Today we stand, as it were, in that porch. We're facing Easter but we haven't quite arrived there yet. We catch slightly incoherent glimpses of what its life may be - the community of faith, the glory, the beauty, the saints and angels - but we're not yet inside; we're still in the cold. And we also see that the place of Easter reflects the ruins of Good Friday and the life of the world of every day.
Today the body of Jesus lies in the tomb. But it isn't just any tomb. The Gospel writers are unanimous in noting that the tomb was a new one, never used before. That small detail speaks volumes.
Look through the Old Testament, and you'll see how important the place of burial was for the people of Israel. For example, Abraham bought the cave of Machpelah to serve as a burial place (Genesis 23) for his wife Sarah. Others buried there included Abraham, Isaac, Rebekah, Leah and Jacob. The kings - including Rehoboam, Jehoshaphat, Joash, Jehoash, Amaziah, Azariah, and Jotham - were buried with their ancestors, whilst others 'slept with their fathers', which probably means the same. The young widow Ruth (1.17) vowed to die and be buried in the same place as her mother-in-law Naomi, in the context of pledging loyalty to her. Joseph asked for his bones to be taken back from Egypt for burial in the land of Israel (Genesis 50.25). Indeed, Egypt was a place of 'no graves' - ironically, given that the Israelites may have been involved in building the Pyramids - signifying no permanent belonging: “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? … It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” (Exodus 14:11f) Meanwhile, except in the case of Elijah who was taken up into heaven, non-burial was considered to be a very serious fate; see for example Isaiah 14.18-20.
Burial signifies belonging; belonging to a place, but more important, belonging to a family. Just as Abraham purchased a new tomb, signifying a break with the past and the founding of a new family, so too with Jesus Christ. And St Paul reminds us that in our baptism, we're buried with Christ: in sharing his new tomb, we also become members of his new family for eternity.
Tomorrow we shall proclaim that Christ is risen, and because he is risen, so too are we. Our own resurrection is both now and not yet; now in that we glimpse the Kingdom and taste the first-fruits of God's love and forgiveness for us, his children; not yet, in that our redemption and that of the world, whilst fully assured, remain to be fulfilled.
So whilst it's right for us to be identified as Easter people, we also remain people of Holy Saturday; people with one foot in the grave - the grave of Jesus; looking forward to our fuller entry into the life of Easter.
Lord Jesus Christ,
who on this day lay in the tomb
and so hallowed the grave to be a bed of hope for all who trust in you:
give us such sorrow for our sins, which were the cause of your Passion,
that when our bodies lie in the dust our souls may live with you
where you are alive and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.