Easter Sunday, John 20:1-18
I suppose that Mary Magdalene thought that things could not get any worse. Her Lord had been brutally killed and the horror of it all was still very fresh in her mind. Like any of us who have lost someone close, she wanted to go to where the body was. We feel that if we can go to where our loved one is buried that somehow it will help, we cannot find the words to express our loss and our sorrow, the bleakness and finality of it all, but we think that just being there will help, and it does. Perhaps this is what is going through Mary’s mind; she knows Jesus is dead, she saw it happen, but if she can just be near where His body is, perhaps it will help. She probably has had very little if any sleep and so before the sun has even come up she makes her way to the tomb. As she nears the place where Joseph and Nicodemus had laid Jesus’ body to her utter dismay, she sees that the large stone in front of the tomb has been removed and she knows that this can only mean one thing, that Jesus’ body is no longer there. She runs, as fast as she can, on legs that will barely support her to Simon Peter and to John and she says:
> ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ (2)
Peter and John waste no time, the news that Mary Magdalen has told them requires an immediate response. I wonder what they are thinking, is it horror at the possibility of Jesus’ body being stolen or at this point is even just a chink of light and hope entering their thoughts? Everything is happening quickly now, Mary had run from the tomb to tell them, now Peter and John run back from where Mary had come. John, the younger of the two men reaches the tomb first, he is cautious and he stops at the entrance and peers inside, he sees the linen wrappings lying there, but does not go in to investigate. Then Peter arrives, perhaps puffing and panting and with no caution whatsoever runs straight into the tomb, he too sees the linen wrappings lying there and also the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself (7). John then lets go of whatever it is that is stopping him entering the tomb and he steps inside. Describing his own reaction he says:
> … ‘he saw and believed.’(8)
‘Believed what?’ We might say. Certainly John believed that Jesus was no longer dead. He had seen Lazarus raised from the dead and Jesus had given enough strong hints that He would die and be raised again too (Mark 8:31, Luke 9:22) and now it seems that even as the sun is beginning to rise on that first Easter morning that the light is dawning in John’s mind, that what is happening what was Jesus had been telling them all along, He really was going to be killed and He really was going to rise from the dead. We don’t know why but Peter and John decide to go back to their homes, perhaps it’s to tell the others, perhaps it’s just to try and take in the enormity of the fact of the empty tomb, but as they depart we see that Mary has returned to the place of the tomb once again. Any of us who have stood weeping at a grave will know how she felt, though how much more so if the body we had come to be near was no longer there and we thought it had been stolen? Through her tears, Mary sums up the courage to peer inside the tomb. Instead of darkness, instead of a place of death she sees light, two angels in white sitting where Jesus’ body had been. One angel sits where Jesus’ head had been and the other where his feet once were. The angels speak to Mary saying:
> ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’
> ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ (13)
Something makes her turn around and she sees a man standing there. She does not know who he is, she thinks he is the gardener. The man speaks to her, as the angels had already done, saying:
> ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ and then ‘For whom are you looking?’
Still thinking this man was the gardener Mary says:
> ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ (15)
The man says her name, ‘Mary!’ And now he is no longer just a man, it is Jesus, it really is Jesus! To one moment be in utter despair and in the next be in complete surprise and joy must have been overwhelmingly wonderful for Mary; one moment her world was in chaos, the pattern of her life in shreds and tatters and in the next moment it was utterly transformed; night had become day, hell had become heaven, death had become life.
All Mary can do is turn to Him and say, ‘Rabbouni, teacher’. She clings on to Him, overcome at all that has happened. He is alive! He is not dead! This is the happiest moment, the turning point of history, of his-story, ‘death (as the Apostle Paul would later describe it) has been swallowed up in victory’ (1 Cor. 15:54).
Yes, Jesus was alive, more alive than ever He was in His earthly body. Mary and the others would soon see that Jesus’ resurrected body was different; He could appear before them suddenly in a locked room and He was not a ghost because he could be touched and because he could eat and drink.
Jesus does not wish for Mary to cling on to Him for long, there is something that she needs to do. He says:
> … ‘go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”‘ (17)
Here is a new level of friendship; Jesus’ Father is their Father too, His God is their God. The same level of intimacy that Jesus has with His Father they can have too. He is their Daddy and they are His dear children.
Of course it is Mary who has the important job of telling the disciples, of bringing them the Good News of Jesus’ message. She goes to them and says:
> ‘I have seen the Lord’
Mary then tells them what Jesus had said. The wonderful thing here is that if someone in the first century had wanted to invent a story about people seeing the risen Jesus, they certainly would not have dreamed about giving the star part to a woman, let alone Mary Magdalene! (From Tom Wright, ‘John for Everyone’ (Part 2) SPCK 2002, p.146)
But there it is, a true story, but one where the ending has not yet been written because the end of the story is up to you. You are standing there with the others at the empty tomb, what do you do, how do you respond? Perhaps you were too busy thinking about lunch or wishing that you had not eaten so much chocolate already this morning, but don’t worry about that now, the risen Jesus is standing before you, as He spoke to Mary, He speaks to you. Listen as He calls you by your name… Let us respond to him now, let us pray:
Lord Jesus, I am overwhelmed that you have risen from the dead and that you would call my name. I feel so totally unworthy and unclean to even be near you, and yet I know that it was because of this, because of my sin that You chose to die. Lord, to say ‘thank you’ seems wholly inadequate, but I say it anyway, with all of my heart, “THANK YOU”. Help me off my knees Lord, help me to follow you, help me to love you, not just now this moment, but for always… Amen.