Back to the picture. My friends know I am a stickler for accuracy. First, there is no passage in the Gospels that describe Jesus exiting the tomb. He was laid in the tomb on Friday. The stone was rolled across the entrance to seal the tomb. On Sunday the women, friends of his and his mother, went to the tomb and found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. The stone was not rolled away for Jesus's exit, but for the women's convenience so they could enter easily.
What the women saw inside were Jesus's grave wrappings, lying exactly as if the corpse within had simply vanished inside them. John's Gospel records, "the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head [was] not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself."
Romans aimed for maximum deterrent effect in crucifixion. Inflicting humiliation was part of the package. They stripped the condemned entirely naked before they nailed them to the cross. Jesus was naked when his friends took him down from the cross. They tried to clean his terribly-savaged corpse (whipped nearly to death by the Romans before crucifixion) and apply funereal spices before the onset of the Sabbath at sundown. They didn't finish. So they covered Jesus's face with a cloth, about the size of a modern hand towel, wrapped his body with a large cloth and then looped a long strip of cloth around the outside (probably torn from the side of the large cloth), loosely so that removing it would be easy on Sunday morning, when the women would return to finish applying the spices.
So however Jesus exited the tomb, he came out naked, certainly not clothed in a Clorox-clean robe. We know this because John says the Christ, arisen,
... said to her [Mary Magdalene], "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?"
Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away."
So somewhere, perhaps, a gardener was going to get to work later and wonder had happened to his work clothes.
The story of the first Easter is as familiar to church people as any story we know. Perhaps it has lost its power because of that fact. Each Gospel telling of that first Easter day adds certain embellishments, too. Mark's account is rather sparse, but the other Gospels add more and more detail until by the time we're through we have a virtual parade of folks and supernatural beings practically huddled near the tomb - Roman soldiers, Temple representatives, the women, panting disciples, angels. I almost expect the Marine band to be along any minute. And somewhere in there, almost lost in the crowd, we catch a fleeting glimpse of Jesus, risen from the dead, and everyone uncomprehending of what it means, including the women who saw him and the two men who can't make much sense how Jesus's grave clothes can just be empty.
And it happened way over yonder, in Israel, way back when. What is Easter for in 2010?
United Methodist Bishop Will Willimon served many years at the dean of Duke University’s chapel. He once told of an interview he gave to a student reporter for the Duke University campus newspaper. Easter was approaching. So was Spring Break, which ended on Easter weekend that year.
“I'm doing a story on fun things to do during Spring Break,” said the student-reporter, “and thought it would be cool to mention the Chapel.”
“Okay,” said Reverend Willimon.
“Dr. Willimon,” the student said, “what is the goal of Easter?”
Willimon later wrote that he had no ready answer. A horrible thought went through his mind – an image of a headline, “Preacher says Easter is pointless.”
At right is an iconic photo of Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon long before he danced with the stars. A few years after this day in July 1969, some wag made a poster of this photo (I Google in vain for an image) topped with the words, "So What?"
And this is, in fact, an excellent question to ask about the illustration of Jesus exiting the tomb, above, leaving aside its inaccuracy to the recorded event.
What is the point of Jesus's resurrection? What purpose does it serve?
There's an old story of a preacher who had invited the children up to the altar area one Easter morning for the children's sermon. He asked the question, "When Jesus came out of the tomb that day, what do you suppose was the first thing he said?"
A little girl jumped up, waving her hand and exclaiming, "I know! I know!" She thrust one foot forward and raised her hands triumphantly above her hand, then yelled, "TA DA!"
Is that it? God gets to wow us? Well, I am appropriately wowed. But if that's all there is, then my life is no different and I am no better off.
But, as you might imagine, the apostle Paul got it clearly. In a letter to the church in Corinth, Greece, he wrote (1 Corinthians 15:12-20):
12It is proclaimed that Christ has been raised from the dead, so how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ was not raised, either. 14And if Christ was not raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15Moreover, we are liars about God, for we have staked our reputations that God raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if all the dead are not raised. 16For if all the dead are not raised, then neither has Christ been raised. 17And if Christ has not been raised, your faith does you no good because you’re still in your sins. 18That means that those who died believing in Christ are gone forever. 19If Christ matters only for this life, we are more pitiful than anyone else. 20But Christ really has been raised from the dead; he was the first to be raised of all the dead.The primary point of Jesus's resurrection is not really Jesus. The point is you and me. The resurrection of Jesus is the surety of a promise. The fundamental promise of God is that he will bring human beings into reconciliation with himself and preserve the righteous to live with him forever. How do we know that we will be raised from the dead? We know because God has already raised Jesus from the dead. Jesus’s resurrection is how God has proved he will keep his promise to raise everyone the dead at the end of the age. In fact, Paul sees Jesus’ resurrection as the actual inaugural event of the general resurrection.
That's why Paul elsewhere says that Jesus is a pioneer for the faith of Christian people. By his resurrection, Jesus blazed a trail. Jesus promised, explained this ahead of time.
"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going."Now I am not much one for the way that, "Much of modern Christianity preaches a comforting Home Depot theology: You can do it. We can help." One thing's for sure: if we are to be raised from death ourselves, somewhen, not one of us can do it on our own. And yes, I do think that we American Christians are much too narcissistic in our religious life but Easter really is maybe the one Sunday we can ask, faithfully, "What's in it for me?"
Your own empty tomb, someday, that's what. Pretty good deal, I'd say.
Here is a Youtube of His Majesty's Clerkes singing, "The Lord is Ris'n Indeed," by early American composer William Billings.