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Empty promises

April 2, 2013 2 Comments


by Ken Maher

“But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, [the women] went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared” (Luke 24:1).

So begins the most wonderful story ever told. Sometimes, because we know what happens next, we are too quick to gloss over this first part of the Easter story. But stop for a moment and consider the women’s laboured climb through the dark pre-dawn morning. Consider that everything they had devoted their lives to for all those years was wrapped up in cloths, lying in a tomb, waiting for this final, futile act of service.

Under darkened skies, their equally darkened hearts groaned in pain at  those now empty promises. ‘Remember when He said that you should love your enemies and care for those who persecute you… but then they murdered Him.’ ‘Remember when He cured that woman who had been bleeding for all those years… dear God, there was so much blood dripping down that cross.’ ‘Remember when He brought that widow’s son back to life, or that little girl… but now He is dead. Who will be there for Him? For us? Jesus is dead and buried. And all His promises with Him.’

The more they remembered, the more empty it must have felt. He had said and done so many wonderful things for others, but all that was gone. Now they were rushing through the dark to anoint His corpse before the stench and the decay became as hard to bear as their grief.

Do not gloss over this too quickly, for there is a great truth in the desperate grief of these women. If Death had won the day … if the tomb had remained full, the stone unmoved… if indeed the Master was dead—well then, everything that had gone before would really and truly have been just so many empty promises. As St. Paul said, “If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19).

If the tomb had remained full, the stone unmoved… then everything that had gone before would really and truly have been just so many empty promises.

But when the women arrived, what they found was not one last empty promise. What they found was the empty tomb! “They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel.  And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead?’ ” (Luke 24:2-5).


Visitors to the Garden Tomb today find it the same way Mary and the others found Jesus’ tomb: empty.

They found an open tomb, the stone flung away from the door. What they did not find was Jesus. The facts are straightforward, but the reaction is not. In the long moments they stand there trying to process what they are seeing, it all washes over them like a flood. Doubts, fears, confusion, surprise. In an instant their whole world is turned upside down and these poor women don’t know what to make of it all.

This is the natural reaction of human beings in the presence of the incredible—shock in the face of overturned expectations. It’s the kind of shock you get when something you need is not where it’s supposed to be. What should be, isn’t.  What shouldn’t be, is! The tomb is empty! Jesus is gone, but the grave clothes remain.

Yes, the Lord is not there but His glorious angelic witnesses are.

“ ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead?’ ” the angels ask. “ ‘He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.’ And they remembered his words” (Luke 24:5-8).

“Why are you surprised?” the angels ask the women. “Remember His words.” And there it is in a matter-of-fact tone, so wildly incongruous next to the bewilderment of the women. This empty tomb shouldn’t be a surprise at all. It was part of Jesus’ promise. Jesus said it and then He did it! Everything is exactly as it should be! The suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus are all a part of the Divine plan, foretold both by the ancient scriptures and by Jesus himself!

Suddenly, they remembered His words. And in that moment, in that dawning of true Easter faith, all the spices and preparations and fears… all of it became unnecessary in light of one glorious truth: death and the grave had not made God’s promises empty; instead, the empty tomb is full of God’s promise to us! Jesus is the Living One. Jesus is no longer dead. He is alive again, just as He said He would be. The Tomb is empty!

Death and the grave had not made God’s promises empty; instead, the empty tomb is full of God’s promise to us!

How many people struggle through this life bearing burdens that are no longer necessary in light of this glorious resurrection truth? Remember His words! How many have had their world turned upside down by a midnight phone call, or a doctor’s diagnosis? How many have had to sit beside the bed of a dying loved-one and didn’t know what to make of it all? How many have looked at their life, or the life of someone they love so dearly, only to worry it’s slipping away like one more empty promise? How many people out there live their lives in worry and fear? “What if I get sick?” “How can I go on?” “Why did this have to happen?” “Will there be enough?” “Will they come back?” “What if I’m wrong?” “Am I going to die?” “What if, in the end, it was all for nothing?”

So many of us know what those women went through that first Easter morning. We know because we have been there. We may even be there right now. Confusion, doubts, fear, surprise… who doesn’t know such things first-hand? Who has not at least once wondered in the dark night of the soul if this isn’t all there is, if the lure of a better life to come is just an empty promise?

Remember what He said to you! “If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:19-20).

This empty tomb, Christ’s resurrection, marks a new era. It is the turning of a glorious corner. Christ our Saviour is risen! The wall of separation between heaven and earth has fallen and God is reconciled to men. The sacrifice of the Son has been accepted by the Father, and Christ is risen from the dead! The doubts, the fears, the burdens, the confusion and anxiety of life in this world – these are now the empty promises that slip away without any lasting meaning or effect. They are, each and every one, of them silenced in one glorious truth. The empty tomb is full of promise!

You see, the empty tomb is important not just because Jesus is no longer in it, but because He is now somewhere else. The Lord is not there, because He is now here! He is here in the midst of His Church on earth in the proclamation of His Gospel, in the calling of sinners to repentance and forgiveness. He is here in baptism’s waters, sharing His death and resurrection—making those dead in sin alive in Him. He is here, in His holy supper, giving out His very body and blood for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of faith. The Living One is here with His resurrection gifts of life and salvation for one and for all.

The empty tomb is important not just because Jesus is no longer in it, but because He is now somewhere else.

And where Christ is wonderfully alive, doubts give way to faith. Fears are replaced with joy. Confusion falls before the clarity of truth. Our anxieties dissolve in the knowledge that the grave we will one day enter we shall just as surely exit! The body that goes into the grave will come out from the grave. Because Jesus rose we also shall rise. He is the Living One, and we shall live in Him forever. Without the empty tomb, without this risen and glorified Lord, everything else in life is just so many empty promises. But because of the empty tomb, where Jesus did what He said He would do, all our days take on new life and new meaning. The tomb that has been emptied of its occupant is now full to overflowing with promise for you and me!


Rev. Ken Maher is pastor of Christ Our Hope Lutheran Church in Collingwood, Ontario.


  • Elaine Murphy said:


  • Pat Rocheleau said:

    Pastor Maher, what a beautiful reflection on what Christ has done for us! Thank you for so eloquently putting this forward.

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