The Empty Tomb
March 2, 2019
“He is not here; for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.” (Matthew 28:6).
A few days ago, a number of us had the opportunity to spend the night at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. I had heard about pilgrims from Mundelein doing this in the past, and so it was an opportunity that I was very much looking forward to as part of our time in Jerusalem. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is more like a collection of chapels, and two of these are probably the most important sites in all of Christendom – Calvary, where Jesus was crucified, and, of course, the Holy Sepulcher, where Jesus was buried and from where He rose from the dead. Because this Church marks the spot where two events that changed the course of human history happened, it is naturally and expectedly crowded.
I’d been to the Church a couple times before our overnight stay, and it was great to see so many people coming to pray and experience the holy sites, but it also made it difficult to find time and space, both interiorly and exteriorly, to really pray myself. The overnight, then, was a welcome time for about 8 or 9 hours of silence and prayer in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, affording us time to really reflect upon and interiorize the momentous events that took place there. The monks who watch over and take care of the Church shut the doors at 7 PM and we stayed until about 4:30 AM, when the doors were opened to welcome groups in the morning.
The highlight of the night, for me, was the time I got to spend in Jesus’ tomb, praying and meditating in silence, marveling as I knelt before the place where the Resurrection actually happened. I made multiple short visits into the tomb throughout our time, and during one, I noticed the Latin inscription below an image of the Resurrection hung above the left side of the stone marking the spot where Jesus was laid. As bad as my Latin is, I was able to recognize a few words and piece together a verse from the Gospel according to Matthew: “He is not here; for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.”
These words that the angels spoke to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary as they arrived at the tomb Easter Sunday morning hit me like a ton of bricks. The entire reason that this tomb was marked and venerated as a holy site, the reason millions of pilgrims visit this spot each year, the reason I was kneeling there was that the tomb was empty. “He is not here; for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.” I’m still trying to put together everything that this short little verse means, and why it moved me so profoundly while I prayed before Jesus’ tomb. But at that moment, coming and seeing the place where He lay, I was able to rejoice because He was not there; He had risen, unable to be held by the bonds of death, victorious over the worst that sin could throw at Him. An empty tomb, a place where a body used to lay seems like an odd place to hold so sacred. But such is the logic of the Risen Christ, who constantly transcends our expectations, giving to us peace, love, and joy beyond all telling.
Diocese of Wichita