Christianity is the religion of the Empty Tomb for in it was buried the one who died a sacrificial death, and after three days experienced a glorious resurrection. This fundamental truth was discovered by the women who came to the tomb on Easter morning. The disciples, Peter and John, verified this truth when they entered the empty tomb and saw the clothes in which Jesus was buried. The angel proclaimed the fact that the tomb was empty: “He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay” (Matt. 28:5, 6). The soldier guards reported to the Sanhedrin that the tomb was empty (Matt. 28:11-15).
If that wasn’t enough, the risen Christ testified to the empty tomb by appearing to: the women who came to the tomb and were returning after they saw the angel who announced Christ’s resurrection (Matt. 28:9, 10); Mary Magdalene at the tomb (Mark 16:9; John 20:11-17); Peter (Luke 24:34; 1 Cor. 15:5); two disciples who were walking to Emmaus on Easter afternoon (Luke 24:13-31); the eleven, including Thomas, one week later (John 20:26- 29); seven disciples who were fishing at the Sea of Galilee (John 21:1-14); the eleven disciples on an appointed mountain in Galilee (Matt. 28:16-20); all the apostles on the Mount of Olives immediately before His ascension (Luke 24:50, 51; Acts 1:3-9; 1 Cor. 15:7).
After His ascension, Jesus appeared to Paul on the Damascus Road (Acts 9:3-8; 26:16-18; 1 Cor. 15:8; 1 Cor. 9:1), to Paul in the temple at Jerusalem (Acts 22:17, 18), and to Paul in prison (Acts 23:11).
In his homily for Holy Saturday (16 April 2022), Pope Francis, reflected, ‘The first proclamation of the resurrection was not a statement to be unpacked, but a sign to be contemplated’. Therefore, the empty tomb tells us that the grave could not hold Jesus….that he rose bodily from the tomb. In His resurrection, Jesus demonstrated his mastery over death: “Christ being raised from the dead dies no more; death no longer has dominion over him” (Rom. 6:9). Because Christ was raised from the dead on that first Easter, we, the Body of Christ, are destined to be raised to immortality when He returns. The empty tomb holds that promise of victory over death for all believers.
Thanks to the empty tomb, we can make the leap from nothingness to life. In the Book of Genesis we are told, ‘….the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep’ (Gen. 1:2). From nothingness, God brought forth life. We are later told, ‘God said “Let there be light”………and God saw that the light was good’.
Just as on the ‘first day’ God created light to scatter the darkness, so too ‘on the first day of the week’, on the day of Christ’s Resurrection, we are told it was ‘still dark’ (Jn.20:1) when Mary of Magdala arrived at the tomb to find the stone moved away. From within the darkness of the tomb came a new light, ‘the new creation has come’ (2Cor 5:17).
In the Prologue of John’s gospel, we are told, ‘In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ (John 1:4-5) In other words, through the Empty Tomb, God is once again proclaiming over His creation that ‘it is good!’ Daily in the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’ (Matt. 6:10). The empty tomb is the first great answer to that prayer – Through Christ’s obedience – thy will be done – God’s kingdom has come on earth, the divine kingdom is breaking into the world….and it is good!
As Pope Francis invites us to contemplate the enormity of the Resurrection [empty tomb], the Gospel according to John throws up a remarkable, almost insignificant detail about a cloth [napkin – σουδάριον (soudarion)] that was originally placed over the face of Jesus. In fact, a whole verse is dedicated to describing the manner in which the cloth was meticulously folded and set aside from the grave clothes: “Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings.” (Jn. 20:6-7)
Hebrew tradition uncovers the significance of the folded cloth in the empty tomb. In Jewish table etiquette, if one has finished their meal, they would rise from table, wad up the napkin and throw it onto the table. The wadded napkin meant, “I’m finished” and signalled for the table to be cleared. But if the guest got up from the table, folded their napkin neatly and laid it beside their plate, the servant would not touch the table, because the folded napkin indicated, “I am returning!”
If we reread the empty tomb through the lens of Jewish table etiquette, what was Jesus signalling if not His return in glory, His second coming? As he said to his disciples, he says to us: ‘Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, …. and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory’ (Mt. 24:30).
The empty tomb, as an enduring symbol of the Resurrection, is the ultimate validation of Jesus’ inspired teaching and His divine nature. It is proof of his triumph over sin and death. It is the foreshadowing of the resurrection of his followers. It’s the basis of Christian hope. When we allow that message of amazing grace to fill our hearts, we will not only look forward to His return, but like the disciples on the First Easter……we will run to tell people about the Empty Tomb…… Christ is Risen, He is Risen. Alleluia!
by Fr. Derek Darby KCHS