“They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body.”
Luke 24:2 NRSV
“I know I’m not crazy! It was right there just a moment ago!” Perhaps you can relate to these words and the situation which often leads to such a declaration. You go to the place where you often look for car keys, eye glasses, or perhaps some money, and there is…well…nothing. I know the sinking feeling that goes with searching for something important and, for whatever reason, has gone missing in action. From early in my life, I recall an experience when my daddy was doing a bit of exterior painting on our house. To know my daddy is to know that he is very meticulous about his tools, but on this occasion a putty knife went missing. He had been scraping old paint from a section of the house, stopped for a moment, and upon returning to his work realized the putty knife was gone. It wasn’t on the ladder. It wasn’t on the ground. It wasn’t in his pocket. It was nowhere to be found. That was about 35 years ago and to this day we haven’t seen the putty knife. Now something as insignificant as a putty knife may not seem like a big deal to many, but in that moment my daddy knew he wasn’t “crazy.”
I share this childhood memory to set the tone for what the women may have felt on that first morning of the new week. The haste with which Jesus’ body had been removed from the cross and placed into a borrowed tomb didn’t allow for the proper rituals which often accompanied death. The dawn of the Sabbath, coupled with its restrictions concerning work and rest, had served to delay the women’s ability to honor the one they believed to have been the Messiah. I say “they believed to have been” because this wasn’t how things were supposed to end. The Jews still found themselves oppressed by the Romans, a new kingdom had yet to arrive, and their “hero” was…dead. The hero isn’t supposed to die. Especially in this instance when there was still much to be done. Maybe he wasn’t who they thought he was. Perhaps their hopes had been led along, building anticipation, only to be dashed in the end. Regardless of what they had expected, at this stage…“it was finished.”
In spite of the certainty that “it was finished,” the women had something they could still do and that was prepare spices and fragrances for anointing Jesus’ body. No doubt this would have been an emotional task demanding all of the strength the women could muster. It’s like that when someone close to us passes from this life. We know there is still much to be done, but we really don’t want to “deal with it.” Feeling like it or not, the women moved forward in their intentions to anoint the deceased. Perhaps they thought, “we will go, we will grieve, and then we will ‘get on with life.’” Little did they know what awaited them upon arriving at the garden tomb. They remembered what they saw at a distance on Friday evening and most assuredly things would still be the same: one tomb, one sealed up doorway, and one dead Jesus. They weren’t “crazy.” They had witnessed what transpired just days before.
My how quickly things can (and often do) change in life. The women’s arrival was greeted by any and everything other than what they had experienced and expected: the stone rolled away and no scent of death from within the tomb. In fact, there was no scent because there was no body. They weren’t crazy, were they? Dead bodies are…dead. Days before, a dead body went into the tomb and now…nothing. Maybe this was all the result of emotion, a lack of sleep, or just wishful thinking. But then again, maybe not. Maybe God “shook up” their expectations. Maybe, just maybe, the truth of Jesus’ own words had come to light: “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Luke 9:22 NRSV) Yes, the women’s assumptions had been thwarted. Something transpired on Friday; something that shouldn’t have been undone. Something turned into nothing and nothing into…everything. Jesus was and still is ALIVE!
I know at this point you are thinking, “We’ve heard this stuff longer than you have been alive.” While that may be the case, I wonder if you/we have really experienced this defining moment for all that it is. I shift the emphasis from “heard” to “experienced” because we often live as though there is no such thing as the resurrection. Our words, deeds, and views of our world really haven’t shifted from what is currently at work within our world. We behave as if the tomb is still full; full of dashed hopes, empty dreams, and…well…death. An empty tomb, however, screams life, victory, as well as a future. In recent weeks, we have heard more than our fill of information associated with the pandemic known as COVID-19. Many things have changed within our world in order to hinder the spread of this virus to more and more individuals. We have learned of the closing of school/college systems, the cancellation of sporting events, annual festivals, and concerts, and may be limited on our take-out dining options. Yes, our world has been shaken up. However, it is not these temporary comforts of life which ought to give us meaning and purpose. It should be the message that Christ has overcome death and the grave in order to give us a greater sense of meaning and purpose. This is the kind of meaning and purpose that will see us through anything which may come our way in this life…including COVID-19. May the joy of the resurrection fill us with renewed hope during our celebration of Easter in the coming weeks. Some may think I/we are crazy believing there is such a miracle as an empty tomb…but…aren’t you glad there is?
Together in Christian Love,
The Rev. Kelley Smart