It’s nice to understand why events have occurred a certain way, and what is to come because of those events.
I’ve certainly craved such clarity in my life, and judging from what I’ve read and heard, that desire is common to much of humanity. Different religions attempt to provide such clarity in varying ways; the Easter event takes us to the core of how Christians view God and the very nature of the universe from beginning to end.
In other words, Easter is about celebrating the unveiling of The Really Big Picture.
The specific Easter story I’m focusing on this year, John 20:1-18, can be read as a movement from confusion to clarity. (If you want to see this text dramatized, it is part of a video clip found here.) As we experience the story, we can watch Mary Magdalene, Peter and another disciple, simply called the disciple whom Jesus loved, move from panic to a dawning awareness of what has happened.
The story begins with Mary Magdalene, who clearly adored Jesus with a deep, tender love. She discovers the stone covering his tomb has been rolled away and immediately runs for help. When she announces what she has discovered, she triggers a footrace between the two male disciples back to the tomb.
After they see Jesus’ burial linens and leave, Mary Magdalene remains at the tomb, weeping.
Confusion clearly has a grip on Jesus’ followers early in the story. It’s a confusion brought on not by the Easter events, but by the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus. They are horrified at what they’ve seen. They’re also mortified at their own cowardice and betrayal, and they fear the Jewish leaders and the Romans are preparing similar crosses for them.
Our individual circumstances are all different in the details, but I feel certain most people will recognize the general pattern Christ’s followers go through in this story. Somewhere there is a moment where life doesn’t make sense. What came before, good or bad, seems like part of an arbitrary universe; where you are headed can seem meaningless.
Oddly enough, it’s a feeling we can experience in the midst of worldly success or failure. Such confusion seems to walk hand-in-hand with youth. And often, old age can trigger a common question: “Is this all there is?”
At first, an empty tomb only magnifies the confusion of Jesus’ followers. It is interesting to me, though, how evidence of the resurrection almost immediately begins moving these disciples toward a clarity of thought that changes everything.
The open tomb and its unwrapped linens offer an answer: “There is something more.” The unnamed disciple in the story seems to at first hear the answer more clearly than Peter.
“Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in,” we are told in verses 8 and 9, “and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”
Belief, even when not fully formed, is much better than despair.
Mary Magdalene receives an even greater revelation—she is the first to see with her own eyes why the tomb is empty. Her mind cannot process the answer at first. Even after a vision of angels, she believes the man before her must be the gardener. But at the sound of Jesus’ voice calling her name, she cries out with recognition.
She then runs and preaches what is for all practical purposes the first Christian sermon: “I have seen the Lord!”
If you call yourselves Christians, I’m sure you remember that first burst of clarity in your life, too. God does provide us with answers. God has imbued a wandering, sin-filled world with meaning and healing, and that gift to the universe becomes a gift offered to each one of us.
Death has no power. Why? Because God walked among us as Jesus Christ, experienced death, overcame it, and then told us not to fear it. Even if we pass through death before Christ returns, the void on the other side has been filled by his loving arms.
Sin has no power, not even in this life, not once we turn our lives over to the risen Savior. Why? Because when God crushed death, he also smashed and subjugated its cause, the evil that has run loose in this world for a time.
When we sin as Christians, it is only because we have forgotten who is on our side. Christ trumps Satan whenever we call on Christ’s strength to sustain us. The one who will be destroyed cannot stand against the one who is eternal.
It should help us to remember that the disciples did not achieve complete clarity of mind all at once. The Really Big Picture came into focus gradually, as if through a lens slowly twisted. The resurrected Jesus had to spend time among his followers, strengthening the weaker ones with signs, reassuring them that even in their failures they were loved. Ultimately, they needed the Holy Spirit working within them to achieve perfect clarity and strength.
Clarity did come, however. Great works in the name of Jesus Christ happened and continue to happen despite the human fragility of those who follow Christ.
And best of all, we know what we move toward—the full and complete restoration of all Creation. He is risen, and that truth changes everything.
I’ll spend the rest of the Easter season relating some of Jesus’ other post-resurrection appearances.