Resurrection is for many the defining point of Christianity. Paul stressed this in 1 Corinthians 15:13-14
13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.
The Resurrection of Jesus is clearly central to the Christian faith. The New Testament records the first instance encounters with Jesus and an account of the empty tomb. The accounts of the encounters with Jesus which began on the third day after the Crucifixion and conclude with the Ascension (40 days later).
The accounts of the empty tomb are in a sense corroborating evidence rather than proof. A belief in resurrection predates Jesus, and was part of Jewish consciousness. Paul’s argument for the resurrection is about the encounter with the Risen Jesus, and the empty tomb does not figure in his discussion. Firstly the account of the empty tomb was not critical to Paul in his coming to faith and it may well be that Paul’s view was that we are saved by what is, rather than what is not.
The assertion of the Christian faith is that Jesus did not only believe in resurrection, he rose, and in so doing paved the way for those who would follow him. (The Latin – resugere = to rise again, to rise from the dead.) We are familiar with this word from the New Testament and the Creeds. Jesus rose again and this is the foundation of Christian faith and, thus, of our hope of resurrection in Christ.
A significant part of each of the Gospel accounts of Jesus relate to the last week or so, and the events leading to his trial and crucifixion. The final chapter to Matthew, Mark and Luke’s Gospel addresses the resurrection, and the last two chapters of John’s Gospel. All four Gospels include an account of the empty tomb, however all four gospels spend more time discussing the encounters with Jesus, after the resurrection.
The seed of faith in the resurrection of Jesus is found in the encounter with the living Lord, we celebrate what is, rather than what is not.
We celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus, each Sunday, and most especially at Easter. We do not celebrate Empty Tomb Sunday.
Part of the hope of Christians builds on the premise that we can follow Christ in this life that leads, not to death but, through death into the life of resurrection.
There has been some controversy over the years when Eminent Theologians and New Testament Scholars have expressed concerns about the account of the empty tomb. The bulk of scholars certainly accept the empty tomb accounts, however it is important to recognise that it is the faith in the resurrection that is a central tenet of the Christian Faith. The three Creeds (Apostle’s, Nicene, Athanasian) affirm the resurrection and none of them make reference to the empty tomb.
Possibly for many in our age that our obsession with the empty tomb is not helping our proclamation of the faith. We point to what is not there to affirm the truth, whereas what we should point to the Risen Jesus we encounter in our lives and on our daily walk. As the Angel said, do not seek the living among the dead.
Sunday by Sunday let us affirm the encounter with the living lord, as we gather in his name and around his table, in accordance with his command, to break the bread of life, and his promise that he is in the midst of us.