Easter is the first day of the week, and the dawning of a new way of God’s presence among us in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. Yet if we look at the Gospel the Church gives us, it seems strikingly un-celebratory. A lone woman checks out the tomb of Jesus, and notices the entrance stone rolled back. She lets the disciples know. Peter and an unnamed “other disciple whom Jesus loved” race to the tomb. The greatest morning in Christian history and these two seem more intent on getting to the tomb ahead of the other rather than to check out the tomb. 

Peter plays a pivotal role in the resurrection accounts, and the other disciple rightly lets him enter the tomb first. What the two saw was an empty tomb rather than the risen Christ. Christ was preeminently worthy of a stupendous victory celebration. No honor would have been too great, no celebration would have been too elaborate. Peter “went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.” Peter did not know at the time what to make of the placement, “For they did not yet understand the scripture that he had to rise from the dead.” “Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed.” Why did this disciple believe? The text does not tell us. Scholars suggest that the presence of the linens indicated that grave robbers did not steal the body, for they would not have left behind the valuable linen cloth. The scholar Sandra M. Schneiders thinks that the cloths outlined the original position of the body of the risen Christ, who passed effortlessly through them, leaving them undisturbed. If this is true, the beloved disciple put two and two together, and believed that Jesus had risen from the dead.

Reflect on this low-key scene. The disciples initially stood in front of an empty tomb, which stunned them and led them to shed their gloomy and defeatist thoughts. More was needed, of course, namely, the Spirit’s touch and personal encounter with Jesus. But they started to listen and be open and began to realize that something great had happened, even if all the details were murky. For most of us, this indirect and slow route will be our route. It begins with an “empty tomb,” not necessarily the vision of the risen Christ, but something that brings us up short. Then comes the spirit’s touch, and then the encounter with Christ, risen from the dead.

That is why we have the long Easter season–to give us time to let the empty tomb experience blossom forth into an encounter with the risen Lord who lordship is in this world now.