It’s Easter. Let’s hear the story again—how about the account in the twentieth chapter of the Gospel of John?
This story is the core of our faith. To a Christian, this story is everything: proof that what happened on the cross was effective, evidence that this world is becoming so much more than we can imagine.
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. 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.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
Panic and confusion—that’s the initial reaction to the empty tomb. We have no scientific description of the actual resurrection, of what happened to Jesus at the precise moment he moved from death back to life. It was a unique moment; even when Lazarus was raised from the dead, he was not truly resurrected. That is, Lazarus was not transformed into something indestructible and mysterious, made of matter and yet impervious to the laws of physics. We know Jesus underwent just such a transformation.
We don’t know if the Jesus event happened with a great flash of light or in the near silence of a small, still voice whispering, “Live and be transformed.” Like the disciples, we begin our understanding merely with an empty tomb, a missing body.
Things go missing in our lives all the time, and usually these vanishings cause us grief. It’s no wonder the two male disciples walk away, seemingly perplexed. We’re told the unnamed disciple finally looked in and “believed,” but that, in itself, is puzzling. Believed what?
Apparently, the disciple believed Jesus had somehow beaten death. It’s not a complete belief, yet, not the kind of belief that makes you fully Christian. But the empty tomb was a beginning, at least for this one disciple. He would have to see Jesus in full later, the walking, eating, breathing Jesus who also could walk through walls as if they were vapor.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 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. 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.”
What an astounding vision. Angels in white, appearing from nowhere within the tomb! Yet Mary was so grief-stricken she could not process what she was seeing. She could not move past the human explanation that someone must have taken Jesus’ body.
We’ve been there, so stricken by brokenness and sadness that we forget the hope and glory God constantly offers us. We forget the story we’re hearing now.
When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 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.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).
Even with Jesus before her, Mary Magdalene could not immediately comprehend through her grief and tears whom she was seeing. We also may be gaining some insight into resurrected forms. In their perfection and unhindered glory, they may not be immediately recognizable. We have become so used to the imperfection and brokenness of this world. At our own resurrections, I wonder if we may struggle at first to recognize our loved ones in perfectly healthy bodies, the flaws they may have carried even from birth gone. But we shall recognize Jesus, and surely, we shall recognize one another as people changed for the better.
Here’s an important point I want you to take away today. Jesus’ resurrection lets us shift from seeing the world as it was to seeing it as it will be. When we accept the truth of the resurrection, we find ourselves able to see the goodness and perfection toward which we head.
Have you ever wondered why we talk about Christian joy being something that remains in our hearts even in the midst of sadness? We understand this story of Jesus’ resurrection and remember we as part of God’s creation are to experience resurrection, too.
We can witness horrors on the news or in person and know that when the time comes, God is going to put that situation right. We can think of the worst kinds of sins, sins committed by us or inflicted upon us, and know that God’s power is greater than the effect of those sins. We can stand and look at the body of a loved one, and know death is not the end.
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.’”
Here is a glimpse into how salvation works. Jesus brings humanity back into full relationship with God despite sin. At the ascension 40 days later, Jesus would carry human flesh into heaven, making it part of the Godhead. What was barred from paradise may now re-enter, and God wants to dwell in human flesh even now, through the Holy Spirit. These are ideas we’ll talk about as the church year continues, as we consider Ascension Sunday and Pentecost Sunday.
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.
“I have seen the Lord.” See that shift in viewpoint? Everything is going to be okay. All we’re called to do is be like Mary and declare the great wonder of what God has done.
Do you accept that you have seen the Lord? Certainly, none of us stood at the tomb with Mary that day, but at the same time, most of us worship on Easter Sunday because in one way or another, we have seen the Lord.
As people who have seen, we also have a responsibility to tell others. Go this day and tell the story!