ABOUT FAITH: Tomb for sale

The Covington News - - Religion - Brian Dale Colum­nist Brian Dale is pas­tor of Allen Me­mo­rial Methodist Church in Ox­ford.

“For Sale: one empty tomb, like new, sure to in­crease in value. Make of­fer.”

Yes, I know the tomb was bor­rowed to be­gin with, but I like the idea of a tomb that is not only empty, but no longer needed. I like the no­tion of an aban­doned grave where no vis­its are made, no flow­ers laid, not out of ap­a­thy, but sim­ply be­cause there is no need. The one they re­mem­ber is not there, is not even dead.

A cou­ple of years ago, some mem­bers of our church un­der­took a ma­jor craft pro­ject. Us­ing boards and chicken wire for a frame, they cre­ated a pa­pier-mâché fac­sim­ile of a tomb. We use it ev­ery year dur­ing Holy Week dra­mat­i­cally to bring the death and burial of Je­sus into our sphere of con­scious­ness. Then Easter morn­ing, we re­move the stone cov­er­ing to cel­e­brate its empti­ness. It has been a great ad­di­tion to our Easter wor­ship ex­pe­ri­ence. Stone cold tombs are not sup­posed to be pretty, of course, but I think this piece is beau­ti­ful. I am grate­ful for the hard work that went into its cre­ation, and the years of ser­vice we will get out of it.

Bring­ing out the tomb has be­come a tra­di­tion at our church. But there is an­other tra­di­tion that usu­ally goes un­no­ticed, and that is putting the tomb away into stor­age. The tomb is no longer needed. As Chris­tians, it is im­por­tant to “be­hold the empty tomb,” but to me it is just as im­por­tant to put it be­hind us and move on to res­ur­rec­tion life.

Too of­ten we hang out at the grave, hold­ing onto the Je­sus we know from the gospel sto­ries. This is what Mary Mag­da­lene did, as re­called in the 20th chap­ter of John. She came to the grave on Easter morn­ing to be­gin the grue­some task of tend­ing to a corpse that would not only be mu­ti­lated, but al­ready show­ing signs of rigor mor­tis and de­cay. The ab­sence of the body was most dis­tress­ing to her. Three times she com­plained about it. To the dis­ci­ples: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” To the an­gels: “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” To Je­sus him­self, whom she sup­posed to be the care­taker: “Sir, if you have car­ried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

When Mary fi­nally rec­og­nizes the Lord, what does she do? She runs to em­brace him of course. Who wouldn’t? But Je­sus’ re­ply was, “Do not hold on to me, be­cause I have not yet as­cended to the Fa­ther.” We can puz­zle over the physics of grasp­ing a ghost. Was he phys­i­cal or spir­i­tual, or some- where in be­tween? But per­haps the bet­ter les­son here is to re­al­ize that the Je­sus we want to hold onto is telling us not to. He is chang­ing. At some point we have to walk away from the tomb of our old re­la­tion­ship to­ward the liv­ing Spirit of Je­sus, the source of ev­er­last­ing life.

We know Je­sus through the gospel sto­ries. Je­sus be­comes real to us, and teaches us some­thing new ev­ery time we read them. But that is the old Je­sus. The new Je­sus is with us now, as Holy Spirit. He brings new depth and mean­ing to the He­brew Scrip­tures, which were al­ready rich to be­gin with. The new Je­sus helps us trans­late an­cient sto­ries to rel­e­vant ap­pli­ca­tion in our mod­ern world. The new Je­sus does his work on us, chip­ping away at our rough edges un­til we are sculpted more and more into the im­age of our Cre­ator. The new Je­sus ad­vo­cates for le­niency when­ever God is ready to pass judg­ment. This is a lot of work, but none of it is done from the tomb. So just walk away, and leave no flow­ers. You have bet­ter places to be, and more im­por­tant things to do.

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