Michelle Martin

Empty spaces

Thursday, April 21, 2022

It’s always struck me as odd that we begin Easter, the feast of the Resurrection, the most significant holy day of the Christian calendar, with an empty space.

On the morning of the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene was confronted by an empty tomb, the evangelist John tells us.

Whatever it was she felt in that moment, it wasn’t joy, and it wasn’t peace.

Fear, maybe, or anger. Certainly confusion. The body of Jesus wasn’t where it was supposed to be, and she didn’t know what to make of it. Neither did Peter nor the beloved disciple, who retraced her path to confirm for themselves that the tomb was empty.

We’ve all been confronted with empty spaces over the past two years. Empty spaces in our homes and at our tables, in our offices and workplaces, in theaters and sports arenas and in our churches.

We filled those spaces with hobbies from bread making to woodworking, with Zoom calls and online music lessons.

Over the past months, we seem to have made a decision that living with those empty spaces is worse than living with COVID-19 pandemic, which is still with us.

Things have changed, of course. Medical personnel know better how to treat patients with COVID-19, and new therapies are helping those who have contracted it. Vaccines seem to slow the spread, and make the disease less severe for those who contract it after being vaccinated. Fear of death — an isolated, lonely death — has given way, at least in the United States, to fear of inconvenience.

So we have returned to sports and to theaters and to church, to school and work, deciding that human contact, even if it is risky, is better than isolation.

And yet, the pandemic has left empty spaces that will never be filled. More than 6 million people across the world and nearly a million in the United States have died. Parents, grandparents, children, coworkers and friends — how many empty spaces have they left behind? How will their families and other loved ones move forward with those empty spaces in their lives?

We learn at Easter that the empty tomb signifies good news, the Good News of salvation. The empty space allows for the possibility of something different, something greater than the disciples ever imagined. It is the joy of Easter that allows us to hope for the salvation for those who have left us, and hope, one day, for our own salvation.

The Gospels don’t tell us what happened to the tomb in which Jesus was buried. Did it stay empty, or was it used for someone else? After all, it wasn’t meant for Jesus to begin with; it was a convenient place to bury him before the sabbath.

But I like to think of it as empty for all eternity. That emptiness reminds us that with God, there are possibilities we have never even imagined.

Happy Easter.


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