The Empty Tomb, Geek Wire.
[Simon Peter] went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place. John 20:6-7.
None of the Christian scriptures mentions one word of what happened in the tomb wherein Jesus’ dead body was laid. All they say is that his body was laid in there, the stone at the entrance rolled into place, and everyone departed. But when the tomb was visited three days later, it was empty. Interestingly, many scholars believe the gospel of Mark originally ended simply with the discovery of the empty tomb (but Jesus’ risen appearances in Mark’s gospel are considered true even if from another, later, hand). Today’s gospel reading from John ends at this point too, but it is not the end of John’s gospel. Then why does Mark consider that this empty, desolate burial chamber to be the end of the story? Consider that Mark begins his gospel with the baptism of Jesus. This is the event giving Jesus his identity as Son of God, and his vocation, to be the long-awaited Messiah, the Anointed One, the Christ. John, on the other hand begins his gospel before time begins, and ends (in the Book of Revelation, traditionally by the same author), with the end time, the final judgment. Jesus’ death and burial for Mark represent the completion of Jesus’ vocation, with just the mention of the empty tomb, and a man there (not described as an angel) who tells Mary Magdalene and the other women that Jesus has risen and they will see him in Galilee. End of story, in the original version of Mark. John says the same thing in today’s gospel passage, but goes on later to bear witness to the risen Lord. I mention this simply to indicate the unique importance of today’s gospel passage.
So the jaws of death, by some means, have been unlocked and cannot hold Jesus. I doubt if those first witnesses thought that however. Indeed, poor Mary Magdalene, slightly later in John, states in tears, “I don’t know where have they have laid him” (John 20:13). The enormous reality here is that we have an event unparalleled in all history, where one like us has conquered the ultimate enemy, death itself, and has invited us to the same. Jesus through his life and death remained true to the vocation God his Father gave him. In defying the popular stereotype of the Messiah then prevalent which believed him to be the military figure to restore the kingdom of David, Jesus actually fulfilled all of the messianic prophecies both positive and negative, especially those in Isaiah concerning the Suffering Servant which we heard yesterday. He demonstrated numerous times God’s power through his miracles, he forgave hideous betrayals inflicting on him by friend and foe alike, and in all reflected and lived the true nature of a loving and forgiving God through everything. And for that he conquered even death itself. And therein lies the lesson for all of us, invited to follow him through whatever gets thrown at us (and today’s world-wide coronavirus challenge is a pretty good example). Today’s gospel ends with Peter and John standing bewildered in the empty tomb, “For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.” In fact, that unparalleled truth has been pondered, examined, explained, doubted, embraced, trumpeted, belittled and accepted by millions of people ever since. It is unique in history, a breathtaking claim that no other tradition has claimed. In fact, it is the heart and soul of Christian belief. Without this one, central, event, there would be no Christian church at all; it is as important as that. Here is a man who was publicly killed in the most brutal fashion, taken down witnessed by friend and enemy alike, and laid, as they all thought, in his last resting place. And yet……
Jesus is called the New Adam. The Old Adam, he of the opening chapters in the Book of Genesis, the very archetype of humanity itself, was the man responsible for introducing death into human experience. Through his betrayal of the one commandment of God he brought disaster into human experience. Sin and death, therefore, are one and the same thing. It follows that a life without sin cannot be destroyed by death, as seen in Jesus’ experience. Hence the closer we get to a life without sin, the closer we are to life everlasting. Having gone through the Lenten experience, we should all be a little closer to that ideal, banishing sin/death from our lives and welcoming in the exciting possibility of a life of happiness without end through our imitation of the life of the Lord himself and the ways we have created to love God, neighbor and self, giving us meaning to life.
So, as our Greek Christian brothers and sisters say at this time (and they will celebrate Easter next Sunday):
to which is responded:
Christos anesti! Alithos anesti! Christ is risen! Truly he is risen!
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ, Surgun100. An Orthodox icon of Christ’s descent into Sheol. In the icon, Christ tramples on Death depicted as a bound man. At the same time, Christ raises Adam and Eve from the grave, representing the whole of humanity. Old Testament prophets testify to the Resurrection.
The reflection for next Sunday will be posted on Wednesday.
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