If you travel to Jerusalem, there are at least two sites that claim to be the tomb where Christ was buried.
Not surprisingly, they are big tourist attractions (a tradition in the Holy Land at least since Emperor Constantine’s mother, Helena, traveled there in the 4th century). But even so, they’re beautiful places and each makes a good argument for why it is The Spot. These arguments are of course aided by the work of one’s imagination upon visiting; it’s tantalizing to stand at the very spot where resurrection happened.
But I remember some years back, upon visiting them myself, listening to the tour guide at the place known as the “Garden Tomb” when a woman asked him bluntly, “But sir, is this really the tomb?”
He paused and looked at her and said with a smile, “Well I suppose it doesn’t much matter, does it? After all, he was only in there for 2 nights 2,000 years ago.”
I’m sure this was far from the first time he’d been asked this question, but his answer was nonetheless wise. He knew that Easter, and thus the Christian faith in general, is not about worshipping an empty tomb.
Christian faith is not “empty tomb” faith. Christian faith is resurrection faith, and faith in the resurrection is more than simply faith in an empty tomb. Resurrection faith requires an encounter with the risen Christ and nothing less. And that, much more than the empty tomb, is what we celebrate in this season of Easter, and hope for in our lives.
It’s what we long for each time we gather together as a congregation of the risen, and in so doing, prepare ourselves for the rest of the week: an encounter with the risen Christ. We’re building our senses, our imaginations, to the ways we, with Jesus, continue to be lifted up. To see, as Paul writes in Colossians, how our lives “are hidden with Christ in God,” in ways both subtle and decisive.
We don’t need the tomb to encounter the risen Christ—in fact, as Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell it, the tomb is exactly where you can be sure not to find Christ. Christ, we’re told is already on the move. He has already gone ahead to Galilee, just as he said he would.
The harsh Easter truth is that we cannot expect to find Christ where we left him, like so many books we keep on our nightstand. Resurrection faith isn’t that convenient. It’s much more of a moving target. Discipleship is movement and action and discovery—even trial and error.
It’s perhaps more comforting to think of Christ being right where we expect him to be, but Easter invites us to consider that Christ is instead where we need him most, which out ahead of us, calling us forward, preparing a way and waiting for us there.
Our resurrection task, then, is the same as it was so long ago when Christ met those first disciples on the lakeshore: to follow.