Coming to the Tomb

by Fr. Stephen Headley

The experience of the resurrection of Christ by his disciples can be measured by the weight of the stone to be rolled aside from the entrance to his tomb. It is comparable to the difficulty of exposing the pain that lies within our own hearts to the presence of the risen Lord. The difficulty is there but, in stark contrast to our weakness, this great stone has been rolled aside for us, as it was for the Myrrh-bearing women, by the Paschal mystery.

Once inside, the women bearing perfumes for Christ’s body find an angel waiting to show them an astounding absence: an empty tomb. There lies no body on which to spread their myrrh and for which they can weep. At this, their grief turns to fear. So also our tears, our broken-heartedness needs redirection, a revelation, to set us searching for our crucified Lord.

The angel tells the women: Christ has gone before as he said he would. The women understand they will be meeting their crucified Lord, and they flee, afraid to tell anyone — afraid to reveal the truth, afraid to envisage the world through the transformation of the resurrection. They have already known Christ’s divinity, but that was before they knew what it meant. He was to conquer death itself. If we look at Christ it is frightening, because this man is revealed in each of us, inside our hearts where we are normally afraid to penetrate.

Looking into the empty tomb, the myrrh-bearers begin to understand that the cross has opened the very doors of paradise. They have entered into a bridal chamber of which the tomb is the altar. The empty sepulcher is now a meeting place where Christ has found them and will find us.

What prevents us from being like these women? If we are spiritually blind we will not see Christ. Such sight requires the focus of faith, hope and love. We require silence and stillness. Then our inner grief will, as St. Gregory of Sinai tells us, fill us with the incandescence “kindled on the altar of our heart.” These holy women had indeed brought their grief and the moment had been transformed into praying and knowing God. God was with them accomplishing everything, activating all things through his passion-bearing Word. And the women were re-born into Christ, endowed with the mind of Christ.

Fr. Stephen Headley is priest of the parish of St. Germain d’Auxerre and St, Etienne in Vezelay, France.