Liberated from the Tombs

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When he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs coming out of the tombs met him. They were so fierce that no one could pass that way.

—Matthew 8:28

My kids aren’t scared of cemeteries and graveyards. They have been stuck with iPads too often in the back seat of a station wagon while their clergy-mama officiated an interment or burial to find space dedicated to the dead to be off-putting or scary.

They have also heard too often about the empty tomb to find it intimidating on its own. “What else was in the tomb with Jesus?” they would ask, the dark specter of death needing additional fearfulness, apparently. “Bears? Ghosts? Bats?”

I, however, have a different response to the tomb. The tomb isn’t just where the dead are buried, but where I keep all the broken pieces that I’d rather not let into the light just yet. The fear I can hold. The “what if” questions. The shame. The recollections of things done and left undone, and the foreboding of future transgressions going forward. The quiet persistent voices that tell me that I am not worthy of the light, should those boulders be rolled away from the entrance.

Jesus’s presence both attracted and repulsed those who lived by the tombs. He could heal them and restore them, and he could also see them for who they could be and who they were created to glorify. They were terrifying not only because they lived among the dead but also because they represented our communal expectations of death—removed, distant, unknown, hopeless.

But they beg Jesus to allow them to leave the tombs. It is both a liberating thought and a terrifying one. What would it mean for us leave the tomb empty, to move into the light of new life? What would it mean to let go of the claim the tomb has on us, people with experience of loss, disappointment, and death? What might we see emanating from the tomb rather than the creations of our own making?

We may not imagine bears living in the tomb with Jesus. But we also don’t see the empty tomb as it might be for us—liberation from all that keeps us from the fullness of life in Christ.

— Kit Lonergan

Photo: Unknown sixth-century AD mosaicist of the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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