Places of the Passion: The Tomb
There has long been speculation about the location of Jesus’ tomb. Technically, they are all based on speculation and legend. There are 2 popular sites. Both sites use excavations into the rock as the basis for creating tombs. There was a lot of quarrying into the rock into both places, either for building purposes or for storage of wine or olive oil – some commercial purposes.
One site is inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which now surrounds the tiny chapel called the Edicule. The Edicule covers the cave thought to be the tomb of Jesus. It was built by Emperor Constantine and his mother Helena in 325. Roman temples were built on top of other religious sites to give them new meaning and to erase the former history. This means this site is the most likely location for Jesus’ tomb.
The other is the Garden Tomb. In the 1800s, several archaeologists and explorers began to identify places in Jerusalem and relate them to biblical events. Where is Golgotha, they asked? Where were the city limits? And especially, where is the tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea, where Jesus was laid. This site is now known as the Garden tomb. Using science, this is also a likely site for Jesus’ tomb. Because of its beauty, it is popular as a burial site for Jesus.
As we have been traveling with Jesus and the disciples during our Lenten journey, the last stop is here, at the tomb, whether it was one of these locations, or another, Jesus was laid in a tomb, a place for dead people. Today, we both grieve and rejoice with Mary Magdalene, Peter, and the rest of the disciples. Let’s spend some time with Mary.
When we lay someone to rest, we grieve. We may visit the place where they are buried and weep as we speak to them. Our words of love help us remember our relationship with them. Our words and our tears help heal our hearts and lead us into the future.
This is why Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb that morning. She wants to be near Jesus to grieve. When she arrives, she notices the stone is rolled away. The text doesn’t say so, but I suspect she looked into the tomb, just to be sure he wasn’t there. And I know if I were Mary, I might have uttered some off-color words when I found Jesus’ body was missing. Her worst fears have come true – someone has stolen the body!
Mary runs to tell the disciples that the stone has been rolled away, and Peter and the beloved disciple – whom I believe is Lazarus – check out the empty tomb, then go back home. Mary stays, and has the most fascinating conversations.
She looks into the tomb and sees two angels. “Who are you looking for?” they ask. When she turns around, she sees Jesus, though she thinks he is the gardener. She is still weeping, near panic. “Where is he? What have you done with his body? Tell me and I’ll take care of him!”
Suddenly, he speaks her name, and she knows the gardener is really Jesus. Her heart leaps for joy. “Teacher. Rabbi.” She runs to him, to touch him, to hug him. It seems she will never let go of him, she is so excited to see him again.
Her tears of grief are turned into tears of joy. But he warns her off. “Go and tell my brothers and sisters that I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Mary runs to tell everyone that she has seen the Lord.
… Can you imagine the scene in the upper room where they have been gathered for days? They have been waiting, praying, grieving. Their Messiah is dead, and their dreams are shattered. The first news from Mary Magdalene that the tomb was empty was startling, puzzling, worrying. Can you imagine the chatter in the room when Peter returned confirming the empty tomb and folded grave clothes?
Now think about Mary Magdalene coming into the room again with the news that, “I have seen the Lord!” The excitement must have had them leaping for joy, giving hugs and high fives to everyone in the room.
Two thousand years later, we are too accustomed to Easter to get so excited about it. Yes, we sing songs and say Alleluia loudly (inside our masks!) for the first time in 7 weeks. But are we so excited we are jumping for joy and giving high fives – even with masks on and at a safe distance?
The tomb – wherever it once was – is empty. If God has power over death, God can do anything. This is good news worth some shouting and hugging and high-fiving. And an Alleluia or two. Alleluia! Alleluia!