In the aftermath of the Easter weekend, I’m taking time to reflect on the significance of the resurrection. It’s something that we can easily overlook, or take for granted, because it’s such a familiar event – the linchpin of our Christian faith. I spent some time thinking about that first Resurrection Sunday, and how putting ourselves in the place of those who witnessed the empty tomb can deepen our faith today.
Read: John 20:1-10
When Jesus rose from the grave on Resurrection Sunday, He didn’t do so with a great fanfare. He didn’t wait for a crowd to be gathered to witness Him rolling away the stone and walking out of the tomb that had been meant to hold Him. No one watched Him fold the grave-clothes. We know that a bunch of Marys arrived at the tomb to find it empty, and that other disciples, including Peter, also visited the empty grave – but Jesus didn’t approach resurrection in the way we might have imagined He would.
I’m very sure that it was no accident that Jesus rose from the grave whilst it was still dark. Nothing that Jesus did in His life, His death or His resurrection was in any way accidental. This got me thinking about the significance of the way that Jesus approached resurrection. To me, it would have made sense to wait at least until the Marys arrived – perhaps even for a crowd to gather to watch this spectacular triumph over death. At least someone should have been there, surely? But God sometimes surprises us. This is the God who sleeps in a storm, after all. And then there’s that passage in 1 Kings 19:11-12 where God is not in the wind, or in the earthquake or in the fire – but in the whisper, instead. I think the resurrection has many parallels with this passage.
It’s easy to believe in a resurrected God who walks out of the grave in front of you. It’s not so easy to understand what’s going on when you turn up at a tomb to grieve and find the One that you’re mourning is missing. The resurrection, in the shape of the empty tomb, before Jesus appeared to the disciples in His nail-scarred resurrection body, tests the substance of our faith. Do we believe with our eyes or with our hearts? For the disciples who visited an empty tomb, who were already in despair, would the first thought be resurrection, or theft? What does it take to be able to find hope in an empty tomb?
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews tells us that faith is the substance of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1). A week after His resurrection Jesus told Thomas, who we know as Doubting Thomas, that it was great that he believed in the resurrection when he saw Jesus’s scars with his own eyes, but it was better for those who believed without seeing. Our faith doesn’t always make sense – not in seasons where we’re praying for breakthrough and nothing is happening. It’s hard to believe that God is in control when everything seems hopelessly out of control. Perhaps Thomas has been mislabeled. I’m not sure that he doubted, he just needed some proof to strengthen his faith. I think most people are like Thomas. We want to find hope in an empty tomb, but it isn’t always easy.
The empty tomb is a symbol of the sometimes incomprehensible nature of the God in whom we place our trust. It’s a reminder that whilst God can, and does, perform spectacular miracles, he also performs miracles that aren’t so easy to see close up. From a distance, the empty tomb makes sense, but to the disciples it wasn’t so clear. We’re saved by a God who is often found in unexpected places and in whispers. The empty tomb reminds us that just because we can’t see God at work, it doesn’t mean that He isn’t working unseen miracles right in front of us.