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  • Rev. Diane Curtis

The Tomb

Luke 24:1-12

New Revised Standard Version

24 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5 The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8 Then they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

Have any of you ever taken a tour of an underground limestone cave? When you enter the cave, you are suddenly hit with a blast of frigid air. As you walk into the cave you often see stalagmites and stalactites around you.

(a side note: you can tell the difference between them by remembering that stalagmites are hoping they get tall enough to touch the ceiling while stalactites are holding on tight, so they don’t fall from the ceiling).

Lights are strung along the path in the cave so you can see where you are going. Invariably the guide stops in a large cavern, asks everyone to be quiet, and then turns out all of the lights. It is pitch black unlike any blackness you have ever experienced before. You literally cannot see your hand in front of your face. When everyone is quiet, the only thing you can hear is the drip, drip, drip of water from somewhere in the cave. You can’t help but shiver because of the chill, the darkness, and the fear of the unknown. It is not a comfortable place to be where you have no control over anything around you. When the lights are turned back on there is a sense of relief. You might also hear nervous laughter as people try to convince themselves that it wasn’t so bad after all.

The tomb referred to here in Luke was cut out of limestone. It would have been a dark place where death lived. There was no way out. The tomb was a final resting place. When someone is put into a tomb and the tomb is sealed, you turn and walk away with a sense of finality and grief. You may go back to visit to weep, to remember, or to talk to the one who is no longer among the living because it brings some comfort.

In this account of Jesus’ resurrection, we encounter a group of women; these ones who knew they were going to enter into the cold, dark den of death. They were there to anoint Jesus’ body in the place where it had been laid before the sabbath by Joseph of Arimathea. The women weren’t looking forward to the task, so they planned to take only as much time as was necessary to complete it. No lingering. There would be plenty of time for grieving later.

As they talked, their major concern was the logistics. The women knew they weren’t strong enough to roll the stone aside from the entrance to the tomb, so they were hoping to find a gardener to do that for them. Yet when they approached the tomb, they saw from a distance that the stone had already been moved. They might have thought that someone knew they would be coming to anoint the body as was the custom because there wasn’t time before the start of the sabbath to do so. Afterwards, the tomb would be resealed.

An open tomb was not what they expected to find. A tomb that was empty wasn’t even a possibility to consider. Why would there not be in the tomb the body that was laid there previously?

The contemporary image of an open tomb with the stone to the side of the entrance says something quite different to us than it did for the women. We already know that the tomb was empty because we know Jesus was resurrected and is alive.

The women didn’t know the significance of the open tomb. They had no clue that the body wasn’t there; that Jesus was alive. So, they took a deep breath and wrapped their cloaks tighter around them as they prepared to enter the cold tomb.

The scene they encountered upon entering made no sense to them. There was nothing there except folded grave cloths. The text tells us they were perplexed. I don’t think that is a strong enough word. Shocked would be more like it. And then anger, concern, and confusion. Where was Jesus body if not where it ought to be?

The initial words they heard from the two men in dazzling clothes that appeared before them were not particularly helpful, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” The women were confused. They were surrounded by tombs without a living soul in sight. But the trigger word, the most important word, that was spoken by these men was, “Remember.” This was the beginning of and “aha” moment for the women. They were told to remember the words Jesus had spoken in the months before. In short, the men were asking them to put two and two together; to consider what they had heard for months and what they saw in front of them to realize what had happened.

We remember. We remember that the picture of the tomb with the stone rolled away. For us, though, it reminds us of what we already know – Jesus is alive! The dots have already been connected for us. The story is so familiar to us that we don’t need to remember all that came before.

Oh, we remember the triumphal entry we celebrated last Sunday, the Last Supper on Thursday, and his crucifixion, death, and burial on Good Friday. But our memory really begins at the tomb – how Jesus got there and then was no longer there. We jump to what we have been already told. The story beyond the tomb. The one that evidences Jesus’ resurrection through his appearances to the men on the road to Emmaus, the disciples waiting in the upper room, and others. That’s the evidence we rely on to proclaim that Jesus is alive.

For the women that empty tomb created more questions than answers. For us, the empty tomb signifies the resurrection. We’re already there. For the disciples it took a while to understand the meaning of the empty tomb. But they did – we read it in the scriptures that follow.

We already know the truth. The truth of what the empty tomb symbolizes. So today on Easter Sunday we confidently proclaim, “He is risen! He is risen indeed!”


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