“Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulcher, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them. And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulcher. And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus.” (Luke 24:1-3)
Very often we can find ourselves disappointed when we anticipate something good, but it doesn’t turn out that way. However in this instance, this surprise was the other way around for Mary Magdalene and the other women who accompanied her to the tomb where Jesus’ body had been laid after the crucifixion. They anticipated finding the body of Jesus. However, as they peered into the darkness, they did not find what they were looking for.
My emphasis in this writing is not about the obvious amazement of encountering the risen Christ, which comes later in the story, but instead focuses simply on this stunning moment as they arrive at the empty grave. It is a moment worth stopping for because just maybe we can identify with it and take courage from it.
After the horrors of the crucifixion, in fear, they were keeping a low profile. They were among His closest friends and disciples, suspects, fugitives. Therefore they were perhaps regarded of being accomplices in the trumped up charges for which Jesus had been crucified. Grief stricken and in shock, they rise up early in the morning. They face the embalming procedures on their beloved Lord. And now they find this! How much worse could it get? What could have happened to His body? Their minds must have been reeling in confusion!
I suppose this seems odd – bringing up the Easter story – as we anticipate the winter season. However in a sense we peer into the ever increasing and encroaching darker days coming upon us. Fall festivals and Thanksgiving herald Christmas, arriving near the winter solstice – the darkest, longest night of the year, and often in some parts of the world the most bitterly cold. Yet it is in this deep darkness that we celebrate the arrival of the Son of God.
We peer into the dark, cold stable – which some say may have been a cave in the hills – and find “the true Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” (John 1:9) We rejoice at celebrating Him once more in the traditions, pageantry, and rituals of Christmas – all of it pointing symbolically to His bright reality and being, both in history and in our hearts.
There is also a similarity in the broader sense of the times we face. Some would say that on a global scale there has never been a darker, more “grave” situation. The times are perilous in ways and on a scale never before experienced. What do we see as we peer into our common darkness?
On a personal level, many are also experiencing turmoil, perplexity, and a sort of almost baffling high strangeness. So many people seem to be in dire straights and there is no end to no win situations, as far as we’re humanly concerned. What do we see as we peer into this darkness? What is being worked out here on some level we may not be able to comprehend?
Arriving in the pre dawn, the women peer into what amounts to a dark tomb, with a dark hope that there they will have one last chance to gaze upon the Lord, to honor Him with one last final gift. How could it have all gone down like this?
No, there is a surprise in the darkness: What we anticipate, we do not find. That could be good; it could be bad. There is only more mystery. There are more questions than answers. This tomb should not have been empty…
Sometimes it seems as if we cannot handle anymore “surprises” as we peer into our own darkness. It has all become too twisted, too enigmatic.
Is it just possible that we could ask for spiritual eyes that see something beyond the dark emptiness in our own grave situations? Is there meaning beyond the obvious that waits for us to peer into it – something glorious, bright, and grand? Or at least a finalizing of “this”, so that life can move on?
It is interesting to realize that Jesus’ earthly story begins in a dark place and ends in a dark place, at Christmas in a stable, then the tomb at Easter. The darkness heralded both. One the place of birth, the other of rebirth. It almost twists the mind to consider this. In the silence, in the quiet – the darkness within us – is there Someone Who yearns to be born there to make His dwelling place there, Emmanuel, God with us? Is there something He would like to show us or say to us in the silent darkness within us? Or is He ready to burst forth from there, in the fire of the Holy Spirit, imbuing us in resurrection power?
The point is, they didn’t get what they were expecting. Instead there were angels who asked them, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” (Like 24:5)
And on that dark night when He came into the world, there were also angels, announcing peace on earth and good will toward all mankind (Luke 2:14). The presence of angels stands like book covers on either end of His story.
And the mystery beckons us onward.