Imagine Mary Magdalene at the tomb, perhaps the very cave now in the Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Where she went, we can still go. And over her lonely destination—still a dark, cramped, funereal space—are pilgrims from all the corners of the earth to celebrate Christ’s liberation from this grave. In baptism, St Paul tells us, we too die and are buried with Christ, so that we may rise again from sinfulness and death to share Christ’s risen life. The tomb in Jerusalem is not just Christ’s; it is our own.
Had Constantine’s Bishop Makarios found the tomb of Jesus? He was certainly in the right area. Local Christians might well have kept in mind that Calvary and the tomb were under Hadrian’s shrines. It is just possible that Hadrian cared enough about the Christians to bury—and so, ironically, to mark—their most sacred sites.
The Holy Sepulchre has been sacred to Christians ever since. How can we do justice to its power? Imagine visiting Gettysburg if you are American, the Somme if British, Bannockburn if Scottish. Imagine holding in your hands the Declaration of Independence or the manuscripts of Churchill’s war-time speeches. These may all sound too military; but they are all markers of victory won through suffering. Christ, too, was victorious, despite and through his death. At the Sepulchre, then, imagine not long-past events with an enduring influence, but—as Christians believe—the start of Jesus’s dominion, over evil and death, which he will wield and in which his followers will share as you read this and for the rest of time.
You may think there is more poetry here than fact. But John’s facts are not inert. He is the midwife of the spirit: his Gospel and its facts have worked if they have brought us by their conclusion through a new birth to a new life in a new-born world.
1 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magʹdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 2 So she ran, and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 Peter then came out with the other disciple, and they went toward the tomb. 4 They both ran, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first; 5 and stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying, 7 and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not know the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes.
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13T hey said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Saying this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rab-boʹni!” (which means Teacher).