This brightness is quite a contrast to the mood of the past few
days, at least in terms of the biblical story. The challenge of
Holy Week is that biblical narrative starts on a frightening track
and picks up speed beginning on Thursday, the day Jesus had a Last
Supper with his disciples and washed their feet, and told them how
his body and blood would be broken and shared as a covenant with
them. Jesus knew that one of those disciples would betray him and
the others would abandon him; that betrayal had to be part of the
anguish that haunted his prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane. Things
start to careen around as Jesus is arrested by Roman soldiers, taken
before the Jewish council, tried by Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor,
sent off to Herod, the Jewish prelate, accused, mocked sent back
to Pilate, condemned, beaten and crucified between two criminals.
By three in the afternoon on Friday, the roller coaster ride of
betrayal, arrest, beating, humiliation and torture screeches to
an abrupt halt. The ride is over. Jesus is dead.
Jesus’ body is taken down and hurriedly moved to a tomb before
sunset on Friday, so as not to interfere with the Jewish Sabbath.
And from sunset Friday to dawn on Sunday, nothing happens. Nothing.
No Easter Egg hunts, no grocery shopping, no sermon writing no chancel
decorating no church cleaning. After all that terrible heart-wrenching
and soul-shattering frenzy of the past 48 hours, Everything. Just.
And that’s where we are on Sunday morning; Mary Magdalene,
Joanna and Mary the mother of James at the first light of dawn,
on their way to the tomb. They saw the crucifixion, they knew Jesus
was dead. They couldn’t touch a dead body on the Sabbath,
but they could go now and anoint the body to slow the decomposition.
It was a way to pay their last respects; it was the right thing
to do. Nobody was expecting anything to happen.
But something does happen -- or rather, things don’t happen
which were supposed to. There’s something off kilter at the
tomb: it wasn’t sealed up like it should have been, and Jesus’
body isn’t there. And then something significant happens:
two men in dazzling white tell the women that Jesus is not here;
he has risen. We have to be careful not to be so dazzled by these
men in white that we miss what is truly significant here: the women
are told that Jesus has risen, but they don’t actually see
him, because Jesus is not there. In this sense, too, we are like
the women at the tomb. We have been told that Christ is risen, but
we haven’t seen it for ourselves. Why did the women believe
such a thing? Why should we ?
Luke tells us that the women ‘remembered his words,’
the words of Jesus. It was the memory of those words which transformed
the women from skeptics to witnesses. They returned from the tomb
to give witness to the resurrection: they were eye witness to the
absence of Jesus. He is not in the tomb; the body they were expecting
to see is not here. He’s alive, he has risen! It must have
been an exciting moment for those women.
It was a non-starter for the disciples and those who were with
them. Luke says, “but these words seemed to them an idle tale,
and they did not believe them.” And here’s why resurrection
is such a hard sell, and so likely to be dismissed as an idle tale:
resurrection demands that we believe in what is not there. Instead
of solid, physical, tangible proof, we’re expected to believe
because of what we can’t see, what is not in the empty tomb,
what is not wrapped in the death shroud. Is it any wonder that the
women’s story was dismissed as an idle tale? Of all the disciples,
it is only Peter in this account who has enough curiosity to go
to the tomb and see for himself what is not there. And when Peter
sees the empty linen cloths, even without the testimony of the angels,
Believing in things we cannot see is difficult. In some circles
believing in what others cannot see might be called have hallucinations,
or having delusions. The book of Hebrews has another word for it.
Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped
for, the conviction of things not seen.” We believe in the
absence of Jesus from the tomb, because that is the only way we
can have faith in the presence of Jesus alive and active in our
lives today. The angels, as you might expect, got the two parts
of this simple formula just right. They tell the women, “He
is not here.” (This is belief -- the woman can see this for
themselves) “He is risen!” (This is faith -- they can’t
see Jesus, but they remember what he said about himself and his
Christ is risen! is a statement of faith because of what we cannot
see: the body is not here. All those images of the crucifixion which
flood Western Christianity: Jesus dying on the cross, blood across
his forehead from the crown of thorns, a wound in his side -- we
have historical documentation from Roman historians that this crucifixion
happened. Crucifixion was humiliating and horrible, but we don’t
have to imagine how it happened: we know how it happened and its
effects on the human body. Artists have portrayed it in excruciating
The resurrection, though. That is a trickier thing to portray.
How do you paint or photograph what no one has seen? How do you
show the image of what is not there? There is a concept in visual
art and design called “negative space.” This is the
space around an image. In three-dimensional design, such as garden
design, it may literally be empty space. In graphic design it’s
sometimes called “white space” -- the visual space around
an image, or within letters or between words. Consider how difficult
it would be to make sense of images or letters without negative
space to show where the edges are. The empty tomb is the negative
space which defines and enables us to understand who Christ is.
This is true theologically, but it’s also been an element
of Christian art for centuries. Think about it: without the empty
tomb, how do we know that we’re looking at an image of the
resurrected Jesus? No one really knows what a resurrected person
looks like. It is only in relationship to the empty tomb -- what
is not here--that resurrection makes sense.
I want to show you some images, and invite you to think about what
is there, and what is not there.
1. Women to tomb He Qui contemporary Chinese these women are headed
somewhere, but the real subject of the painting is outside the frame
of the picture
2. Chinese women Notice the difference in energy in the posture
of these women.
3. Icon Greek icon the empty tomb is actually portrayed so that
we know that this is the risen Christ
4. Michelangelo Buonarroti Sketch
5. Triptych Mikhail Vrubel The risen Christ flanked by angels;
Jesus often naked or clothed in white robe
6. Resurrected Christ J Kirk Richards If you didn’t know
the title of this painting, there would be no cues to tell you this
is the resurrected Christ
7. Rainbow Christ Stephen Whatley
Use of color to suggest something amazing and supernatural
8. breaking out Photo image
I like the energy and motion of this photo -- not just whatever
Jesus is breaking through, but how it charges the space around it.
It’s much more dynamic than pushing through a solid wall would
9. Paper art Peter Callesen
One of my favorites: what a great illustration of negative space
and moving from 2 dimensions to 3 dimensions. So much more evocative
than just a 3D figure.
9. tomb with light photo
This photo is all about what isn’t here. The negative space
is filled with light and a bird to suggest the presence of the Holy
Spirit. I’m going to leave it up for a bit so you have some
space to consider it.
It is not just Jesus Christ who is defined by negative space. I
believe that we are all defined by what is not there: physically,
or course, but also emotionally and spiritually. How much of our
lives are defined by people who are not there? People who are no
longer here, but have shaped our lives. Grandparents, parents, a
spouse -- perhaps even a child -- these are relationships which
continue to shape our lives, sometimes profoundly so, by the spaces
they leave. It is our questioning more than our certainly which
pushes us to define what is that we believe. And without doubt,
our faith would be hollow. We decide how we let those spaces define
us: do they lead to bitterness and despair, or to gratitude and