What does an empty tomb mean to you? When you approach an empty tomb what goes through your mind?
When Peter and John approached the empty tomb, scripture tells us they believed but did not understand. John 20:8-10: Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
On Easter, we celebrate the empty tomb. The empty tomb was the first sign of hope. Its emptiness turned the followers of Christ mind’s back on God and His Kingdom work. They did not fully understand what its emptiness meant. They knew that God was at work.
It was later in the day that Jesus began revealing Himself, first to Mary Magdalene who was alone in the garden, overwhelmed by her grief and despair because she did not understand. Later in the afternoon He taught a world-class Bible lesson from the Old Testament while walking to Damascus explaining why this was exactly the way it had to happen. In the evening, He came to the room where a group of His frightened disciples were gathered and breathed a blessing of peace, and eating food so they could understand that he wasn’t a ghost. Understanding the power of the Resurrection is a lifelong lesson.
For some time on Easter morning, the only evidence that Jesus had risen from the dead was an empty tomb. This fact became more meaningful to me this Easter. As I attended the Sunrise service the reality of what the women and Peter and John took in became personal. A pattern I have developed for Lent is to ask God for something very important to me for forty days. The last two Lenten seasons I have been diligent in my daily focus on prayer. Both years the answer has been no. The negative response to my prayer has not been because I didn’t ask. It wasn’t because I didn’t ask in faith. It wasn’t because I wasn’t asking for the impossible. It was simply because what I ask for is not God’s best for me. I need to accept that fact and I do. I could have a hundred arguments for God about why my way is better, but I know that His way is better and that the problem is that I can’t understand it now. I honestly believe this with all my heart.
This year was a little different. I realized that God has given me all kinds of signs that He has heard my prayer and that His no to me is not made in a haphazard way. My Lenten prayer focus had brought me to an empty tomb by Easter Sunday. I did not see the answer I wanted. I am not relieved from that focus of prayer. BUT I can see an empty tomb. I, like Peter and John, can walk into it and realize that though I don’t understand, I know that God is doing something good.
I’m so glad that first century people buried their dead in cut out tombs from rock and rolled heavy stones across them. This provides such a lovely vision for me when I revisit that first Easter Sunday in my mind. I had the privilege of being in Jerusalem and actually stooping into an empty first century tomb. There is a permanence about a tomb like that. It is solid and secure and stands the tests of time. This is how I view my empty tomb in answer to my Lenten prayers. I realize that though the tomb is empty, it is a sign to me that God has heard my prayers, they are precious to Him, but that He alone knows how I best want them answered. For now, I will celebrate that there is an empty tomb and that means that God is most certainly at work!
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