We skip Sunday school and head south, seeking somewhere to explore, and after bellies full of flapjacks, we find it at Indian Echo Caverns. This limestone cave, hidden along the Swatara creek, is a geological wonder, a gem of a place to a nature-loving, home-schooling family like us.
The man leading our expedition says it was first used by the Susquehannock Indians as a refuge from bad weather and later discovered by French fur trappers and pioneer spelunkers. He explains how it formed over a long period of time through underground erosion, how water flowed over the limestone, making small crevices into bigger ones until these huge caverns were created.
“It’s a year of good luck if water drips on your head,” the tall, grey-haired tour guide teases us as we enter the caves. “Five if it hits you on the nose.” And my kids start racking up the years. I’m glad I brought my raincoat.
We walk deeper and deeper into the canyon, listening to silly stories about giants and mummies and how certain calcium deposits got their nicknames, until suddenly we stop hundreds of feet underground. The tour guide warns us first then turns out all the lights so we can experience darkness at that depth. My two daughters, who are flanking me on either side, hug my hips. My son screams. I can’t even see my hands in front of my face.
After a while, the lights come back on, the girls giggle and loosen their vice grip around my waist, and we carry on with the rest of the tour. We continue to admire the breath-taking stalagmites and stalactites covering the cavern, and about an hour later, we emerge from the cave to the blinding light outside, tip our friendly tour guide, and climb the long, steep staircase leading back to the parking lot.
Over the next few days, as I read through the stories of Holy Week, I can’t stop thinking about those caves.
They say Jesus was buried inside something like that, a burial tomb hollowed out of rock in the side of a mountain, and when the women went looking for him there, it was empty. I can imagine how they must’ve felt, how confused and devastated they must’ve been. One version of the story says Mary Magdalene couldn’t stop crying.
I know what that’s like. I’ve seen my share of empty caves, too. And I’m not talking about my family’s field trip. My parents split up when I was a sophomore in college. I suffered from post-partum depression after the birth of my second daughter. And not too long after that I slammed into the sharp, mean edge of adultery. These painful experiences hurled me headlong into black canyons so deep, the darkness was palpable. As a result, heartache dripped heavy, rebellion eroded relationships like water through a cavern, and dreams I held onto for years dissolved like limestone. In the shattering emptiness of these places, like those female followers of Christ, I, too, was acutely aware of his absence, that he’s not there, and I felt abandoned, hopeless, with nothing to hold in my hands but my tears.
But then I remembered the words he’d spoken to my ancient sisters about the crucifixion coming before the resurrection, that because Jesus was the first one to rise, I could trust him to raise me next, even if it took longer than three days. As it turns out, it took months. Months of counseling, months of meditating on God’s word, and months of humbling myself and making myself vulnerable as I sought out sacred relationships with people who could sit with me in my pain and listen, pray, and help me heal.
Then, ever so slowly, darkness turned to dawn, a light shone through, and my eyes opened to the truth that he is alive. He was working even if I couldn’t see it at times. He was walking beside me even if, like the two men on their way to Emmaus, I didn’t recognize him until we were miles down the road.
Today the empty tomb reminds me of some empty places in my life. But it also holds the promise of new life, the promise of his resurrection power to transform me into a new creation. It proves God overcame the darkness, my darkness, redeeming those empty places and filling me with his amazing love. And because he lives, because he lives in me, new wonders and new truths are waiting to be explored every day.