Surprise, mystery, confusion and amazement were all reactions on the first Easter Sunday. The breaking news was an empty tomb that was it, an empty tomb and uncertainty.
Luke makes a point of connecting the verse about the women who had come with Jesus from Galilee who followed the body to the tomb and saw how it was laid to rest. These were women who had traveled with him. They were part of his disciple band. NOT, apostles, but part of the larger group of disciples. They knew his teachings, they had seen his miracles.
We notice that they went home to prepare burial spices and then observed the Sabbath. There was no resurrection expected. These faithful women return after the Sabbath to anoint the body of the one they loved with spices, fully expecting it to be in the tomb. Instead they find the stone gone and the tomb EMPTY.
Two men in dazzling clothes address them.
“Why do you look for the one who lives among the dead? He is not here, but has been raised.” They are terrified because the situation turns out not at all as they’d planned.
What would you have thought if you had arrived with the women and seen the empty tomb?
We are conditioned to see emptiness as loss.
An empty stadium is a sign of a losing team, or a bad season.
An empty gas tank means we can’t go anywhere.
An empty bowl means the ice cream is all gone.
An empty sanctuary is the sign of a dying church.
The Easter story tells us that from a Kingdom perspective, EMPTY is the potential for new life.
We look into emptiness all the time,
Empty bank balances, empty pages awaiting words, empty cupboards needing groceries,
and we don’t see hope in a hole.<
Around the corner on Livingston St. is a big hole. There used to be an old house there. It was covered in mold and moss. The walls and roof were cracked, you could even see right through it in one spot. A contractor came in and tore the house down. Now there is a For Sale sign, “Will build to suit.”
When a hole holds the foundation for a new building there is great potential.
When the cleared lot is for new homes to be built in Haiti, then the emptiness holds the hope of new life.
We are challenged by the resurrection story. It’s not a challenge for belief in what happened. The events before the stone was rolled away remain a divine mystery. There were No recordings, and no eye-witnesses to how it happened. The reports about the risen Jesus differ, he couldn’t be touched at first in John, then he invited Thomas’ touch. In Matthew the women grabbed onto his feet.
What is consistent is the astounded reaction of the first people at the tomb. They looked in and saw only emptiness. And they didn’t know what to think.
THEN, they were told to remember, to remember what they already knew.
One writer said, “the scripture text itself doesn’t describe resurrection, it is a story of an empty tomb and a lesson on trusting the amazing void.”[ii]
“Why do you seek the one who lives among the dead?
We need to remember so we can be re-conditioned for only then can we see emptiness with new eyes. We need to remember what we already know in order to find hope in a hole.
Back before her Washington days, Hillary Clinton tutored reading in Little Rock. In one elementary school she was assigned a young girl named Mary. Mary lived in a tiny house with six siblings, her parents, and an assortment of other relatives who came and went unpredictably. So much went on in the evenings that the child couldn’t sleep through the night. She always looked tired. She was uncomfortable talking and didn’t want to read. Sometimes she just put her head down on the desk and closed her eyes.
Ms. Clinton had trouble holding her attention. One day she asked Mary if she liked to draw. For the first time, Mary’s eyes lit up. Her colored-pencil drawings of people and animals were advanced and rich in detail.
As hard as words were for her, she could communicate through her art.
When Mary was complimented on her drawings, she repeated what other adults must have told her, “They were silly baby stuff.”
Ms. Clinton saw hope in this hole. Altho Mary couldn’t read, she could draw and when encouraged, she might begin to write stories about her drawings and then learn to read them.[iii]
She could be encouraged in what she COULD do and brought through her interest to reading.
But the leaders of the program saw only a hole. “This isn’t an art class” they said, “it’s a reading program.”
Hope or a Hole?
A empty page has the potential to brighten someone’s day when filled with words of encouragement. And an empty bank balance could mean the mortgage has just been paid off and now funds will be available for something new.
(Like the women) We have to remember all that Jesus told us. He came to bring good news to the poor,
release to the captives,
recovery of sight to the blind
and to let the oppressed go free.
It takes the power behind the resurrection to make that kind of change.
We can’t do it, only God can. We can witness to the power that raised Jesus to a new order of being beyond this life, that is more than this life. We can witness to the hope we have found and what God has done in our own lives.
We know what the empty tomb means, it means Christ is Risen, Risen indeed.
If we had looked into that empty tomb before knowing the rest of the story,
What would we have thought?
We probably wouldn’t have known what to believe either. We too might have gone away amazed, astonished and unsure of what had happened and what it meant.
But with proper conditioning, with Remembering and RE-telling the stories of the power present in Jesus and NOW present in his church,
we can look into the tomb and rejoice at the emptiness, because we can SEE the new life to come.
Jesus’ resurrection is a precursor of all humanities’ hope for life, now and later.
In this life and the next, something NEW comes from an empty start.
Because of Jesus’ resurrection, we can see hope in a hole.
[ii] David Ewart http://www.holytextures.com/2010/03/luke-24-1-12-year-c-easter-sermon.html
[iii] Hillary Rodham Clinton it Takes A village (NY: Simon & Schuster, 1996) p. 239-240