A safer way to the empty tomb

A safer way to the empty tomb

I have led 10 groups to the Holy Land. Every journey ends the same way: a visit to the Garden Tomb where we celebrate the day that changed forever: the resurrection of Jesus. 

This is always a meaningful way to close out our pilgrimage. But 2015 stands out, by far, as my most memorable visit to the Garden Tomb. One of our pilgrims was taking pictures and stepped into one of the treacherous stony depressions outside the tomb. She fell hard, severely breaking her arm! We were scheduled to fly out early the next morning and so, getting her to hospital, getting her arm set and getting her back to the hotel in time to catch our late-night bus to the airport…well, suffice it to say, it was harrowing for all of us.

Thankfully, she made it back in time to join us on our flight. Regretfully, I don’t believe she ever got to peek inside the empty tomb!

Fast forward to last year when I led another Holy Land pilgrimage. I noticed things have changed at the Garden Tomb. Now, you are no longer free to wander about outside the tomb. They have delineated a pathway; a pathway over the top of a relatively flat, depression-free section of the stony ground.  I don’t know if our accident prompted the change. I suspect our pilgrim was not the first to trip on that bumpy ground. But it was clear that guardians of that site were going do everything they could to bypass the perils and escort worshippers safely into the holiest site for all Christianity: the empty tomb of Jesus.

This year, I feel like one of the guardians of the Garden Tomb. We have been struck by a calamity that has changed the way we do our work; that has made it more difficult and even perilous to perform our holiest act of worship: celebrating Easter! For the first time EVER in American history—(surely that is true)—the doors of churches across the country are closed on Easter. It is an act of prudence; we are doing so to protect our worshipers. 

Still, we do so with pangs of regret because we know that, once again, there are throngs who long to catch their glimpse of the empty tomb of Jesus. To worship before the wonder of this greatest of all acts of love: the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

But, also like the Guardians of the Garden Tomb, we will not be stymied! We are making a new pathway to worship. Creating a virtual opportunity for thousands to come together in awe of this marvel of marvels. 

This Sunday, we will all stoop together to peer inside the darkness of that now-vacant tomb. We will sit in living rooms instead of a sanctuary. We will sit on couches instead of pews. We will look to a screen instead of a stage. We will exchange our greetings in the comment column instead of the foyer. But we will not be stopped from worshiping the risen Christ! We will celebrate in this odd and singular way and in years to come, we will remember this moment as one of the church’s finest: when we made a way, in spite of the peril, for every worshiper to encounter the risen Christ.

It will never be easier for you to invite that unchurched friend. Send them this link. And if ever there was a moment when the unbeliever might be open to a word of hope and life, surely…this is that moment. Invite your friends, fire up your TV, and join us as our Chapel Hill family…from Olalla to Okinawa…joins ranks with millions of Resurrection worshippers: Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Hallelujah and Amen.

Pastor Mark