What Happened in the Tomb?

empty tombDid you ever wonder what exactly happened in the tomb after Jesus was buried? The mystery of Jesus fully human and fully divine tangles my brain like a shroud; I can’t get my mind wrapped around it.

I’m puzzled by the few details the Gospels provide after the Resurrection. We’re told that the disciples found “the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.” (John 20:7) Why tell us that? What does it signify? I can’t picture how Jesus got his hands out of the shroud to take off the cloth from his head. If he didn’t roll it up and set it aside, who did?

My spiritual director suggested I spend time in prayer considering that Jesus didn’t raise himself. He was raised. Picture Christ, obedient even while dead, waiting for the Father to resurrect him.

The divine relationship is mysterious, and I can visualize the Father lovingly resurrecting the beloved Son. Here’s what I imagine: God the Creator slowly and gently unwraps his Son’s head, and with pure love looks at and cherishes the countenance before him. The Father treasures this cloth that cradled his Son’s face in death, and it is reverently rolled and set aside, to be discovered later. God savors this moment that was the completion of it all. Time stands still. God purely loves.

The divine plan from the very beginning—this was it. Christ’s eyes flutter open, and the bright light of pure love is staring into his human face. A smile slowly curves the corners of Christ’s mouth.

“It is finished!” he whispers to his Father. And the next second they embrace. It causes the earthquake. Their love is so powerful it shakes the entire tomb and everything around it. The burial cloths fall away as the divine embrace welcomes the Spirit into the moment.

And just as Moses was not allowed to see God’s face, the soldiers are not allowed to see Christ rise. It is too intimate a moment between Father and Son.

God plans gently for his friends who won’t understand immediately: “Let them discover the empty tomb and ponder a bit and feel amazement and wonder before they actually encounter me alive.”

Was Mary Magdalene more open to receive the revelation of the Resurrection? I’d love to interview the mother of James and Salome, who accompanied Mary to the tomb. Why don’t we hear their versions of this all-important experience?

I wish we had more Resurrection stories in the Gospels. The joy—no, euphoria—at meeting the Risen Christ, I imagine, would be a story worth repeating a thousand times. “I woke up, and as I prepared breakfast, I suddenly sensed I wasn’t alone. I turned and there he was! Jesus smiling at me.”

Or did it leave people speechless? To me, the Gospels end abruptly. Do the writers want the Resurrection to be lived personally by each of us?

I do encounter the Risen Christ. He’s recognizable in an ordinary woman who described her near-death experience to me recently and in the face of a grandchild about to be baptized. The moments are intimate, and I ponder them. I savor them. I rejoice.

Alleluia! He’s alive!

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Loretta Pehanich
Loretta Pehanich is a Catholic freelance writer and the author of 2022: A Book of Grace-Filled Days, Women in Conversation: Stand Up!, and Fleeting Moments: Praying When You Are Too Busy. A spiritual director since 2012, Loretta is trained in giving the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Her involvement in ministry and parish life includes 20 years in small faith-sharing groups and Christian Life Community. Loretta gives retreats and presentations on prayer and women’s spirituality and is commissioned as an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist. She and her husband Steve have four children and 10 grandchildren.


  1. A very well educated and altogether holy priest once told me that when a Jewish man finished his meal he would roll his napkin and place it to the side to signal his servants that he was finished. It was a visual clue that Jesus was intentionally finished with His mission and that nothing was ever accidental or out of His control. While his explanation stayed with me all these years, I think I like yours better!

  2. Thank you for this article, gets me “pondering”. I enjoy articles that get into his life.
    I was taught Jesus raised himself. Sort of or exactly like the difference of Jesus ascending into Heaven as Mary needed to be assumed into Heaven. I don’t think you can separate them considering the Holy Spirit. And as Bishop Barron said in one of his lectures on DVD, we killed God. I have thought the lesson of those last moments on the cross were like us, Jesus felt forsaken, lost faith like we do but in faith we know God is still there. Great article! Got me thinking deep stuff about our Lord’s life. Thank you.

    • Yes! I was taught that Jesus raised himself, too. Could it be the mystery of the Trinity is manifest in this moment?
      Thanks for your thoughts that deepen my own.

  3. I’ve always wondered about this time between the Resurrection and Pentecost. I vision Christ walking among us, revealing Himself to those who need him most, who are in crisis of doubt or despair. Thank you for this reflection.

  4. Wonderful reflection. I guess I never questioned until now, how did Jesus get out of all the burial garments. I like your insight. Thanks

  5. As someone who has studied the Shroud of Turin, I find Dr. Wayne Phillips’ explanation that Christ likely resurrected through the Shroud (the radiation energy caused the image)one answer. The Shroud was never ‘unwrapped’ in that scenario. Yes, the Resurrection story leaves so many unanswered questions, such as why the gospels don’t relate Christ’s first appearance after his resurrection to His mother. Early Fathers of the church from Anselm to Ambrose believe he did appear to Mary first–but as the writer here notes, it was an intimate moment. I believe Christ appeared first to Mary, which is why she didn’t need to come to the tomb with the other women. Much to ponder, and all beautiful!!!

    • Thank you for adding many more thoughts to ponder. I haven’t studied the Shroud of Turin, but Sacramento has a permanent exhibit about it at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. Thinking about these tangible things, like Veronica’s veil (purported to be in Spain), helps me draw closer to Christ.

  6. Pondering what good thing to do. Gives another twist on think on these things.
    Thank you for the journey. I will try to ponder on it during my day today.

  7. Beautiful reflection. Yes we can encounter Risen Christ in ordinary people we encounter daily.
    Can you please share the near-death experience described by the woman? I would love to hear it.
    God Bless.


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