John 20:1–18 (NRSV)
The Resurrection of Jesus
(Mt 28:1–10; Mk 16:1–8; Lk 24:1–12)
20 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.
Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
There are so many things surrounding the passion and resurrection of Jesus that we can speak about. It is the greatest story ever told on many levels. It is a story that every type of person must answer to in one form or another, even if you do not believe in God or if you believe in a different deity there is always a footnote in the teachings that speaks of one’s position of believe regarding Jesus. But how many of us really spend time in our daily life considering the real-world implications of this event?
The disciples of Jesus were not the bold men and women we remember in history during the days following Jesus’ execution. They were filled with fear and rightly so because their beloved teacher the man they followed for three years was executed as a political prisoner by the Imperial arm of government. He was executed as the king of the Jews, a title that we may not really consider too deeply but it was a powerful statement to all present on that day. The people proclaimed that they had no other king but the Emperor when they heard that the Roman governor was going to place that sign over the head of Jesus, the implications to that statement was that they placed their faith in the kingdoms of Men instead of the kingdom of God. The religious leaders of the day sold their faith in God to Rome for the price, the life of a teacher that opposed their teachings. The disciples also had a strong reaction to this sign because by claiming to be a follower of this teacher, they would openly profess their opposition to the emperor, making them targets to the same sentence as traitors.
Imagine yourself in that situation. All the religious leaders, your favorite radio teachers, the professors at the most respected universities all saying our nation is where true faith lies. There is no other ruler over us. You are part of a small minority of faithful the small minority that said no, there is only one king over me and his name is Jesus. Your king was executed, and your small minority is now marked.
This brings us to today’s passage. It was early on the first day, it was still dark. And Mary was walking to the tomb. I want us to stop and think about this because this is powerful. Mary walks to the tomb in the dark, the first thing she does after the sabbath. John only tells us that Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb, while the other gospel writers has a group with her but the same thing remains. Women were the first to go. This is not just a small thing. Often, we quickly rush through these verses and move on to the second part, where Peter and the beloved disciple run to the tomb, but I want us to think about Mary right not. Mary and the other women were walking to the tomb alone to anoint the body. Consider what they would be facing when they got there. Not only was the tomb sealed with a large stone, but it was sealed with an imperial seal if broken would be the death of whoever broke it. The tomb was also being watched by trained and hardened men of battle, soldiers of the Empire where were not exactly known to be the most loving overlords to the conquered peoples. A group of women walked to face this challenge alone. Only after they were on their way did they even begin to consider the obstacles they would face. The faith of these women is phenomenal.
We overlook this so often because they were just going to anoint the body, it was a custom that women always did. But this is different they were going to anoint the body of not only an enemy of the state but of the faith. By making that walk to the tomb they were saying to everyone that we will not be turned, we will honor our king and face the consequences. The female disciples were the first to walk by faith, they were the first to reject the world and embrace the teaching of Jesus fully. Why would they do such a thing when all the other disciples were locked in a room?
Mary Magdalene has been given harsh treatment throughout history, being shamed for no reason, and even today people like to assault her character without any definite proof. What we do know is that she sat at the feet of Jesus listening to his teaching. We know that she had faith that Jesus could heal her brother and she with her sister Martha sent for Jesus when Lazarus fell ill. She was close to Jesus to the point Jesus wept with her at Lazarus’ funeral, and she more than likely was the most vocal when Jesus called Lazarus from the tomb. Mary was a disciple of Jesus. Jesus accepted Mary into his community. Mary was permitted to listen to Jesus not from a different room, or separated from the men, Jesus let her sit right at his feet listening to the words that he spoke. In the first century women did not have this sort of opportunity, even if they were married to the Rabbi. Mary was a disciple. Mary saw and heard nearly everything the Apostles did, and they sat in a room where Mary went to the tomb of her rabbi.
She approached the tomb, and made a startling discovery. The stone that covered the opening was rolled away. The entrance to the tomb, which was under armed guard and sealed by the government was open. She went there to anoint the body, she was preparing herself to face off with the guards to plead her case to have the tomb opened so she could properly pay her respect, and there it was open. She immediately ran to get the Peter and the others. She ran to them because she knew they would be blamed if anything would have happened to the body. She ran to warn them, to give them time to prepare because they would soon be accused.
Peter and the beloved disciple, traditionally known as John, ran to confirm what she said. John, who must have been in better shape, got their first and looked inside. Mary saw the stone moved, John stopped outside and saw the burial clothes, and Peter boldly entered the tomb and saw the head covering rolled up and placed apart from the rest. The tomb was empty.
The care in the description is important. The body was gone but the clothing remained. The reason they give this testimony is because almost immediately the accusations would be waged that they stole the body. And if they stole the body they would be criminally charged. But that is not the entire story. To touch a corpse would one unclean and thus unable to participate in temple worship. For the body to be gone and the grave clothes to remain would mean that the coverings would have been removed from the body and the perpetrator would have touched the corpse. The body was not removed by anyone of Jewish faith.
The two disciples returned home, and Mary remained. She remained at the tomb to face the trial alone. Mary remained in that place weeping. Everything she hoped for, everything she longed for was laid in that tomb and even that was missing. John tells us that while she was weeping she bent over to look into the tomb and two angels were there on either side of where the body should have been. They asked her why she was weeping and she answered. Mary was so caught up in her grief, so caught up in the stress of her current situation that she did not even realize that two intelligent beings miraculously appeared in a tomb of solid rock. She did not even recognize that she was having a conversation, because she was too worked up about everything going on in her life. She had faith yet she was distracted to the point that she was unable to see God working all around her.
Then another person comes and asks her a similar question, “why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” This other person she assumed was a gardener and she accuses him of stealing the body. Again, she is so wrapped up in the situation at hand that she is unable to see, and even what she does see she misinterprets through a filter of previous knowledge. Dead bodies do not rise on their own. Sure, she knew they could rise, she had only seen it a few days before when Jesus restored her brother to life, but Jesus was dead and she assumed that that was the end.
I have asked on several occasions do we truly believe in the resurrection? I ask this because it is a touch point, a home base when we are facing times of trouble. Mary was so entrenched in her own sorrow, grief, and hopelessness that she could not see the amazing work that God was doing all around her. She was even in the presence of God and was unable to recognize Him. Every day we ourselves face trials and struggles. We are constantly bombarded with the stresses of this world from hurrying to file our taxes, which by the way need to be filed by Tuesday in case you forgot. Maybe we are exhausted from work, or running two different directions all the time. We might have faith but we can get distracted even while we are faithfully doing our work for our Lord. Mary was serving her King by going to the tomb that first day morning so long ago, yet she allowed her emotions to get out of hand and distract her from the truth being revealed before her eyes. Jesus has risen!
Jesus stood there with Mary, he was there while she wept. He showed compassion for her and he spoke to her calling her by her name, “Mary.” That is all it took, one word. Obviously spoken in a way that only Jesus spoke, it was said with great friendship and love, “Mary.” Mary was not even looking at the man when he was speaking she was continuing to frantically carry on seeking the body that was not in the tomb, because that body was standing just outside her field of vision. “Mary” She turned and in a moment, everything stopped. All her worries, all the things that were distracting her fell away as she looked up into the face of her friend and her King. She exclaims, “Rabbouni!” Which means teacher, but not just teacher it means my teacher. By using that one word Mary is saying that Jesus is her exclusive teacher, there is no other before Him. Her faith and hope are instantly restored. Jesus speaking her name.
Then Jesus says something very interesting. “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father.” Mary, I am sure, did not just say Rabbouni she more than likely jumped for joy and probably was about to tackle Jesus. I say this because she was prone for the dramatic. And that is just fine, she had every right to be excited to see Jesus because she had been so blessed by this man. “Do not hold on to me,” Jesus says. Jesus was one that challenged the interpretations of the day. He pushed those of faith to look at things from different perspectives and he accepted people that were consider unacceptable by the religious establishment. Jesus was standing there with a female disciple, a woman that sat at his feet while he taught. A woman that served him meals and whose family were considered dear friends. Mary wanted to latch onto Jesus and not let go, because He was her teacher.
But things were about to change as they always do. We cannot hang on to the past and we cannot live in the future we can only experience this present moment. Do not hang on to me Jesus says, do not hang on to me because I am going to take on a new role and you need to be free to experience it. Do not bind me in the past but let us both live today. Jesus was once her teacher, He was once her friend and he still is but He has something more to do and so does she. He must ascend to the father so that the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit can come and live within the people who will form the Church. And that assembly of Disciples will be commissioned with the task to share the Gospel in Jerusalem, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Jesus tells us to let go, to be loosed from what has happened in the past both good and bad, be loosened from that so that we can live for the Gospel now. Jesus lived to teach us how to live life with God. He served to teach us how to live life with each other, he died to take on the debt the wages we owe for our rebellion from God, and he rose again to loosen us from all that holds us back and keeps us from experiencing life with God today.
Do you believe in the resurrection? Or are you like Mary caught up in the stresses of life unable to see the angels speaking to you? Do you believe in the resurrection? Or are you like Mary wanting to hold on to the things of the past even the good things that bring you such hope? Do you believe in the resurrection? Or are you like the disciples who return home confused, hopeless and scared? Do you believe? If so let us not hold on, but let us release Jesus to work through us. Let us release him so that we can see lives changed all around us. Let us entrust our lives into his, let us take on His lifestyle so that we can participate in the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in Heaven. Let us release God from our selfish embraces and let Him bring people to Himself. Let us build friendships with those people who seek Him and are beginning to turn toward him. Let us build those friendships so that when they and when we begin to get distracted we can call each other by name so we can encourage each other to turn to our teacher once again. Do we believe in the Resurrection? If we do then let go and expect to be amazed.