A reflection on John 20:1-18 & 30-31 for Sunday, November 20, 2022 at Mosaic Baptist Church.
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…
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
John 20:1-18 & 30-31 (NRSVA)
We can easily forget just how inauspicious the discovery of the resurrection was. The account above reads like a collection of false starts. Mary Magdalene, the key witness to the resurrected Jesus, initially 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 – at this stage – that Jesus had risen. Our author even comments: ‘…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’, simply return home. There is nothing else to do. Mary’s initial testimony seems to be the logical conclusion.
And even after all this, Mary herself 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. Mary reconsiders the ‘gardener’. Her new conclusion: this is the same Jesus who lived and died.
A journey to belief.
‘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 the discovery of the resurrected Jesus. The fact that the original language is used and translated seems to point to Mary’s memory of the moment. It is easy to imagine this as the way Mary remembers.
Throughout the gospel accounts we are reminded that Jesus taught his disciples openly about his coming resurrection. Such a concept was outside their experience and beyond their capacity to imagine. They puzzled over what ‘rising from the dead’ implied. I sympathise. How could they possibly imagine something so far beyond everything they had – so far – known?
The gospel’s answer: they couldn’t – at least not initially. From Mary’s simple, hard-won, Jesus-sent, testimony, however, many more eyes were – and are – opened. As many have observed there was a moment in salvation history when there was only a single testimony to the resurrected Jesus.
Mary Magdalene is rightly named ’the apostle to the apostles’.
Of course, all this is another example in this Gospel of a miracle not ‘seen’ – but the evidence inspiring faith, trust, and, to use John’s language, belief. A strong and relevant theme for an audience who are learning to follow Jesus a generation after these events.
So hear again the simple, personal, and first witness to the resurrection of Jesus: ‘I have seen the Lord’.
It is given in the hope that you too will ’believe’.
What do you make of the movement from not believing to believing in this testimony? Does this give you more or less confidence in Mary’s account?
What are the challenges to your faith growing like Mary’s does throughout this account?