He is not here; for he is risen. ….Come, see the place where the Lord lay— Mat_28:6
A grave associated with gladness?
One does not usually associate gladness with the grave. That is not the experience of men. The sepulcher is the quiet home of sorrow, where the tears fall in gentle, loving memory. How often, visiting a graveyard, does one see somebody lingering by a tomb, taking away the flowers that are withered, tending it with a sweet and careful reverence? Such ministrants are seldom singing folk, with a great and shining gladness on their faces. They are the children of memory and sorrow. Summoned to a grave, we know at once that we are summoned to a place of sadness. Women clothe themselves in decent black, as perceiving the unseemliness of color. And yet the strange thing is, in the passage now before us, that when the angel wanted to make these women glad, he bade them come and investigate a grave. He did not drive them from the garden, as Adam and Eve were driven from the garden. He did not bid them try to forget their sorrow, and go out and face their duty in the world. He quieted their fears and cheered their hearts, and turned their sorrow into thrilling joy, by bidding them investigate a grave. It is one of the strangest episodes of history. To exaggerate its uniqueness is impossible. It is the only time in all the centuries when a grave is the triumphant argument for gladness. We make pilgrimages to see where poets sang, or where patriots lived, or captains fought their battles. But the angel said (and it brought morning with it), “Come, see the place where the Lord lay.”
An Empty Grave
One marvellous thing was that that place was empty, though only the angel knew why it was empty. It had not been rifled of its priceless treasure: He is not here—He is risen. The Sadhu Sundar Singh tells of a friend of his who visited Mohammed’s tomb. It was very splendid and adorned with diamonds, and they said to him, “Mohammed’s bones are here.” Ho went to France and saw Napoleon’s tomb, and they said to him, “Napoleon’s bones are here.” But when he journeyed to the Holy Land and visited the sepulchre of Jesus, nobody there said anything like that. That was the marvellous thing about the place. It thrilled these women to the depths. The grave was empty. The Master was not there. In the power of an endless life He had arisen. That empty grave, flung open for inspection, lies at the back of all the Easter gladness which had transformed and revivified the world. In the rising of Christ all His claims are vindicated. In His rising His Father’s love is vindicated. His rising satisfies the human heart, which needs more than the inspiration of a memory. The certainty that we have a living friend, who will be with us always in a living friendship, springs from the investigation of a grave. For once, the grave is not a place of sadness. It is the home of song and not of tears. It is the birthplace of a triumphant joy that has made music through the darkest hours. “He is not here; He is risen. He has won the victory over the last great enemy. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.”
An Orderly Grave
But not only was the place empty. We are also told that it was orderly. There were the linen clothes lying, and the napkin folded by itself. Now, some have held (and perhaps they are right in holding) that this reveals the manner of the rising. The napkin still retained the perfect circle which it had had when wound around His brow. As if the Lord, awaking, had not laid aside these cerements, but had passed through them, in His spiritual body, as afterwards He passed through the closed doors. The older view is different from that, and to the older view I still incline. It is that our blessed Lord, awaking, had deliberately put all these things in order. And that, if it be the true conception, is in perfect harmony with all we know of Jesus, in the decisive hours of His life. What a quiet authority He showed! What a majestic and unruffled calm! Look at Him in the storm or on the Cross. His are no desperate nor hasty victories. And now, in His victory over the last great enemy, there is the kingly touch of a sublime assurance. “He that believeth will not make haste.” Drowning men struggle for the surface. Men entombed fight to gain their freedom. But the grave of Jesus bore not a single trace of any desperate or struggling haste. It was orderly. There lay the folded napkin. Leisurely calm had marked the resurrection. It was the quiet triumphing action of a king. Tell me, if men had stolen the body, would they conceivably have left these things behind? Or, if they had, would they not have torn them off, and thrown them down in a disordered heap? But they were folded, and everything was orderly, and there was not a trace of confusion in the grave. He is not here; He is risen.
The Fragrance of the Grave
But not only was it orderly; we must not forget that the place was also fragrant. Spices had been strewn around His body, and the odour of them filled the tomb. The Lord had left the grave, and it was empty. He had left it, and it was orderly. But is it not full of beautiful suggestiveness that He had left it fragrant? For now, through Him who died for us and rose again, there is something of fragrance in the common grave that none ever had perceived before. There is the hope of a life that lies beyond, in the light and love and liberty of heaven. There is the hope of meeting again those whom we have lost. There is the hope of seeing face to face, at last, in a communion that never shall be broken, the Friend and Master to whom our debt is infinite.