Hymn text by Charles Wesley, 1707-1788. View the full text of this hymn.
“He is not here.”

These four words sum up one of the most profound and beautiful stories in the Bible: the story of the empty tomb.

I imagine Mary Magdalene and other women arriving at tomb just after dawn, slightly out of breath and armed with oils and spices and cloth to dress their Lord’s body. Their heartache mixes with fear to find the empty tomb they can only assume has been plundered. In John’s account of this moment, Mary Magdalene stands weeping outside the empty tomb, assuming the grave has been opened by one of the angry mob that called for the crucifixion of the innocent Jesus in the first place.

I imagine the moment Matthew records in his account when heavenly beings deliver the message to these women, those words that would their lives and the course of history: “He is not here, for he is risen.”

This hymn so perfectly catches the heart-pounding joy tinged with fear Matthew relates as they run from the sepulchre to tell the disciples the good news. When I sing these verses I see those women running in my mind’s eye, their sandals slapping up the dirt, perhaps sobbing a little in breathlessness but also tasting hope for the first time.

“Alleluia!” they cry. “Christ the Lord is ris’n today! Alleluia!”

Their Lord had suffered an ignominious death, his body cruelly broken and hastily buried. But this morning, that tomb stood empty and in that empty space was the promise Jesus had delivered when he pulled Lazarus from the grave: “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live” (John 11:25).

I hope to someday be reunited with my own beloved dead and say with other followers of Christ, “Where, O death, is now thy sting? Where thy victory, O grave?”

And in that day, I will open my mouth and sing out from the very marrow of my bones, Alleluia!

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