The first year after my husband died, I wasn’t prepared for how hard Easter would be. We’d always lived in colder climates, so I didn’t grieve a soggy egg hunt or bemoan wearing a winter coat over my dress that year. It didn’t even bother me much that church had shifted online because of the pandemic. The hardest part of that first Easter was Jesus’s empty tomb.
For almost four decades, I have read and sung the gospel truths of the redemption story. I affirm the historicity of the cross. I believe the witness of the empty tomb. But I never understood the sheer audacity of Jesus’s promises until the day I stood at the fresh grave of the man I loved, when my shadow fell across the soil that would cover Rob’s body; when I witnessed firsthand death’s heartbreaking finality; when, with every ounce of my being, I cried out for the grave to open and bring my husband back to me.
I never understood the sheer audacity of Jesus’s promises until the day I stood at the fresh grave of the man I loved.
That first painful Easter I thought a good Christian should rejoice with abandon in the face of grief. I should stand on the promises of Jesus and lift my eyes in unadulterated hope of eternal triumph. I should shout, “O death, where is thy sting?”
Instead, all I could do was weep for all that yet remains unfinished. On that sunny Sunday morning, I lamented the curse that is defeated now and not yet. I cried for my beloved husband who still lies asleep in Christ. On that first Easter, I stood at a tomb longing for Rob to come out. But his grave in that quiet cemetery remains unchanged. Only Jesus’s tomb is empty.
One Empty Tomb
There was a time when I would have questioned, “Only? Isn’t Jesus’s resurrection enough?” But since Rob died, I have realized the empty tomb was never meant to fully satisfy our longings.
The empty tomb was never meant to fully satisfy our longings.
“[The resurrection] is the beginning of the New Creation,” writes C. S. Lewis in Miracles. “A new chapter in cosmic history has opened.” Indeed, the cross satisfies God’s wrath and seals our pardon, but the empty tomb is only the beginning. Easter is not an end but a start. If all creation still waits in expectation for its promised restoration, Easter’s empty tomb should leave us wanting something more. “Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep,” writes the apostle Paul (1 Cor. 15:20).
I confess I am impatient. I don’t want just an empty tomb 2,000 years ago. I want resurrection and a fully realized new creation now. Jesus’s victory over sin, death, and the Devil has brought me new life; but I want the hands on God’s clock to spring ahead. The empty tomb has whet my appetite. That’s what firstfruits do. Every day since my husband died, I have prayed, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus.” But, so far, the answer is a dramatic “not yet.” So far, only one tomb is empty.
All in Order
When Paul writes to the Corinthian church about Christ as the firstfruits, he uses a word that appears only once in the New Testament—tagmati (“order”). “So also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ” (1 Cor. 15:23).
This word is unlike similar words throughout Paul’s epistles. It does not imply the orderliness of a calendar or military ranks but instead calls the reader to envision a higher level of orderliness—divine intention and omniscient plan. Paul’s language evokes an order not within our control, details to which we’re not privy. Responding to the Corinthians’ questions about the resurrection of the dead, he assures the church that resurrection indeed is coming. But only in tagmati—God’s good, wise, mysterious, all-knowing time.
Each year, we celebrate Easter still holding our breath. We stand beside the empty tomb, and—if we are honest with ourselves—it isn’t enough. The world is still such a mess. Disease and discord mark our days. Jesus’s resurrection—the firstfruits—has whet our appetites. But as we look around us, we can’t help but long for more.
Each Easter, until Jesus returns, God asks us to trust a divine plan of which we only see the beginning.
We long for Christ, the Lover of our souls, to come in glory. We eagerly await the day when the dead in Christ will rise, and we shall ever be with the Lord. And each Easter, until Jesus returns, God asks us to trust a divine plan of which we only see the beginning.
Each Easter since Rob died, I have wanted more empty tombs. Yet God in his wisdom and good time has, so far, only given me one—the most important firstfruits.
As we approach another Easter, God invites each of us to stand in Joseph of Arimathea’s garden—to trust his plan, his order, his timing, even when we do not understand. He asks us to claim this one empty tomb as the promise of all that lies ahead.
“If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied,” Paul reminds us. Take heart, then, as you wait this Easter. Resurrection and redemption are coming.
The Gospel Coalition