The Tomb

Friday, March 28, 1997

Good Friday

Matthew 27:59 – So Joseph took [the body of Jesus], wrapped it in a new linen sheet and placed it in his own tomb, which he had just recently dug out of solid rock. Then he rolled a large stone across the entrance to the tomb and went away.

We were in Jerusalem a couple of years ago and on Good Friday we visited the Garden of the Tomb just outside the Damascus gate of the walled city. There was an empty tomb located on one side of a beautiful little (walled) garden. It probably wasn't Joseph of Arimathea's tomb but it was illustrative of it. It was just a block or so from Golgotha.

Two things about the scene caught my attention: firstly, there were only four people in the garden that day, Good Friday, and three of them were of my party; and secondly, I finally understood what the ladies (the two Mary's) were speaking of when they asked, "Who is going to help us roll the stone away from the tomb?" I had always pictured the stone at the entrance to the tomb after the crucifixion as being a big round granite boulder like the glaciers left scattered all over western Canada. It would have been an enormously heavy rock that would have taken many people to move it. On the other hand, the stone that the ladies were actually concerned about turned out to be a carved limestone or dolomite disk about 20 cm thick, standing about a metre and a half high, travelling (rolling) in a shaped stone gutter along the base of the tomb at the sidewalk level. To open the tomb, a strong person could easily roll the stone to the left, and to close it, roll it to the right.

The first observation was profound: Where was everybody on these most terrible days in the church calendar? Any other religion would have had people lined up for kilometres and kilometres to just get a glimpse of a most sacred shrine. (By the way, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a few blocks away was almost equally bereft of visitors.) One could easily, then, accept the conclusion that Christians aren't into shrines – that Christianity for them/us is the living Christ, not the dead one. And the living Christ is everywhere, not locked up in a tomb somewhere, and is with everyone wherever they might be.

The other observation is much less profound. What we are told is often imperfectly placed in our imagination – like the rock at the tomb. What seemed in our imagination to be a terribly difficult task, such as rolling a huge bulky stone out of the way, can in reality be very much more easily dealt with when we know the true dimensions of the challenge.

Prayer: Gracious God, help us to rely on the risen Lord and face our challenges with strength and understanding. Amen.

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Gordon Hodgson

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