When it comes to the centerpiece image of our faith, only the empty tomb will do. All other images pale in comparison. The image may have the surrounding characters of the story there, like the guard on watch, or the angel sitting on the place where Jesus lay, or the image of the grave clothes piled up, or even the image of the first disciples showing up to grieve, but instead seen running away in exuberance and fear. All of those are part of the crucifixion backdrop, but they are just that, a backdrop. The main image to sear into our minds, the piece to hold front and center, is a tomb that lays empty. He is not here. This changes everything, and everything means every thing.
I, you, the church, the world, must always hear this proclamation anew. Because Jesus is raised, you will be raised. Because He is raised, the world will be raised. Because He lives, we live. So in Paul Harvey fashion, now you know the rest of the story! Or do we?
You see, this is where I find the difficulty. We know the end of the story, or what appears to be the end, but the end is really not the end. The end of Jesus in that tomb is a beginning. The end is the start. That is why we can say, “Whatever the worst thing is that happens to us, it will not be the last.” The end is the start. We must not forget this, no matter the circumstances surrounding us.
And so … insert here the scenario that you or someone you care for is dealing with … and now try to articulate how the empty tomb informs and defines that scenario. As you do this, you see how complex everything really is. We have faith – Yes – the tomb is empty – Yes – and now this is what is going on and these are the issues that I must address in my life and in the life of the world. It is hard for us human beings to live with the already/not yet, the both/and, our faith/doubt, being saints/ sinners, living in darkness/light, all at the same time. Certainly it is difficult to allow our faith to be our guide through it all. Perhaps this actually means that you are on the discipleship road.
Discipleship – what is it? Discipleship is hearing and responding to the call to follow Jesus. That call comes from Jesus himself. The call has everything to do with Jesus. Thus, our life is to be filled with faith responses in this One who is the crucified and risen Lord. This also means that discipleship is hard, the hardest life you will ever be called to live. Discipleship is filled to the brim with tensions. But discipleship also offers a profound joy. Discipleship points beyond the moment into something much fuller and richer. You were made for discipleship.
The good news for those on the road of discipleship is that even in the midst of things you can neither see nor understand, there is great promise that you will have daily encounters with the resurrected Lord. For more on this, let’s turn to the Gospel of Luke.
Luke witnesses to important motifs of the resurrection. First, women were the earliest to learn of the resurrection. Second, the resurrection is a bodily resurrection, as shown by the empty tomb, Jesus sharing in meals, and Jesus’ invitation to recognize and touch the wounds of his hands and feet. Third, Jesus’ followers met his resurrection with disbelieving responses: perplexity, terror, amazement, astonishment, fear, doubt, and wonder. Even in their joy, the disciples and others were disbelieving (Luke 24:41). Fourth, Jesus is present and recognized in the sharing of a meal. Here are two meals: one on the road where the disciples' eyes were opened as Jesus was “made known to them in the breaking of the bread” (24:35) and one at a table with the disciples, a recollection of both Jesus’ Last Supper and Jesus’ supper for all. Fifth, the meals exemplify hospitality, which the Bible teaches as a prime value. The apparent guest may be the true host (Genesis 18:1-15; Hebrews 13:2). Sixth, Jesus speaks peace upon the disciples and offers words of reassurance and promise, the promise of the Spirit’s power.
These stories exhibit for us that there is no escape from Jesus, who never abandons us. Jesus meets us wherever we are. Even death did not separate Jesus from his followers. The disciples on the road to Emmaus had given up. They said, “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). They were walking away thinking that the empty tomb was the end of the story. They were leaving behind the hope that they had in going to Jerusalem. Perhaps they were escaping, too, in the fear that as followers of Jesus, they might face the same torture and death. They had been Jesus' followers but were now walking away in another direction. We, like they, are followers of the risen Christ, and we, like they, sometimes go in another direction. If we give up, lose hope, or are afraid, Jesus does not leave us behind but meets us on the path where we are, wherever we are going. Jesus comes to meet us even, or, perhaps especially, on our paths of desperation, abandonment, and escape. Remind yourself of the scenario that I asked for you to insert above. How is Jesus meeting you or your loved ones in that scenario? How most would Jesus want to reveal himself to you? Is He speaking and showing himself, but your own blindness or distraction is making it impossible to notice? Remember, there is no escape, Jesus meets you where you are or wherever you are going!
The Bible stories of Jesus’ resurrection and empty tomb remind us to be alert for Jesus' presence. We may meet Jesus when least expected. We may meet Jesus in someone who does not know about Jesus (Luke 24:18). When we ourselves are discouraged, Jesus may come to us in strangers who call forth from us the stories of our faith (24:19-20, 32). When we show hospitality to strangers, Jesus is present (24:28-29). Jesus is present when we share food with strangers (24:35) or with other believers (Luke 24:29-31). Jesus is present when we gather to tell of our experiences of Jesus (Luke 24:36). Jesus is present to us in our disbelieving (24:41). Jesus is beside us when we are grieving Jesus’ absence in our lives (John 20:11-18). Jesus stands among us when we fear persecution because of being Jesus' followers (John 20:19-23). Jesus comes to us when we doubt (John 20:24-28). Jesus is with us as we go about our daily occupations (John 21:3-7), and Jesus promises to meet us in the midst of our daily lives (Mark 16:7; Matthew 28:10).
The end -- the outcome -- always opens up to another beginning. This much is sure! I am not saying we can get to that point of seeing or understanding or believing easily. I think it is hard work: It is an intentional faith, a disciplined approach to prayer, worship, community and conversation ....a wrestling match within our very own souls… that can lead us there; but ultimately, I believe it all goes back to peering into that tomb -- seeing nothing -- and then going away from there knowing -- seeing -- Jesus on the roads of our lives. He is there … He is here!
Go into each day knowing the end … and beginning …of God’s story for you. Peace and prayers for each of you as we live in the midst of all that confronts us.
On the road with you,