As an archaeologist, I love to discover tombs. From early times on, humans have paid tribute to the deceased and have buried them in various forms. Tombs usually contain the best and most diverse representations of a given society or culture. Tombs are full of stuff!
People buried their loved ones in the expectation that the soul would travel into the afterlife. The tomb was filled with all kinds of necessities which smoothed the deceased’s voyage. One would also find personal belongings as well as offerings to the gods associated with these kinds of artifacts.
Among the most spectacular archaeological discoveries have been various tombs (like the one of the Egyptian King Tutankhamun, which was discovered by British archaeologist Howard Carter on November 26, 1922; or the mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China from the late third century BCE, which was discovered together with a terra cotta army of more than 8,000 soldiers and 130 chariots with 520 horses).
I still remember the excitement when we discovered a burial cave in the vicinity of our excavation site in Central Jordan. We had been working at a pretty large site where hundreds and thousands of people lived and died. Aside from a few human bones here and there, we never had found a tomb or burial. With so many people living at the site over the centuries there must have been some place to bury the dead!
As happens with so many archaeological discoveries, chance had to come to the rescue. Across the wadi from where our site is situated, a farmer started to plough his field. Suddenly his tractor broke into a cave near the edge of the wadi.
As he scrambled out of the cave he realized that the cave was not empty. A lifeless skull with deep empty eye pits stared at him. As his eyes got used to the darkness of the cave he discovered a number of skeletons and numerous artifacts most of them unbroken and intact.
Whereas most of the tombs that have been found in the Middle East and elsewhere have been robbed and emptied (usually already in antiquity), this tomb was untouched for almost three thousand years. Besides human bones we were able to salvage pottery vessels, jewelry, and little figurines representing the main deity of this region. This tomb was full of stuff!
Archaeologists love tombs full of stuff. Tombs provide a view into the past—a unique view that could not otherwise be achieved.
Whenever I visit Jerusalem, I enjoy spending time in a lovely garden just outside the Old City. In this garden, there is a beautiful rolling stone tomb—a tomb! Exciting! Archaeologists love tombs—tombs full of stuff . . . but this tomb is empty. It is believed by many to be the burial place of Joseph of Arimathea, and therefore a possible site of the resurrection of Jesus.
I am pretty sure that the Garden Tomb is not really the tomb of Jesus: its configuration dates it back to the late Old Testament period (Matthew 27:60 and John 19:41 state that it was a “new” tomb). However, I don’t care! The empty Garden Tomb stands for the one tomb that was visited by the women this first Easter morning who discovered that the tomb was empty—not robbed as the priests and elders would claim (“You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’” Matthew 28:13) but empty because Jesus had been raised from the dead.
The tomb is empty! An archaeologist’s disappointment is the triumph over death! It is the token for the coming kingdom of God! The apostle Paul expresses this with the following words: “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Corinthians 15:14).
For this year’s Resurrection experience I wish you an encounter with the risen Lord that makes your heart burn as He reveals Himself to you.
Archaeologists love tombs—tombs full of stuff. Tombs provide a view into the past. But this archaeologist is even more excited about this one empty tomb that provides a view into the future.