Mystery of the Empty Tomb

     “…very early in the morning they came to the sepulcher and found the stone rolled away…and found not the body of the Lord Jesus.” Luke 24:1-3

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Not even Poe could have concocted a narrative to rival the mystery surrounding the death and resurrection of Jesus.  The enigma and significance of the empty tomb still baffles us today. Is it myth or fact?  Is Easter just another day?

Take a stroll with me through the Cemetery at Christ’s Church on St. Simons Island, Georgia. It’s early, the first day of the week, a cool, sunny day. Spring is abundant. Our spirits soar.

Bare limbs blossom in colors: green, red, pink, white. Daffodils decorate the grounds. The meditation garden is ablaze in watercolors of azaleas. Spring is making its resurgence after a comatose winter.

We encounter a crowd huddled around a mound of freshly-dug red clay. It’s a gothic scene. There, in front of our eyes, is an open grave. The heavy lid of the vault has been removed, cast aside.  The coffin inside is empty. We stare at it in silence.

The group whispers in low, hushed tones. We ask what’s happened here.

They reply with this strange story: “We arrived here early and saw two diaphanous apparitions in shining robes. They were sitting on the edge of this empty vault.  We were afraid.

 “Then we heard a voice speak plainly: ‘Why are you seeking the living among the dead?  He is not here, but is risen.

 “Then suddenly they disappeared. We’re still confused and frightened. It’s scary. We keep asking ourselves what this means.”

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What would be our reaction to such an event? Is there an explanation?

As we approach Easter with its pageantry, its drama, its passion, its emotion, it’s easy to blend in with the crowd. There’s a lot to synthesize. As in previous years, it leaves us baffled with mixed emotions—hopeful, maybe confused, but often doubting and going along with the crowd.

Like nature, we yearn for renewal, too.  Not just at Easter, but every day. We want to leave the tomb of self and experience the ‘more’ we know is out there. Yet somehow it always seems just out of reach.

So how do we capture the essence of resurrection? How can we allow it to regenerate our own lives? Even with the mention of the word we sense the feeling of incredulity. It’s difficult to imagine the reality of God’s promises.

We have stood by the red-clay graves of too many friends and family members, not to mention witnessing the ravaged consequences of violence in our streets and the blood of countrymen crying from the dust of other lands.

But for this moment we stare into an empty coffin.  Doubt takes control of our minds as it leaps to plausible conclusions to this conundrum. Grave robbers, somebody says. But who?  Friends, family? But why? Where’s the body?

We’re at a loss for words and slowly move on, leaving this strange spectacle of an empty grave as we found it. No answers, only questions and speculations, heading home to repeat the details of this extraordinary event.

And so here we are now, another Easter, another opportunity to vicariously re-live the drama of Jesus’ resurrection. Are we any closer to an explanation of the empty tomb today?

Our minds struggle to grasp this ephemeral concept of life after death. Logical conclusions evade us. But then someone mentions a word…faith. Our ears perk up. Tell us more. Help us understand this evanescent miracle of resurrection.

We want to believe. Yet we find ourselves like the man who asked Jesus to heal his demon-possessed son. Jesus told him that if he could believe, all things were possible.  This father’s words are our own: “Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief.”

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Tennyson tries to express our feelings with lines from In Memoriam, his poem: “…that men may rise on stepping stones of their dead selves to higher things.”

 Easter is our opportunity to do just that, to allow faith to resurrect us to a new life. Then we will again blossom and join the Heavenly Choir in singing Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, “He is risen indeed.”

Easter…it’s just another day, right?  Or is it?


Bud Hearn

April 5, 2023