The Empty Tomb and Enlightenment

One aspect of the Gospel stories which tend to make me believe they are conveying events rather than contriving events is the women disciples of the Lord go to His tomb not to see if in fact Jesus had risen from the dead but to anoint his corpse in a more proper burial than they apparently believe He had on the day He died.  News of the resurrection is totally unexpected by them and they don’t know totally how to process the information.

Their response to finding Christ’s tomb empty is also not an immediate, “He is risen!”, but rather dismay that grave robbers apparently had beaten them to the tomb and stolen His body.  They can’t imagine what else the empty tomb would mean, nor what robbers would want with a corpse.   One of the hymns from Matins from the Sunday of the Myrrhbearing Women commemorates their confusion and looking for some kind of hope in the empty tomb.  All they want is His dead body, they are not yet believing in the resurrection of the dead.

The Myrrhbearing Women reached Your tomb and saw the seals of the tomb broken.

Not finding Your most pure body, they lamented, saying: “Who has stolen our hope?

Who has taken the dead One, naked and anointed, the sole consolation of His Mother?

How can the Life of the dead have died?  How can the Capturer of hell have been buried?

But arise in three days as You said, O Savior, and save our souls!”

The empty tomb is evidence, “science”, rational proof of something: the body of Christ is no longer there.   The Myrrhbearing Women however cannot discern the meaning, the full truth from the evidence right before their eyes.    Their rational thinking leads them to conclude that body snatchers were at work.  Evidence and rational thinking are not enough to understand what they see.  They are far from the truth.  Pure rationalism does not help the women understand what the evidence is telling them.  The missing piece of the puzzle is faith.  They must remember the words that the Lord Jesus taught them, and they must believe in Him and believe what He taught.   To see the empty tomb as an act of God and not of men, they have to have faith.  Another hymn from Matins for the Myrrhbearers states:

The Myrrhbearers came early to Your tomb, O Christ, seeking You to anoint Your most pure Body.

Enlightened by the Angel’s words,  they proclaimed joyous tidings to the Apostles:

“The Leader of our salvation has been raised; He has captured death,

granting the world eternal life and great mercy!”

The empty tomb in itself does not enlighten the Women Disciples of the Lord – they neither understand what the empty tomb means nor do they believe in the resurrection.  They did not go to the tomb looking for an act of God, and could not see the evidence before them as testifying to the truth.   It is the angel who explains the evidence to them, who brings them to faith in Christ.  They stop looking for a human explanation for the evidence, and begin to see the events in the light of the teaching of their and our Lord.



2 thoughts on “The Empty Tomb and Enlightenment

  1. gary

    Christian apologists use the alleged “fact” of an empty tomb as their trump card for evidence for the Resurrection.

    Let’s assume that the entire account in Matthew regarding Aramathea burying Jesus in his private tomb, the great stone in front of the door, and the Roman guards are all fact. Let’s assume that on Sunday morning the women really did find an empty tomb. How strong of evidence is this “fact”? I assert that the empty tomb is only strong evidence IF Christians can prove that the body was guarded 24/7 from the very moment that Aramathea placed Jesus’ body in the tomb to the moment the women found the tomb empty.

    If there is even a ten minute window when the tomb was unguarded, that is enough time for a group of men to roll back the stone, grab the body, and make off with it. Christians will assert that NO ONE would do this for a long list of reasons, including breaking the Sabbath. I assert that Jews breaking the Sabbath is much more probable than that an invisible middle-eastern deity reanimated the dead body of a Jewish prophet and sent angels to move back the stone. Yes, in a world where anything is possible, the latter is possible, but it just is not probable. It is much more probable that devout Jews would break the Sabbath. We have evidence of the disciples breaking the Sabbath in the Gospels, so why not do it again? Also, maybe it wasn’t the disciples. Maybe it was some of Jesus’ family who wanted the body buried in Galilee. Or maybe it was just grave robbers who thought they could make a profit selling the remains of a messiah pretender. Maybe a small group of the Sanhedrin didn’t like the idea of a blasphemer being buried in a respectable tomb, so they stole the body and tossed it into a hole, and did not tell the high priest and the other members. Or, maybe Aramethea only put the body in his tomb until Sabbath was over. After sunset Saturday night, with Pilate’s permission, he removed the body and threw it into an unmarked grave.

    Again, all of these scenarios are much more probable than the Christian supernatural explanation. Bottom line: We do NOT have evidence that the tomb was guarded 24/7 from the moment that Aramethea placed the body in the tomb and rolled the stone in front until the women found the tomb empty on Sunday morning. Below is the passage from Matthew:

    Now when evening had come, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus. 58 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be given to him. 59 When Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 and laid it in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed. 61 And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the tomb.

    Pilate Sets a Guard

    62 On the next day, which followed the Day of Preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees gathered together to Pilate, 63 saying, “Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise.’ 64 Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night[m] and steal Him away, and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead.’ So the last deception will be worse than the first.”

    65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard; go your way, make it as secure as you know how.” 66 So they went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard.

    1. Fr. Ted

      The empty tomb is not much proof of the resurrection at all. Even in the Gospels the women did not understand the empty tomb and assumed someone had taken the body away. Resurrection was not the first thing on their mind (BTW, I find this adds credibility to the Gospel). Someone had to explain to the women what the empty tomb meant. Note also that it will be centuries before the Christians establish the tomb as a shrine.

      It was encountering the risen Christ which changed the minds and lives of the disciples.

      I don’t think the real issue was ever the evidence of the empty tomb. The real issue was the trustworthiness of those who witnessed the risen Lord. This is where the issue of faith comes in. Do we believe the witnesses – the women disciples, the Twelve, the Evangelists, the early church?

      God trusted His message, His mission, the proclamation of His deeds to people. They had to show themselves as reliable witnesses. Their martyrdoms were part of the “proof”. They were willing to die for their claim.

      I think your sense of evidence is based on some 21st Century forensics, which didn’t exist in those days. The real issue is whether those who claimed to find the tomb empty and those who claimed to see the risen Lord are reliable and trustworthy folk. The witnesses are the key. We have to believe not just in their claim, but we have to believe them.

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