Reflection: The Empty Tomb
I must confess something to you: I broke line at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
It had been a long day for us. That January morning, we’d visited the Dome of the Rock, a Muslim shrine whose golden top is visible all over Jerusalem. The wind howled all around us on the Temple Mount. Later, snow fell as we had lunch in the city’s Armenian Quarter.
There was no stopping Dr. Luker, our tour leader, so we intrepid pilgrims soldiered on. Finally, we arrived at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a gargantuan structure that holds both the site of Golgotha and the empty tomb itself.
Years ago, the tomb was hewn away from the rock and is now freestanding. It was quite dark inside that day, and the light from a circular skylight high above glowed like the moon itself. We were not unlike the women who went to the tomb so early that Easter morning. Only there was one problem. We had to stand in line to get into the tomb, and approaching it we saw pedestrian gates, set up to corral the crowd to the entrance. That was the problem. I’m terribly claustrophobic and can’t stand in crowds. Bereft, I stood outside the gate with Dr. Luker. He said it was OK.
In a few minutes, our 50-member group made its way to the doorway of the tomb. My friend Ruth called me over. It seemed the gate ended right there. “Come around with us,” she said. “It’s OK.”
There was a priest standing there, and he assured me it was all right for me to rejoin my group. I walked down few narrow steps to the tomb itself with Leonard and Rita, our bishop emeritus and his wife. There were many people around, but we were all subdued, as you might well imagine. We waited for a few minutes, and then it was our turn. The tomb is just big enough to hold three people, so the three of us went in together.
It was so quiet inside. We were surrounded by beautiful, white marble as we knelt. I tried my best to pray, but I was so over-whelmed all I could do was look around. There was a bouquet of a dozen red roses. I wondered how they got there. I kissed the marble surface, and I think I prayed a prayer of thanksgiving. Time stood still, but I got a real sense that the three of us were truly alone in that place.
Leonard, Rita and I walked out in silence and went to rejoin our group.
“Leonard,” I said. “He’s really NOT here.” Leonard just grinned down at me and said, “He is risen indeed!”
And there was Easter, right there, on a snowy day in the middle of January.
Since that day, I’ve had the privilege of sharing this journey with others. And I end my presentation the same way: You don’t have to travel to the Holy Land to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. You don’t have to walk in the steps of Jesus to tell the story of his life to those who have never heard. You don’t have to climb the steps to Golgotha, put your hand on the stone that held the cross, or kneel down in front of the empty tomb to say he is risen.
We are children of the Resurrection. We are Easter people. We can proclaim with sure and certain assurance, “He is Risen! He is Risen indeed!”
Dear Jesus, help us to proclaim the Good News of your Resurrection, not only today, but every day. Amen.