John 20:1-18 NIVUK
1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!’ 3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped round Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying. 11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. 13 They asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying?’‘They have taken my Lord away,’ she said, ‘and I don’t know where they have put him.’ 14 At this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realise that it was Jesus. 15 He asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?’Thinking he was the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.’ 16 Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’She turned towards him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means ‘Teacher’). 17 Jesus said, ‘Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ 18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: ‘I have seen the Lord!’ And she told them that he had said these things to her.
We of course are celebrating today…
We are celebrating the realisation and recognition of a millennia of God’s action with His creation…
His intimate relationship with Humankind has now culminated in this glorious event…
The world is a different place now that Jesus has risen from the dead…
All veils, barriers, walls and obstacles between our Heavenly Father and us have been broken down, torn away, reduced to dust and removed from our path…
We can now have communion with the almighty through His Son… and have life in all its fullness.
The answer to the question “So why these verses” then is pretty obvious today of all days but there has to be something else to our reading today, surely… Well, let’s look at what the trouble might be and then we can see what God does about that.
Trouble in the text
Early on the third day Mary is still in the depths of sorrow and grief. She has seen Jesus brutally crucified and buried. The visit to the tomb is? Well, what?
Why did Mary Magdalene go to the tomb on Sunday morning, even more, why did Mary Magdalene go to the tomb EARLY on Sunday morning? She obviously couldn’t do anything to finish the burial ceremonies of Jesus, it had been done and there was nobody around to help her. Of course she was not naïve. She knew Jesus was dead. There is no reason to think that she was in some sort of denial or some kind of a psychological turmoil. Why did she go to the tomb?
The only answer is the simplest and the most straightforward: she loved Jesus. She wanted to be around him, even if it meant simply sitting next to his tomb. That’s what we do when we love. That is the power of that emotion. No matter what, we want to be with someone we have loved so much that we still need to be beside them.
But in the turmoil of that desire and drive to be with Jesus she comes across a scene she was not expecting. The stone had been rolled away. Her first thought was to what? RUN “she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple”. Her first action is not to search for Jesus but to tell others about what has happened.
But what had happened? “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb…” Whatever had happened was now misunderstood, that at least is obvious. A sense of unbelief, not necessarily in not understanding the resurrection but in “I don’t believe someone would do this” “why would anyone take Jesus’ body” There must have been a lot of confusion for both Mary and for Peter and John as we see their response in v 9.
Believing the resurrection, or maybe it’s better to say, not believing, in the resurrection is not a new thing. It was happening in 1c Palestine and it continues today. It was the case for a young 20 year old man in deepest darkest Oxfordshire in 1990. You can guess who that was… But for those closest to Jesus not to realise what was going on is another thing entirely.
Peter and the disciple Jesus loved, were as confused as Mary. They ran to the tomb to investigate and the verse that should pull us up short is this one. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. The crux here is what did John come to believe? Was it the resurrection? It would be nice to believe that but what they did next belies what was really going on. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
They went back to where they were when Mary came to them and… What it was that they now believed was this, Peter and especially John, did not believe what Mary was saying. Why would they? They weren’t expecting the resurrection, otherwise they would have said something, And in truth they may have initially thought that Mary was just mad with grief and so she was mistaken.
The trouble here is we have three people who are unable to understand, are confused and cannot believe anything out of the ordinary was happening before their very eyes.
Trouble in the world
There is for all of us a level of trust and faith that has been sorely diminished over the years. We have to expect that, because of the abuse of power and the lack of accountability by many, have eroded any trust we have at pretty much every level of society.
It is also true that, and I have definitely heard it before the phrase “if I see it I’ll believe it” is uttered verbatim. Well, Mary, Peter and John saw an empty tomb and they all came to the wrong conclusion, so seeing something is not the precursor to believing.
We all, and I mean all, have a certain level we get to, at which we will believe something or not. A level of certainty or credibility for any given event. It is different for each of us. One will accept something quite readily and someone else may well poo poo the idea without any further investigation.
The question to ask is what will remove that block, if you like, to believing? What are the stones that need rolling away?
What stops us as christians believing that God can do the impossible? What is it that prevents us from trusting God will do what He promises? What is it that makes us misunderstand what God has done but then be perfectly comfortable with telling everyone what it is we do think has actually happened? Telling others that it couldn’t possibly be that God has done the impossible because we are confused?
What will roll the stone away and reveal the cloth left in its place? What will open our hearts, minds and spirits to take in the real, amazing and incredible things God is capable of doing?
Often we refuse to acknowledge anything that will disturb our comfort, shake our view of how the world works. For christians it can be what we believe about God and His action in the world. The religious authorities of 1c patestine believed God worked in certain ways and God had expectations of His people. Jesus shook that up and the consequences were, well we know. Mary. Peter and John are not quite in the league as them but still they had stunted expectations of God.
Grace in the text
The grace God shows Mary starts in v11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
Now Mary is still not quite sure about the events of Jesus’ disappearance and even faced with two angels asking her “Woman, why are you crying? She is still convinced by her own understanding of events. “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”
No reply comes from the angles and so it takes one more intervention to make it clear to her. She has seen for herself and not grasped the whole, incredible story. She has encountered angels and is insisting on her narrative of events to be the only sensible and trustworthy explanation of what has taken place.
The intervention required is that of Jesus Himself… let’s read again the conversation from v14…
14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realise that it was Jesus. He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!”
For anyone to experience God, it takes His intervention into their life. It takes Jesus to call them by name. For us to know we are recognised by our heavenly Father. To know we are not missed but loved enough to be called by name is a step towards faith… John 10:1-3 “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
Her name “Mary” is all it took for Her worldview and her expectations of God to change… she now believes His is risen and her world will never be the same again.
Grace in the world
And for us today, well our starting point is the same. We need to hear Jesus utter our names again. To witness and believe the impossible that God can do in us and in the world. Those things we couldn’t possibly believe can happen that then become possible when we are called by name.
Jesus calls us by name each and every day but on this day He calls from the resurrection, He has borne our sin, removing what is impossible for us to remove, so that we might answer that call once again or for the first time.
Jesus calls our names so that we hear our heavenly father once more implore us to humble ourselves, and pray and seek His face and turn from their wicked ways and then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
Jesus calls our names above the noise of the world, above the chatter of social media and partisan news reports. Jesus calls out the violence, hate and anger and sepak peace, love and joy. He calls our names above the storm of despair, grief and loss and says “come, here is life”.
Jesus calls our name so that we might turn and see him. Turn away from those things that, that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.
He says run with perseverance the race marked out for you. Fix your eyes on me, the pioneer and perfecter of your faith.
And for us the same is true for what happened next for Mary…
Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
Mary is told to go, commanded even. Reminiscent of the Great Commission “Go… to my brothers and tell them” When we hear Jesus call us by name we are revelation to others. Mary’s first ministry on having her eyes opened by the resurrection was “go and tell others”.
Our call is also to reveal what Jesus has revealed to us. That our sins are forgiven, that despair will be changed to hope, hate to love, and death to life. When we hear Jesus call our name, the impossible becomes possible and as we turn to see him we can tell others “I have seen the lord”…