(for Easter Sunday, April 5, 2015)
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 towards 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.
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.’ When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ 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). 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.”’ 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. (John 20:1-18, NRSV).
The church calendar is centred upon Easter Sunday. Our principle festival celebrates the miracle of the resurrection.
We can easily forget, however, just how inauspicious the discovery of the resurrection was. The account above reads like a collection of false starts: Mary runs from the open tomb.
The comment regarding the unnamed disciple, ‘he saw and believed’, initially looks promising. This one and Peter made their investigation: both ‘saw the linen wrappings lying there’.
But what is it that they believed? That the body was stolen? That Jesus is not in his tomb? It is difficult to accept that they believed that Jesus had risen. Our author makes it clear: ‘…as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.’
So after concluding that the body is gone, both Peter and the ‘other’, return home. There is nothing else to do. Mary’s initial testimony is proven.
And even after all this, Mary is seen weeping ‘outside the tomb’. Her response to the angels question, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ is to reiterate her conclusion: ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’
Her mind is far from changed. Mary answers even Jesus’ question in the same way: ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’
But her eyes are opened when Jesus names her: ‘Mary’. It is personal. This one knows her. It is enough to inspire her reconsideration of the ‘gardener’. Her new conclusion: this is the same Jesus who lived and died.
‘Ribbouni’, as we are told, points to Jesus status as teacher. Mary has named the resurrected Jesus very well: there is a lot a willing student can learn – about God, people, and the world – from this discovery.
Throughout the gospel accounts we are reminded that Jesus taught his disciples openly about his coming resurrection. Such a concept was outside their experience, beyond imagining. They puzzled over what ‘rising from the dead’ implied. I sympathise. How could they imagine something so far beyond everything they had – so far – known?
The gospel’s answer: they could’t. Well, at least not initially. From Mary’s simple, hard-won, Jesus-sent, testimony, however, many more eyes were – and are – opened.
So hear again the first witness to the resurrection of Jesus: ‘I have seen the Lord’.