None of Jesus’ followers was expecting to see an empty tomb and hear the angel’s message, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? 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” (Luke 24:5-7). The angel urged them to believe that Jesus had indeed risen just as He had promised. This good news was not easy for them to grasp because their hearts were still weighed down with grief and doubt. In wonder they went to share the good news with the other disciples.
Is it any small wonder that it was the women, rather than the apostles, who first witnessed the empty tomb and then the appearance of the resurrected Lord (Matthew 28:8-10; Mark 16:9; John 20:15-18)? Isidore of Seville, a great teacher and bishop, commented on the significance of the women being the first to hear the good news of the resurrection: “As a woman (Eve) was first to taste death, so a woman (Mary Magdalene) was first to taste life. As a woman was prescient in the fall, so a woman was prescient in beholding the dawning of redemption, thus reversing the curse upon Eve.” The first to testify to the risen Lord was a woman.
The significance of the stone being rolled away is that would have taken several people to move such a stone. Besides, the sealed tomb had been guarded by soldiers! This is clearly the first sign of the resurrection. Bede, a renowned scripture commentator from England, wrote: “[The angel] rolled back the stone not to throw open a way for our Lord to come forth, but to provide evidence to people that He had already come forth. As the virgin’s womb was closed, so the sepulcher was closed, yet he entered the world through her closed womb, and so he left the world through the closed sepulcher.” Peter Chrysologus, another early church father remarked: “To behold the resurrection, the stone must first be rolled away from our hearts.” Do we know the joy of the resurrection?
It is significant that the disciples had to deal first with the empty tomb before they could come to grips with the fact that scripture had foretold that Jesus would die for our sins and then rise triumphantly. They disbelieved until they saw the empty tomb.
One thing for certain, if Jesus had not risen from the dead and appeared to His disciples, we would have never heard of Him. The reality of the resurrection is the central fact of the Christian faith. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Lord gives us “eyes of faith” to know Him and the power of His resurrection. The greatest joy we can have is to encounter the living Lord and to know Him personally.
Do we celebrate the feast of Easter with joy and thanksgiving for the victory which Jesus has won for us over the darkness of sin and death?