The Tomb Will Be Empty
A Holy Saturday meditation.
Holy Saturday is heavy.
The drama of Good Friday—the tragic excitement of the Passion—has passed. Lash and spear still sting in the memory of His Body, but only hazily, faintly. Something numbs the senses. The joy of the Resurrection still lies ahead.
The body of the Lord lies in the tomb.
There is a temptation to skip this day. In the broad-strokes narrative there is Good Friday, and there is Easter; there is dying, and there is Resurrection. But in between is death.
There is the harrowing of Hell, of course. He descended into Hell—we do not say this in vain when we recite the Apostles’ Creed. The Lord of all creation entered the realm of the dead and led to Paradise the holy souls who had waited there since the beginning of the world. It is a divine gift of astonishing proportions: the salvation of the patriarchs, of millennia of the just, in a single moment.
In the same moment, though, there are mundane affairs that history glosses over.
Jesus of Nazareth, limp and bloodied, is dropped down from the cross. Joseph of Arimathea, a man of some influence, goes quietly to Pilate, the Roman governor who signed off on the man’s death, to request his body.
It is given; taken down from the cross; wrapped with linens and spices. Joseph gives his own tomb for the body of his teacher, an honorable resting place carved right into the rock of Jerusalem.
Tomorrow, Mary Magdalene will find the tomb empty, meet angels where His body lay, behold the Risen Christ. But today the tomb is full. The King of kings rests in a borrowed grave, wrapped in gifted linens and buried with a hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes. His body bears the scars of crucifixion, of the spear, of the crown of thorns.
This is a fulfillment of the Scripture:
And he shall give the ungodly for his burial, and the rich for his death: because he hath done no iniquity, neither was there deceit in his mouth.
And the Lord was pleased to bruise him in infirmity: if he shall lay down his life for sin, he shall see a long-lived seed, and the will of the Lord shall be prosperous in his hand.
Because his soul hath laboured, he shall see and be filled: by his knowledge shall this my just servant justify many, and he shall bear their iniquities.
That the Lord died is an obvious truth to those who know He rose. Do we appreciate it fully, though?
Christmas is the big commercial bash, but it is actually at Easter that church attendance is highest in this country. For mostly lapsed Catholics hanging by a thread, the draw may simply be the beauty of the Triduum and Easter Vigil liturgies. But there is a sense beneath this beauty that pulls Christians of all denominations to church in Holy Week: The Incarnation is stronger—at least more strongly felt—in death than in birth.
That God would become an infant without a bed is shown by all the Scripture from the first word of Genesis. Yet it takes great faith to believe, to even begin to understand. How much more is required to accept that He could be a broken-bodied man, laid dead without even a claim to the ground under which He rests? It is a terrible image, the Lord before His rising.
Yet it ties all into the Resurrection. In the records of the Old Testament and in the gaps between them are nearly 4,000 years of history and prophecy. They build, in time and space, toward Christ. How many tombs were filled in those centuries? He became a man, and He died as a man.
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We know with absolute certainty that we will follow Him at least as far. But the cold reality of the grave, the full humanity at the heart of the Easter story, gives hope of something further.
Tomorrow, we rejoice that He is risen, that the great act of Salvation is accomplished, only because we know today that He is in the tomb.
And if Christ be not risen again, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God: because we have given testimony against God, that he hath raised up Christ; whom he hath not raised up, if the dead rise not again.
For if the dead rise not again, neither is Christ risen again. And if Christ be not risen again, your faith is vain, for you are yet in your sins. Then they also that are fallen asleep in Christ, are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now Christ is risen from the dead, the firstfruits of them that sleep:
For by a man came death, and by a man the resurrection of the dead. And as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive. But every one in his own order: the firstfruits Christ, then they that are of Christ, who have believed in his coming. Afterwards the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God and the Father, when he shall have brought to nought all principality, and power, and virtue. For he must reign, until he hath put all his enemies under his feet.1 Corinthians 15:14-25