Saturday, 7 April 2012

Making sense of an empty tomb

"Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, he is risen!"

Last year I spent time thinking about the Crucifixion and the idea of a God of flesh and blood. This year I have been thinking about Easter as transformation. The Resurrection is the most obvious symbol of transformation but it can be a more subtle one than at first appears. To Christians both the Crucifixion and the Resurrection are transforming and (obviously) neither has any meaning without the other. The cross is transformative because it offers us a new type of sacrifice, that of God intervening in human history to transform his relationship to us and modelling out to us how our lives should be. The cross is enormously challenging in that it is about giving without counting the cost, choosing vulnerability over power, forgiveness over retribution. The Resurrection is transforming because it is about a triumph over sin and death and it offers us the chance of redemption, to be a new creation.
I have to confess that I am a bit of a Good Friday person. The fact that at the center of Christianity we find the image of a God who embraces suffering and anguish goes some way towards assuaging the doubts raised in my mind about the existence of a loving God when there is such suffering in the world. It also represents the cumulation of the "messiness" of Holy Week- all that conflict, betrayal, hope, despair, the sense that the disciples must have had of things going badly wrong. Messy week, messy world, messy church (and I'm not talking about kids and play dough!) Never on this earth are we going to resolve life's messiness or our own messiness and perhaps it wouldn't be good if we did; mess, conflict, questions and faults can be a source of creativity and growth.
So where does that leave us with Resurrection? As far as human life is concerned we are never wholly triumphant. Even if we see our faith as a process of transformation, of becoming a new creation, we are always in a process of becoming more like Christ, of learning and growing. We keep failing and, like Peter, we might not grow if we never failed. I don't know many any perfectly transformed Christians. Really we are just as flawed as anyone else and sometimes (whisper it) even more so. Our lives are still prone to disappointment and disaster. It might not be so bad if we were passive in that whole process, but it’s often because we screwed up. We never totally escape Good Friday, we never fully achieve Easter Sunday.

Perhaps this is why Christ's resurrection is an unseen event, the actual resurrection is something hidden, not to be witnessed, and we are left to believe in it (or not) and to make sense of it. Our evidence of Resurrection is an empty tomb, one that holds no answers but only the question:

"Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, he is risen!"

The empty tomb is also a symbol of power, of something so strong that it could not be contained and burst out through sin and death. I chose the picture above because from the empty tomb we see the cross and the empty tomb comes from the work and the power of the cross. The power we have been shown is not at all like human power.  Perhaps we keep messing up so much because we fail to understand that and we “seek the living among the dead ”, in other words we seek to find life in our old understandings, habits and patterns instead of the new ones which we have been taught but from which we shrink because they seem so very costly.

“Behold, I make all things new.”

Christ's resurrection is a once and only triumph of light and glory, but what we are given is empty space where we laid our misery, failure, fear and suffering - and an injunction to start again and to really seek the risen Christ by following a new path and not the old ways.


  1. Thank you for this Sue. I'm just off to a Quiet Afternoon and have printed it out to take with me to ponder.

  2. Thanks Perpetua, how sweet of you. I read this article this morning and it made me think how very unredeemed the Christian faith appears to many people (although I think i t is a partial view, it does have some validity.)
    I hope you enjoyed your Quiet afternoon.

  3. Fr David Heron8 April 2012 at 16:24

    A fine article well worth pondering.

  4. I have been told I am not good at accepting compliments - so thank you very much, David :)

  5. Can you tell me the source of the artwork of the empty tomb with the three crosses on the distant hill?