The empty tomb

Mark’s account of the resurrection of Jesus ends, according to most commentators, without an appearance of Jesus and with the women saying ‘nothing to anyone for they were afraid.’ They were the first but certainly not the last to be utterly distraught by the Easter event. People ever since have either been thrilled beyond imagining by it, like Mary of Magdala (John 20:17), or scandalised and put off, like Paul’s hearers in Athens (Acts 17:32).

It is true; we cannot think our way into accepting the resurrection of Jesus. Faith is a gift. But faith will not last unless it is worked on with our reason. It is like the story of the two boys who were fond of riding and they go down to the stables in search of a pony. They find the stables empty and one turns away despondent, but the other looks in and says, ‘with all that manure around there must be a pony!’ That’s ‘faith’ in the sense that it is believing in something unseen – but it is not unreasonable.

The empty tomb is like that. All the women see is ‘the place where they laid him.’ The missing body is evidence of something. It would take them time to discover what exactly that something was. Their confusion and fear would continue but by evening on that first day all the stories would be gathered up by the early community of friends of Jesus and would add up to one amazing conclusion; ‘The Lord has indeed risen’ (Luke 24:34).

The empty tomb is a powerful symbol of the brokenness of our world. Jesus ‘carried our sufferings’ (Isaiah 53:4) right on to this ultimate stage. He was misunderstood, rejected, ‘handed over’, put to death and now there was nothing left – not even a body. From our media we can describe our own world of arrest and suffering and death, of obstinacy and prejudice, of greed and amorality, of disability and poverty, of loneliness and despair. But ‘the night is darkest just before dawn.’ Sometimes the greater the pain, the greater the hope!And the empty tomb stands as a symbol of the deeply painful loss and confusion that we experience as we try to be present to this world of ours. Sometimes we can do no more than what we do when someone is dying; we just sit with them and hold their hand.

This year we sit at the bedside of Zimbabwe in hope.Our faith tells us that the death of Jesus is not the end of the story. His rising from the dead had them all standing there ‘dumbfounded’ (Luke 24:41) and we are called to believe that, as the letter to the Romans tells us, ‘if in union with Christ we have imitated his death, we shall also imitate him in his resurrection’ (6: 5).Jesus in his physical body could not reach out in time and space to all the peoples of the earth; he needed us to do that.

The words of the ‘young man’ at the tomb, ‘he is going ahead of you to Galilee’, mean that Jesus has gone on in front and he invites us to share in the work that he started ‘in Galilee’. Our Galilee is Zimbabwe and the time in which we live now.

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