I have sat in the empty tomb before.
I think we all have in some way or another.
We’ve approached where we think He is–where we think help is, or comfort is, or wisdom. And we come up empty.
Sometimes–He just isn’t there.
I saw this piece of artwork today and it stopped me in my tracks. I tried and tried to track down the artist of this painting (so please let me know who it is if any of you find it!)
During this Easter time while the world is celebrating over-sized bunnies, egg hunts, and even the actual story of Easter with pictures of the cross and Jesus in the clouds–we often forget the part of the story that frankly has touched me the most–the part where for a period of time our Savior was nowhere to be found.
Mary Magdalene, one of my favorite figures from biblical history, was grieving and filled with despair when she rushed to the tomb to just sit with the savior, even in His death. The moment when she saw He was gone–perhaps stolen away–is a moment in the scriptures and within history that has always touched my heart so deeply. She crumbles to the ground and weeps, unable to grasp that the one place she depended on Him being was now completely empty.
We talk about how He suffered for us, how He died for us, how He rose again. But how often do we talk about how for a brief period of time His followers were left alone, doubting that the plan would carry forward–wondering if they’d ever again experience the presence of a Heavenly Savior.
The story cripples my heart when I think about it because of the times in my life I too have approached him, only to feel emptiness. I think about the times I’ve felt abandoned and alone, crumpled at an empty tomb–wondering why He isn’t where I thought He should be. I think of Mary’s tears and imagine the sound of silence that surrounded her, the staleness of the tomb, the darkness she looked in on. I wonder if she wondered, even briefly, if she could go on.
I look back now on moments that I haven’t even spoken of to another soul where I felt utter hopelessness. I think of the moment my dad died beside me; the moment I stared up at a hospital ceiling after depression overcame me and tipped me over, ending in a frightening hospital visit; the moment I heard a dire medical diagnosis; the moment I was betrayed by someone who I thought loved me. I think now on all my own moments beside an empty tomb, wondering in the depths of my heart why He isn’t where he’s supposed to be. Why I was left utterly alone.
And it’s ok. We don’t talk about it on Easter because why would we highlight the moments of emptiness when Easter is all about the eternal life?
The answer to that is simple.
Because we know separation–we now know the value of His closeness.
I’m convinced that because of those moments of darkness when He was silent in my life, I made more of an effort to get closer, to talk more to Him–to pray against the odds. I gained a strength and an independence in faith that I wouldn’t have developed had He always appeared at every need.
Like Mary experienced at the empty tomb, He sometimes comes from behind or from a place we least expect, calling our name and reminding us that He has risen. Sometimes, He lets us weep at an empty grave to let us feel the unspeakable joy of a filled eternity where life simply doesn’t end.
I will never forget a very simple memory from nearly three years ago ago now. I drove alone from Idaho to Washington with a few bags in the back of my car and my pup in the passenger’s seat–I’ve told the story of me leaving behind that life before. Most of the drive was silent–my thoughts were much too loud as I left a life behind that was familiar and headed into complete darkness and unknown. But at one point while I was winding through a mountainous path in Eastern Washington, windmill after windmill passing me by at either side, I flipped on the radio and the only station that came in clear suddenly started this song:
I cried through this song, knowing that in that exact moment in my empty car in an empty field of yellow, on an empty, winding road–He was reminding me that the emptiness was leading me to complete fulfillment. I was headed somewhere.
Because of my emptiness, He would now have room to fill me up.
“Down in the valley when waters rise, I’m still believing that hope is alive. All through the struggle and darkest day, I’ll remember the empty grave.”
And it’s true. Even now, I remember the sound of the silence. And now I appreciate the sounds of his reminders, the laughter of my child and the sound of my second child’s heartbeat. I rejoice in the sound of kisses from my husband and the sound of my dog who helped get me through a tough time. I give thanks that I’m accustomed to the sounds of nothingness, because now I can truly close my eyes and feel grateful for the sounds of life.
I hope that He finds you where you sit.
I hope that along with everything else Easter has to offer you, you remember Mary’s grief as she sat alone alongside an empty tomb and remember that Jesus approached her in her time of despair and reminded her where to look–and that there is hope, even when all seems empty.
Even when all seems lost.
“He is not here. He is risen. Just as he said.” -Matthew 28:6