On Easter morning Christians everywhere will celebrate the resurrection of the Savior by meeting in their church congregations for a sunrise service. For many years our family celebrated Easter with a sunrise service all our own. In the early morning darkness my husband and I would wake our children gently with a kiss and a glass of juice, wrap them in quilts, and guide them out the back door to our little boat on Lake Virginia in Winter Park, Florida. Quietly we would motor to the middle of the lake, waiting for the sun to rise, just as the women had waited anxiously on that first Easter morn for the sun to signal the end of the Sabbath. Only then could they go to Christ’s tomb to perform their final act of service for Him. On the afternoon of His crucifixion the mourners had taken His body from the cross and laid it hastily in the tomb of a disciple, Joseph of Arimathea. No work could be performed on the Sabbath. There had been no time to anoint His body with sweet spices and prepare it properly for burial. So they waited reverently but impatiently for daylight to come.
Finally the morning after the Sabbath broke through. The first day of the week had begun. Carrying the precious ointments of myrrh and other spices that had been foreshadowed by the gifts of the Magi at His birth, the women moved hastily toward the tomb that stood just outside Jerusalem’s city walls, determined to express their love and respect through this final act of sacred service.
The women wondered how they would move the massive stone that had been placed at the opening of the tomb. Jesus’s enemies had demanded it be placed there, for fear that Jesus’s followers would remove His body and then declare that He had risen from the dead. Two Roman sentries stood guard at the tomb throughout the Passover and the Sabbath.
But when the women arrived, the sentries were gone. The stone had been moved. And the tomb was empty.
Inside sat a young man dressed in a long white robe who seemed to be waiting for them. “Don’t be afraid,” he told them gently. “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is not here. He is risen!” Then he added, “See for yourselves,” directing their attention to the roughly hewn burial shelf. “Behold the place where they laid Him” (see Mark 16:5–6). Two thousand years have passed since Mary Magdalene walked out of the beautiful Garden Tomb that sits below the Hill of Golgotha, just outside Jerusalem’s city wall. Many travelers have visited the Garden Tomb and “beheld the place where they laid him,” and they have felt the same thrill of realization: “He is not here. He is risen. Behold for yourselves.”
As the sky lightened our lake, birds would call to each other and fish would plash as they snapped at the insects. We listened to sweet hymns on the boat’s stereo system, and I read my favorite part of the Easter story, John 20. I have read that chapter aloud at least a hundred times, but I can never get through it without a catch in my throat when Mary recognizes the Savior’s voice as He speaks her name and she responds with the humble, joyous, “Master.” It is perhaps my favorite story in all of the scriptures. At its center is a theme of Christ’s deep, tender, and abiding love for His friends. May we all be counted among them when He comes again.
Matriarchs of the Messiah: Valiant Women in the Lineage of Jesus Christ is available at Amazon.com and selected bookstores.