The Tomb Is Far Emptier than the Shelves Will Ever Be

By: Stephen McAlpine

It’s coming up to Easter.

Bet you didn’t think Lent 2020 was going to take that much away from you did you? I was hoping people would be giving up oats, baked beans, minced meat and pasta.

Apparently not.

A few weeks ago we were toying around on social media talking about all of the cute little things we were going to give up, and then the whole motherlode was taken away from us in one fell swoop.

Use up those last eggs and flour to make pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, they said.  Don’t worry, they said. There’ll be plenty more where that came from when we want it, they said.

Now?  Now I feel about pictures of empty shelves like I feel like Christmas cake about three days after December 25. If I never see them again, I’ll be happy.

And churches everywhere are scrambling to go livestream.

“Is this thing on?”

“Get my good side!”

“You don’t have a good side, trust me.”

Or, in more Reformed circles, “No one has a good side but God.”

There’s a good church here in Perth called Lifestreams.  It was well ahead of the curve. Lifestreams goes livestream.  Or, in a huge irony, decides not to.

I have a son who struggles with anxiety.  Not just now.  But has done for any number of years.  When we read Scripture and pray in the evening I keep coming back to the Gospel accounts of Jesus telling people not to worry and that their heavenly Father knows what they need.

We’ve had plenty of rehearsal time on this one.  Now, in this viral time, I’ve told him it’s time to put what we’ve trained for into practise. He’s starting to do it.  Muscle memory is there. This thing works.

This thing does work. This Christian thing, I mean. And it’s because the tomb is far emptier than the shelves will ever be.

The empty tomb tells us not to worry about the empty shelves.

If you’re not a follower of the risen Jesus, believe me this thing really works.  The living Jesus can kill anxiety stone dead. Now that may not be a good enough, or plausible enough argument from me for you to decide to follow him, and serve and love him.  But whether or not you believe it, there’s something about trusting that that tomb is empty that just kills anxiety.

The airport in Melbourne was empty – eerily so – last week when I had to fly from Hobart.  I still have a couple of trips to make before shutting down.  Empty. Quiet. Too quiet.

And it was a time for prayer as I walked through an empty security gate. It was a time to ask God to encourage my friend Dean, a QANTAS pilot who has just been stood down. It was a time to pray for my wife as she readjusts her clinical psychology practice in the wake of social distancing rules.

But no anxiety. The tomb was far emptier than the airport too.

And away with such spurious notions of Jesus having been raised “spiritually” only and that his body is still there. I hope this coronavirus kills off the already enfeebled, faux religion of a Christianity that does not believe in the actual resurrection. That’s a faith that ultimately needs something on the shelves, because there’s still someone in the tomb.

We get several significant times in our lives where we have to pull the lever of our trust in Jesus  and see if this thing actually works.  Usually we think of that as an individual time; a bereavement, a loss, a sickness.

For me, ten or so years ago, having a life threatening illness was both traumatic and encouraging. I pulled the lever and hey, this Christian thing, this trusting yourself to the risen Jesus, actually works! Yeah, there was a chance I might die. But that was all! That was all! What is death to the one who first emptied himself, and afterwards emptied his tomb?

And now we have a collective occasion in which we can pull the lever. And as God’s people pull on that lever, I trust they are discovering that this thing works. And works in tangible ways.

Ways that make you give instead of take. Ways that make you serve instead of demanding to be served. Ways that make you sacrifice instead of grabbing that last thing before someone else does. Ways that make you love that enemy who pulled in front of you in the supermarket carpark.

Ways that make you still think that, despite all the livestream tech required to set up our church services, there are still a whole bunch of anxious people out there who don’t know Jesus, and are more anxious about an empty shelf than they are joyful about an empty tomb. But that could change. That could change.

Remember, in this time that will undoubtedly become known as Lockdown Lent, hope came bursting forth and left the tomb far emptier than a supermarket toilet roll aisle at 4pm on a Thursday afternoon ever could be.

Article supplied with thanks to Stephen McAlpine

About the Author: Stephen has been reading, writing and reflecting ever since he can remember. He is the lead pastor of Providence Church Midland, and in his writing dabbles in a number of fields, notably theology and culture. Stephen and his family live in Perth’s eastern suburbs, where his wife Jill runs a clinical psychology practice.

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