duty, that’s punishable by death. I just panicked and went on the run. Can you forgive me for what I’ve done?

Elder: Yes, if you are truly sorry. Open your heart to him and Jesus will come to you and ease your restless spirit. It could happen anywhere, in a garden, a room, on the road, it doesn’t matter. He told us where two or three people are gathered in his name he will be there with them.

Lucius: But I am an outsider here. Why would Jesus concern himself with me?

Elder: He is with all those on the margins of society, they are family to him. He promises the hungry, the naked, the sick and those in prison a comfort and a freedom from fear unlike anything we’ve ever known. You see it’s up to you, Lucius. There’s nothing to prevent you from asking God today for his gift of faith in our risen Jesus.

(Lucius embraces the elder)

Questions to Reflect:

1.   Who do you identify yourself in this story with? If you were an additional character in this story how would you react to the mystery of the Resurrection of Jesus?
2.   If the ‘risen Jesus is not here’ at the empty tomb where is he today? Can you identify the locations for risen Jesus today in your context?
3.   If you have located the presence of risen Jesus today, how would you respond to such a locality and what does discipleship mean in such a context?

Credits: Concept: Raj Patta & Written by Trevor Williams
March 2020

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