The Sealed and Empty Tomb

“The Sealed and Empty Tomb”
Easter Sunday
A reflection on Matthew 28:1-6 and John 20:19-20
©️2023 by Gloria M. Chang

Now after the sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the sepulchre. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. His appearance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.”

Matthew 28:1-6 (RSV)

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.

John 20:19-20 (RSV)

Keeping the Seals Intact

Women at the Empty Tomb in the Gospel of Matthew

No one knows the exact hour when Jesus rose from the dead. When the angel rolled back the stone from the entrance to the tomb, it was empty. Jesus had already departed, leaving behind his burial cloths. The guards, petrified, stiffened like corpses. How did Jesus exit the sepulcher unseen and undetected? According to Byzantine hymnographers, he emerged from the tomb as he did from Mary’s womb—preserving the seals intact.1

“Keeping the seals intact, Christ, You emerged from the tomb, as You had not unlocked the keys of the Virgin at Your birth…”

Tropario of the 6th Ode of the Easter Canon

In both East and West, the liturgy of the Church celebrates Mary as Aeiparthenos, the “Ever-virgin.”2 The Mother of God remained a “sealed fountain” before, during, and after the birth of the Son of God made man.3

The Unrecorded Visit

Where did Jesus go when he silently departed the tomb? Though unrecorded, many saints believe he visited his mother first—the natural action of a beloved son.4 The Evangelists did not record all of Jesus’ resurrection appearances. Like the hidden years of the Holy Family in Nazareth, Jesus veiled his intimate meeting with his mother in silence and obscurity.

Behind Locked Doors

Jesus’ mysterious appearances continued throughout the forty days before his Ascension. Transcending the limitations of matter again, Jesus stood among his disciples huddled behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. As he left the tomb without budging a stone, he appeared in the room without moving a bolt.

“Though the tomb was sealed, Christ our God, You shone as Life from the tomb; and though the doors were shut, You Who are the Resurrection of all, came to Your disciples…”

Dismissal Hymn for Thomas Sunday
Duccio di Buoninsegna, Appearance Behind Locked Doors

After Shabbat at daybreak on the third day,
An angel of the Lord rolled the stone away.
White as lightning, the angel perched on the rock
Stunned the guards, who, like corpses, stiffened in shock.

“Be not afraid!” said the angel to Mary
And the other Mary—not ones to tarry.
“Jesus whom you seek is not here but risen!”
On Easter morn, Christ broke out of death’s prison.

Without breaking the seals, Christ rose from the tomb
Into new life as he did from Mary’s womb.
Where did Jesus go, unbeknownst to the guards?
To his mother’s house—a reunion of hearts?

Later that evening, notwithstanding sealed doors,
Jesus appeared, unbounded by walls and floors.
“Shalom aleichem!” Showing his hands and side,
Jesus cheered his disciples—his Church and Bride.


1 Theodoropoulos, Epifanios. “Why Was the Stone Rolled Away from the Entry to the Tomb?” Orthodox Christian Network, 19 Apr. 2020, Accessed 28 Mar. 2023.

Theodoropoulos, Epifanios. “Why Was the Stone Rolled Away from the Entry to the Tomb?” Pemptousia, 15 Apr. 2023, Accessed 6 Apr. 2023.

2 Catechism of the Catholic Church 499.

3 Song of Solomon 4:12.

4 Pronechen, Joseph. “After His Resurrection, Jesus Appeared First to His Mother Mary, Say the Saints.” National Catholic Register, Accessed 28 Mar. 2023.

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