And So it Begins
(John 20: 1-18)
What a week it had been for the followers of Jesus Christ! For some, this was the culmination of several years’ work, especially the disciples who began following him right after his baptism. They had been with him from the beginning, witnessing countless miracles and listening to the amazing teachings and preachings of this most unconventional rabbi. It all came to such a quick end. The crucifixion was so anticlimactic.
You can just imagine what was going through their minds. It has all happened so quickly. Just a week ago they were triumphantly entering Jerusalem to throngs of cheering crowds and now they were hiding out in a house nervously jumping at every sound coming from outside the door. Were the authorities going to come for them? Would they too be crucified as an example to others who would so willing follow someone who preached so effectively against the status quo?
We know from our scripture reading that it was early in the morning of the first day of the week. While the followers of Christ were trying to decide what they would do next it was also the first day of the week for the chief priests, the Pharisees, the scribes and the experts in the law. They would be getting up and going on about their business secure in the knowledge that they had cut short the budding career of this street preacher who was not one of them. Let that be a lesson to anyone else out there who would dare to question their authority. It was also the first day of the week for Pontius Pilate who probably didn’t sleep well knowing that he had sent an innocent man to his death, but at least this nasty business is over and the less Caesar knows about what is going on here in this God forsaken land the better. Things would finally return to normal. Or so they thought.
The followers of Christ just thought it was over. They had spent the last several days talking and arguing over all that had transpired trying to make sense of it all. Had they been fooled? Nobody likes to admit they’ve been fooled. Was Jesus just another in a long line of false prophets who had pulled the wool over their eyes? They had gone into hiding out of fear that those who had killed Jesus might be looking for them. They were planning their next move. When would it be safe to slip out of Jerusalem? Could they go home and just take up the lives they were living before they foolishly fell under the spell of this charismatic prophet?
Our lesson begins with Mary Magdalene going to the tomb while it was still dark. I’ve often wondered, did she just slip out of the house or did the men send her? Nobody would suspect a woman. She could walk through the city undetected. If the authorities were looking for anyone, it wouldn’t have been one of the women. Think about Peter sitting there with the rest of the men reminding them that he had been confronted three times as a follower of Jesus. They surely knew him and he’d be arrested on sight as one of the instigators of this Jesus who claimed to be the Son of Man. When Mary got to the tomb she saw that the large stone had been rolled away. She immediately ran to Peter and John and exclaimed, They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they’ve put him. In the wake of all the power exercised by Rome over Jesus it never occurred to Mary that Jesus had risen as he had said he would. Her immediate thoughts were, what now? I just want to give him the burial he deserves. Why would somebody take his body so soon? It wasn’t even daylight. Peter and John ran as fast as they could to the tomb, not fearing for their safety, but to see with their own eyes what Mary had reported. John got there first and looking in he saw the linen burial clothes laying there but did not enter. When Peter caught up to him he entered the tomb and also saw the cloths laying there. He noticed that the face cloth wasn’t with the other cloths but was folded up in its own place. When John followed Peter in we are told, He saw and believed. He believed because he remembered what Jesus had told him, but they didn’t yet understand what the scriptures meant about Jesus rising from the dead. We are told that Peter and John returned to where they were staying. You can imagine the discussion as others tried to comprehend what this meant. Some probably argued that the body was taken by grave robbers. That didn’t make sense. Grave robbers wouldn’t take the time to unwrap the body and they definitely wouldn’t waste their time folding the face cloth. What could all this mean?
Mary, apparently did not return with the disciples, as we learn that she stood outside the tomb weeping. As she cried, she looked into the tomb and saw two angels dressed in white sitting where Jesus had been laid. The angels asked, Woman, why are you crying? She replied, They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they’ve put him. As soon as she said this she turned around and saw a man standing behind her who she did not recognize. The man, Jesus, said to her, Woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for? Thinking that this man was the gardener, she replied, Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him and I will get him. At this time Jesus revealed himself to her and called her by name. She turned and exclaimed, Rabbouni, which means teacher. Jesus told her not to hold him as he had not yet gone up to their Father, their God. He instructed her to go tell the others that he was going up to their Father, their God. Mary ran back to the house and reported to all who were there that she had seen the Lord and told them what he had said to her and where he was going.
Well, that certainly changes things, doesn’t it? And so it begins. Jesus’ resurrection is the key to our Christian faith. But why? Because, just as he said, he rose from the dead and now we can be confident therefore, that he will accomplish all he has promised. His bodily resurrection shows us that the living Christ, not a false prophet or an imposter (as the Jewish religious leaders had hoped) is the ruler of God’s eternal kingdom. We can be certain now of our own resurrection because Jesus was resurrected. Death is not the end, there is life after death. The divine power that brought Jesus back to life is now available to us to bring our spiritually dead selves back to life. The resurrection is the basis for the church’s witness to the world.
Jesus Christ, who draws his authority from God Almighty and not the ruling authorities of this earth, is back. And so it begins, the real work of God the Father, who through his Son Jesus Christ commissions us to do his will as we, who once were lost, search for those who are lost and need to hear the saving message of Christ’s triumph over the cross. A message that calms our fears and gives us the hope of a better life ahead free from pain and suffering.
Please pray with me.
Most wonderful and loving God, how grateful we are for the resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ and the new life he offers those who believe. How amazing it was that low in the grave he lay waiting for the coming day when up from the grave he would arise with a mighty triumph over his foes. That was the day, long ago, that he rose a victor from the dark domain when he rose to live forever with his saints to reign over us, your children, as we work to do your will here on earth to search for the lost and minister to those who are in the grips of helplessness and hopelessness giving them the light to see that there is a better life ahead with you if only they, like us, accept your free gift of salvation. We praise you in your infinite glory and wisdom and gladly take up our crosses to follow in the footsteps of your son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. In the name of your loving son, we pray, amen.