The Empty Tomb

by Araceli (Sally) Cardenas

by Araceli (Sally) Cardenas

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

(1 Peter 1:3 NIV)

On Easter Sunday, these words, “He is not here; for he has risen” (Matthew 28:6), echo loud and clear across the world as we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Across congregations, a sense of joy sweeps in as we sing and proclaim Jesus’ victory over death by a single moment in history no one can deny, including those who followed him closely. But there’s one account that captures my own experience standing in front of an empty tomb—that of Mary Magdalene.

According to the gospel of John, Mary Magdalene shows up early to revisit the place where she last saw Jesus. I imagine her heart racing, still in a state of shock after witnessing His horrific crucifixion, praying that maybe it was all a nightmare, afraid she’ll be caught, but willing to risk it all for one last glimpse of Him. If nothing else, touch the tomb where her Savior is held. Instead she finds an empty tomb as the disciples show up surprised to find nothing. They leave, but Mary Magdalene lingers, wondering where He is and questioning who has Him. There’s no one to comfort her. No one to hold her. No one to speak truth into her heart. No one to accompany her home.

Oh, Mary Magdalene! How I can relate to your desperation! How I wish I could step into your story and comfort you, my beloved sister in Christ, as you mourn His death.

This is what I desired most when at 17 I lost my mother in a tragic car accident on the same day Mary Magdalene was looking for her Savior. The day after His burial, like her, I returned to the grave, still holding out hope it had all been nothing more than a nightmare. I clawed my nails into the soil that covered my mother’s burial site wanting to touch her one last time, wanting to hold her, to hear her voice. Like Mary, there was no one to cling to or hold on to other than wilted flowers and the memory of when I kissed her cheek goodbye. I knelt at her burial site with no sense of purpose or future, trying to make sense of her unexpected death at 43. From then on, her death defined my life, and shame and guilt swept in as if I had been the one driving the truck that fateful night. I hid the trauma of my loss and learned how to survive and cope in silence, embracing despair and sorrow as my lifelong companions.

What I didn’t know then that I know today is how Mary Magdalene’s encounter at the tomb ends and how my life would change as Jesus began to heal what I attempted to conceal. Today, 28 years later, I can hear Jesus speak my name, “Araceli,” encouraging me to tell others of a seeking Savior who refuses to turn away from His beloved, wanting to gently heal our wounds with His at the cross.

If you’re standing at a grave site and can’t imagine a way forward or battling crushing circumstances, I pray you will embrace this truth: “The Lord is near the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18 ESV).

I pray the Lord will reveal Himself to you in this moment of grief, and may you have the courage to look up knowing one day you will reunite with your loved one. Until then, may you hold on to the LOVE you shared…such love can never be buried, nor can His promise of eternal life for those who believe.

Truth for Today

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?’” John 11:25-26 NIV

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 NIV


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