144: The empty tomb
It was still dark in the garden of Joseph of Arimathea, the garden where Jesus was buried. The cool night mist still hovered near the ground. The moon was low; it shone down on the helmets and spears of the soldiers.
The soldiers were keeping watch by the tomb. They were not asleep. Any Roman soldier who slept while standing guard was punished severely.
The soldiers did their duty faithfully by the sealed grave. Each one had a spear in his hand and a sword attached to his belt. No one would dare move the stone that sealed the tomb as long as they were on duty.
The first pale rays of morning light were breaking through in the east. A bird began to sing his shy song, shattering the almost sacred stillness.
Then, suddenly, it happened. It was as if lightning came from the sky—that's how quickly the angel descended to the garden. The earth trembled when his feet touched the ground. The garden was suddenly flooded with light.
The soldiers shrank back in fear. They watched as the heavenly figure walked over to the grave, rolled the stone away with a single shove, and sat down on the stone. His shining garments were white as snow.
The soldiers fled in fear.
Early that morning, on the first day of the week, the Sunday morning of the Passover, the great divine miracle took place in the stillness of the garden. There was no human being present to watch.
Jesus rose from the dead and left the tomb. The Prince of life could no longer be held by the bands of death.
There was no more humiliation or suffering or death in store for Him. He had fought His great fight, and His work on earth was done. Through the sacrifice of His life, He had reconciled the world with God. Now heavenly glory awaited Him.
Not one of His disciples knew what had happened. Not one of them believed that their Master would rise from the dead.
They had spent the whole sabbath together in mourning. It was the saddest day of their lives, a day of despair and deep sorrow. Now that they had lost their Master, their lives were shattered.
Among the many disciples were a few women who still had a purpose in mind. They wanted to anoint the body of Jesus again and prepare it even more for the grave.
As soon as the sun went down and the sabbath was at an end, they set out to buy more spices. And now, early on Sunday morning, they were on their way to the tomb. They did not know that the tomb had been sealed the day before and that Roman soldiers were assigned to guard it.
The sun was rising when they reached Joseph's garden. The sky shone with beautiful morning colors, the birds sang everywhere, and the earth lay gleaming in the light of a new day.
But the women saw nothing of all that glory. They walked somberly, bowed low with grief—Mary of Magdala, Mary the wife of Clopas, Salome, and Joanna the wife of Chuzas. The closer they got to the grave, the sadder they became.
Then one of them raised a question they hadn't thought of before in their sorrow: "Who will roll the stone away from the entrance to the grave?"
Indeed, who could do it? The stone was much too big and heavy for a few women to move by themselves. They did not know how to manage this, but they walked on anyway until they reached Joseph's garden.
Suddenly they stood still and stared. A great fear seized them as they stared at the rock wall shining brightly in the sun.
A dark opening stared back at them! Who had done it? Who had violated the grave in which the body of their beloved Master lay? Had the chief priests and scribes, in their terrible hatred, been unable to even leave the body of Jesus alone?
Mary of Magdala was convinced that the chief priests and scribes were responsible. Sobbing, she turned around and hurried back to the city. She would bring the disciples the horrible news that the body of Jesus had been taken away.
The other women walked on toward the grave, trembling. With pounding hearts they entered the shadowy cave.
Inside they saw a shining figure that looked like a young man in a long white garment. The figure was seated right by the place where the body of Jesus was supposed to be.
They bowed in fear before that figure, for they realized that it must be an angel. A happy, friendly voice asked them, "Why do you seek the living among the dead?"
When they looked up again, they saw to their surprise that there was a second angel.
Two heavenly messengers stood before them in shining clothes. They said, "Don't be afraid. You seek Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here, for He has arisen, just as He said He would. Come, look at the place where His body lay."
Respectfully the women came nearer and looked at the empty place. "He has arisen?" They still didn't understand.
Then they heard one of the angels asking, "Don't you remember what He said to you when He was still in Galilee? He said, 'The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, but He will arise on the third day.' "
Suddenly all the sadness and doubt disappeared from their hearts, to be replaced by light and joy. They now remembered that Jesus had indeed said that. He had said He would arise on the third day. How could they ever have forgotten? In their pain and sorrow they had been blind, thinking that all was lost.
They felt deeply ashamed.
"Go now," said the angel, "and quickly tell His disciples. Tell Peter too. Tell them that He is going ahead of them to Galilee, and that He will see them there. That, too, He told you beforehand."
They nodded. They were so happy that they couldn't even speak.
The women made their way out of the tomb and hurried away to bring others the glorious news that Jesus had risen from the grave.