The Tomb is Empty 

Christ is risen!

Indeed He is risen! 

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But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices which they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel; and as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told this to the apostles; but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.  (Luke 24:1-12)

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Orthodox scholar John Behr reminds us that finding Christ’s tomb empty was not enough to bring anyone to faith.  The Women Disciples and the Apostles all needed to have the meaning of the empty tomb explained to them as its meaning was not obvious – the empty tomb might simply be a crime scene (stolen corpse).  Behr writes:

“When the women arrived at the tomb early in the morning, they were perplexed, not knowing what to make of it being empty; they required an angel to explain what had happened. The Christian faith is not based on the empty tomb, for this ‘bare fact’ requires interpretation: was the body perhaps stolen?  The same holds true for the resurrection appearances: when he appears, not only do they recognize him, but they also start telling him about this Jesus who was put to death, and that the tomb was found empty (Lk. 24:22-24).

So, the Christian faith is not based on the appearances of the risen Lord. Only when the crucified and risen Christ opens the Scriptures to them, to show how it was necessary for him to have gone to his passion to enter his glory, do the disciples’ hearts began to burn, so that they are prepared to recognize him in the breaking of bread (Lk. 24:28-35). Yet once finally recognized, he disappears: ‘and their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he vanished out of their sight’ (Lk 24:31). At the very moment that the disciples finally encounter Christ knowingly, he passes out of their sight.” (Thinking Through Faith: New Perspectives from Orthodox Christian Scholars, pg. 72)

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Finding Christ’s tomb open and empty did not immediately cause the Women Disciples to believe in the resurrection. In fact it only caused them confusion. [Note also for the apostles walking to Emmaus, Christ is walking with them and talking to them and still they don’t recognize Him – ‘proof’ as such needs interpretation.]  The angels tell the Myrrhbearing Women that they will not find Christ at the tomb – they have to look elsewhere to find Him.  They needed help comprehending what they could see with their very eyes – seeing was not believing!  Today, we come to faith the very same way the Women Disciples and the Apostles did – by encountering Christ in the Scriptures rightly interpreted, in the Eucharist and in the assembly of believers.

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The experience of Christ is an act of faith, it is not really based on any kind of ‘proof.’  Proof as such (the empty tomb) did little to help the Myrrhbearing Women or the Apostles understand the resurrection. There also has to be a desire in our hearts to know love, to know truth, to know God.  That desire leads us to the Risen Lord.  A pilgrimage to His Tomb became very popular over time, but the reality is the same – He is not to be found at His empty tomb, but alive in our hearts and in the midst of all those who assemble together to give Him thanks, to hear the Gospel proclaimed and rightly interpreted, and to receive His Body and Blood in Holy Communion.  Faith is not quite the same as knowledge, which is based on facts and proof.  Faith requires an openness to the unexpected, a willingness to accept that not every truth (like love or beauty) is based in proofs, but might represent a dimension to life beyond the empirical.  For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience (Romans 8:24-25).