In the dawn of Sunday morning, the day after the Jewish Sabbath following an eventful Passover celebration, Mary Magdalene and some others decided to go to the tomb. Not just any tomb, but the tomb where Joseph of Armiathea had placed Jesus following his death on the cross Friday afternoon. The Sabbath prevented Mary and her friends from journeying to the tomb, but once the sun was up on Sunday morning they proceeded to go to where Jesus was buried.
Scripture gives us conflicting reports as to why Mary visited the tomb. Some say she was there to finish the burial, while John perhaps focuses on her devotion to Jesus by indicating no other desire other than just to be there. The conflicting reports are simply different perspectives of the same story that focuses on what Mary and her group experienced.
However, once they arrived at the tomb that saw something they did not expect. They noticed that the stone used to seal the tomb was rolled away. This was a troubling sight and the group was fearful that something bad had happened. Back then it was common for grave robbers to come and steal items from graves. Mary’s first inclination is that this is what happened. She doesn’t go near the tomb, but the fact the tomb was unsealed leaves this possibility open to her.
So, Mary does what she believed was best. She doesn’t go to investigate the tomb, but instead runs to find some of Jesus’ closest friends and followers: Peter and the beloved disciple also known as John. She tells them her worry that someone had come and taken the body and its whereabouts could not be determined.
Peter and John responded to this report by going out to the tomb. John arrived first and looked into see the tomb was, in fact, empty. He doesn’t go in. Instead, he waits for Peter to arrive. When he does Peter goes straight into the tomb. Like John he finds the tomb empty. However, he also finds that the grave clothes and linens were neatly discarded to the side. This was no grave robbery. Something happened. This Peter and John can affirm. But, what seems to be a mystery for them.
In the early morning hours of this Easter Sunday, we have gathered with the same question that Peter and John likely thought about being asked of us. What do we believe happened in the tomb so many years ago? I believe the way we typically respond to the empty tomb is similar to how Peter and John responded when they arrived to investigate Mary’s report.
John’s response is given first. We are told that he believed something important had happened. He sees the empty tomb. He notices the grave clothes are neatly discarded. It is all starting to make sense for him. John gets it. The promise is true. The reason Jesus is not in the tomb is because Jesus is alive.
The response that we get from John is one of faith. He gets it. John doesn’t need anything else nor any other proof. What he has seen and felt in his heart is good enough. He knows that Jesus’ words that on the third day he would rise from the dead had been fulfilled, just as Scripture had foretold. John knows that it is not just the dawn of a new morning, but it is the day of a new era where God’s hope and presence would always be with us. After seeing Jesus crucified and buried, John leaves the tomb knowing that death did not win. Jesus won. He is alive.
Peter, however, is not as convinced. He knows that this wasn’t a grave robbery, but he cannot definitively state where Jesus’ body is at. So, he goes home trying to make sense of it all. Peter just needs something more to be in the place where John is. He needs a body. He needs more evidence. He just cannot get there … not just yet.
What we get from Peter is a response of hopeful skepticism. He wants to believe that something wonderful happened and that Jesus is alive, but he just cannot make heads or tails of it. A hopeful skepticism yearns for the reports to be true, but often is wanting belief to be based on something concrete and physical before claiming the hope offered from the empty tomb. Yet, faith is the surest hope in the things we cannot see or fully understand.
So, what is your response? As we gather this morning, we do so as we peek into the tomb like Peter and John and see that it is empty. There is nothing there but grave clothes that were neatly put away. What do you think happened on the Sunday morning? What do you make of the reports that the tomb is empty and Jesus is no where to be found?
How we respond to the empty tomb will not just define our reaction to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but it will also define our lives and how we will live in response to this good news. This morning, what do you see as your response to the news that the tomb is empty? Are you like Peter wanting more proof or evidence? Or are you like John trusting and believing that Jesus is alive and is alive today?
How will you respond to the empty tomb?