The Empty Tomb

The narrative context is familiar to all readers: Jesus has been crucified, died, and laid within a tomb guarded by soldiers (27:65) and watched by Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” (27:61).  The Sabbath has passed and dawn approaches on the first day of a new week.

1 After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. 2 And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, approached, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. 3 His appearance was like lightning and his clothing was white as snow. 4 The guards were shaken with fear of him and became like dead men. 5 Then the angel said to the women in reply, “Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. 6 He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ Behold, I have told you.” 8 Then they went away quickly from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed, and ran to announce this to his disciples. 9 And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them. They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”  [the Easter Vigil reading ends with v.10]

11 While they were going, some of the guards went into the city and told the chief priests all that had happened. 12 They assembled with the elders and took counsel; then they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 telling them, ‘You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him while we were asleep.’ 14 And if this gets to the ears of the governor, we will satisfy (him) and keep you out of trouble.” 15 The soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has circulated among the Jews to the present (day). 16 The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. 

Diversity. There is great diversity in the accounts of the appearances of the risen Christ. It is difficult to harmonize any of them even as the canonical accounts of the empty tomb, at first, seem fairly similar. Women (names and number of women differ) come to the tomb early on Sunday morning. The stone is rolled away and the tomb is empty. The synoptics also have a messenger (or two) speak to the women.

Perhaps there is a message in that: Our contemporary experiences of the risen Christ will differ. There are those who visibly see a white light and others don’t. There are those who experience Christ in a radical transforming “born-again” event in their lives. There are those for whom Christ has been such a reality throughout their lives that they can’t think of a moment when Christ wasn’t present to them or when there was a great turning point in their lives. How the risen Christ comes to people differ – then and now. Our stories about the risen Christ’s presence in our lives differ – and in that lack of uniformity there is witness to the breadth of humanity.

Speaking to the diversity of resurrection accounts, Keener (697) notes that “a calculated deception should have produced greater unanimity. Instead, there seem to have been competitors: ‘I saw him first!’ ‘No! I did.’“ But the divergent details suggest independent traditions, thereby underling the likelihood of details the accounts share in common.”

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