The Sealed Tomb


Matthew 27:55-66

Asked to share brief spiritual autobiographies, the people of my retreat opened their hearts to one another. They were generous both in telling their stories and in listening, permitting a deep vulnerability and authenticity to emerge. We were blessed.

For many, easy answers and certainties about God had disappeared in the decades of their adulthood. Some had turned away from the beliefs of their families to other understandings. Some had quit organized religion altogether. In some disillusionment, grief, or a sense of barrenness left them unwilling to put credence in the Holy at all.

It takes a lot of courage both to share and to hear stories of such uncertainty, such loss. The loneliness of being without God when previously God has been a central part of one’s life is a painful thing to bear. And yet our little group valiantly both allowed these tales to be shared, and told them with frank honesty. This in itself takes monumental faith.

In today’s story from the Gospel of Matthew, the Jewish elders go to Pontius Pilate with a request. Close up the tomb in which Jesus was placed after he was crucified so that the disciples cannot steal the body and claim that he resurrected, they plead. And Pilate dispatches a cadre of soldiers who do just that. They seal the rock doorway of the tomb so that it cannot be opened. No one can get in or out.

The reading ends with a sealed tomb containing a maimed and crucified body. It is tempting to rush to the next scene, where everything comes right, where the tomb is now wide open and the risen Lord appears.

But that would not honor that space of emptiness and unknowing, that excruciating internal state where God in God’s comfortable form is gone and nothing else has replaced the outmoded understanding. I find I am unwilling even to say another word about that, for fear that my natural optimism will temper the stark reality. It is a very dark place.

And yet, there is faith. We wait at the sealed tomb, or we come back the next morning. There is nothing for us there, and yet we return. Somehow we know that sometime something new will emerge. Even if it takes a hundred years for the seal to crumble and the tomb door to open, it will. No bleak hour lasts forever.

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