So said chief scientific supervisor professor Antonia Moropoulou, co-ordinator of the restoration project recently completed in the Edicule of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. “Under the marble slab, we found an earlier Crusader slab; under that some rubble and fill; and under that, the original rock surface upon which the body of Christ was laid.”
Perhaps you’ve been following this story through the National Geographic reports. Having been to the Church of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre dozens of times and bringing hundreds of pilgrims to the Tomb of the Resurrection (and again this coming November), I must say it was not “contrary to my expectation” that they should find exactly what they did.
But I’m deeply excited the “rediscovery” should happen during my lifetime. After all, the interior of the tomb hadn’t been bereft of its marble cladding for 500 years, and not for 500 years before that when it was very nearly destroyed; yet contrary to all expectation, it survives, and remains a place of pilgrimage for millions. The bedrock itself bears witness.
Of course, everything about the place has always been contrary to expectation. Pilate, releasing the body, was surprised Jesus was already dead.
Joseph, in commissioning the tomb, expected to use it himself, not to offer a last minute resting place for the prophet Jesus.
Joseph and Nicodemus never thought they’d spend Passover Eve in a rush burial job.
The soldiers, surprised at being posted guard, never thought anything would come of it save boredom and damp morning chill.
The women, released from Sabbath, expected to find a guarded, sealed tomb, blocked by a heavy stone.
Peter and John, running to see the cause of the returned women’s hysteria, were amazed to find only the grave clothes, the body long gone (even though John claimed to have figured things out by then).
Hiding out in the upper room, shutters closed, doors locked, silent in grief, nobody expected Jesus to appear among them, alive and well, flesh and bone.
“Peace,” he says to the dumbfounded, terrified gathering of family, followers, friends. “Peace.”
It is contrary to all expectation, the whole story, the whole event. And yet…
The stone was rolled away.
The body gone.
Fear, confusion, panic ensue, no one saying, “I told you so, he said he would.” Everyone running, hiding, scared or clearing off to Emmaus.
When Jesus returns. Appears. Arrives. There is something unrecognizable about Him, but it is Him, it is Him, and He is alive, alive, alive. Contrary to all expectation - He is alive.
And we proclaim it still. “He is Risen,” we shout, we sing. Contrary to all expectation, 2000 years on, it remains our claim, our faith, our triumphant song. “He is Risen. And we shall be risen with Him.” Not because it is expected, not because it is plausible. But because it is true. Contrary to all expectation, it is true. The empty tomb bears witness. The very stones give proof of it — an unbroken line of witnesses proclaim it: Jesus is Risen. We follow our Risen Lord.
Thanks be to God for Christ is risen indeed!
Rev. Douglas Rollwage is with Zion Presbyterian Church in Charlottetown. A guest sermon runs regularly in Saturday’s Guardian and is provided through Christian Communications.