The loneliness of the tomb
Matthew 27.62-66 (New Revised Standard Version)
The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, ‘Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, “After three days I will rise again.” Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, “He has been raised from the dead”, and the last deception would be worse than the first.’
Easter Saturday for many is a strange day. What do you do? We sit between the darkness of Good Friday and the shining light of Easter Day – or as one child called it in a year two RE lesson last week, Good Sunday. On Easter Saturday, we sit in the wilderness of the tomb, where there is no resurrection, but there are many questions.
Today I want us to spend some time with that guard, and those grieving disciples.
There was fear that Jesus was going to be taken by the disciples to prove the prophecy that he would rise from death. So the authorities placed a huge stone and a guard in front of the tomb, precisely to ensure that this would not happen.
How would that guard have been feeling? If you were that guard, what would you be expecting? Would this be an honour, or a frustration, to be guarding Jesus’ tomb?
Maybe you would have been filled with questions? Is this God’s son? Is he going to rise from the dead? What are the disciples going to do?
Or maybe you would have just stood there bored, knowing he was dead, and had been a madman to say he was the Messiah. Maybe you would rather be doing something else, and the thought of those disciples coming to see the tomb was not exciting.
Then we have our disciples, who perhaps would have gone to the cross thinking that this was where the final and greatest miracle was going to happen. So what was it like for them to come to this Saturday – the emptiness, the grief, the loss and hurt?
We know they were full of fear at this point, and they would have been wondering whether they were going to be next! Was the next knock on the door going to be the authorities to take them?
Then perhaps they were holding on to the moments of betrayal, and of failing when it most mattered. Imagine being Simon Peter on this day. You questioned the washing of feet, then asked Jesus to wash your whole body, you chopped a soldier’s ear off, you fell asleep, you denied your best friend – not once but three times – when it most mattered. And then you vanished.
As I think of Easter Saturday and that tomb, I am always drawn to these two pictures. First of a guard who may be frustrated to be given this job, because surely Jesus is dead and will stay dead. Then of Simon Peter’s despair at the thought “What did I not do? I only had one job to do – stand up for Jesus.” If ever there was a picture of being in the wilderness, it is these two pictures.
We can so easily jump forward to the celebrations of Easter Sunday, but we need to sit and live through Easter Saturday. We need to be in the darkness and stillness, in that time of wondering what is happening, what God is doing.
Reflecting on the last year and the challenges, pain and hurt that we have all lived through, as we come out of lockdown these next three months may feel a little like Easter Saturday. Why? Because on Easter Saturday there were so many things that could happen, so many questions, and not a single answer.
Maybe that is how you are feeling as restrictions are lifted. We are not going back to how it was, even when all the restrictions are lifted. We will be moving into a new world, we will do things differently. Worship will be different. We won’t take for granted that moment at the peace, that hug from a grandchild, that agonising 90th minute winner at a live football match.
We will have different priorities. We don’t know what will have changed, how we will have changed, or how God’s Church will have changed.
Rewind to the wilderness of the tomb: what was the new world going to look like then? Nobody knew know Sunday was coming. All they could do was to be in that moment.
How do you cope with just being? Are you thinking about what you will do, saying “I should have done this or that”? Or are you just happy to be?
As we come to celebrate Easter this weekend, maybe we need not to look ahead, or even to look back at the last 12 months, but simply to be. It may feel like being in the wilderness to sit in this moment but it is important to be in this moment as we prepare. Just as the disciples needed just to be on that Saturday, we are invited in these next few months to be present and be in the moment.
How will you just be?