There was an email from Jamie, my pastorâ€™s wife, in my in box when I got up this morning. It said Jayâ€™s brother in law died of a massive heart attack last night. He left to be with his family in their time of grieving.
That changed the tenor of my early morning Resurrection meditation. I sent a message to them, saying I would be the â€œpressure valveâ€ if Jay found preaching too much in the fatigue of grief and lack of sleep.
John 20 and Luke 24, the story of discovery by John, Mary Magdalene, and the disciples, drew my attention. The women were the first to go to the tomb, their love showing in a very personal way: they went very early in the morning, while it was still dark, to anoint his body with burial spices. Perhaps they knew that Joseph and Nicodemus had begun the work (Matt. 27:61; John 19:40). Perhaps they just wanted to make their own contribution to the one they loved so much, the one who had driven seven demons out of Mary (Luke 8:2-3). She had already courageously stood with Him at the cross.
John focuses on Mary while the other writers put her in a group of women. Perhaps itâ€™s because he was with her at the cross (John 19:25-26). Heâ€™d seen her faith and love personally.
Seeing the stone rolled back surprised her. Luke tells us angels were inside the tomb, telling the women that Jesus was alive. The Apostles, men of great faith (!!), refused to believe their nonsense. But they sprint to the tomb to check out the report, Peter leading the way. John passes the older man, and arrives at the tomb first. Peter, breathing hard, rushes past him inside the tomb.
There are grave clothes, laying inside. Grave robbers stealing the body would have taken the clothes or thrown them aside. The â€œnapkin,â€ the strip of cloth around His head, was still rolled up. There is no chaos, no confusion. Where was Jesusâ€™ body? It is like His body has simply disappeared, the clothing falling down. It is not at all like when Yoda died in the Star Wars movie. His body just disappeared at the instant of death.They had seen His tortured body in all its bloody reality. John tells us John believed. Thereâ€™s a strange silence about Peterâ€™s faith.
Maryâ€™s tears will not stop. According to Luke, angels had told her Jesus was risen. Why the tears? Perhaps the agony of incredulous faith still emerging from despair and loss. Angels ask her about her tears. She still doesnâ€™t know where the body is. Then she senses someone behind her. Turning, she sees a man. Her tears blur her eyes. The gardener? He also asks about her tears and more: â€œWho are you looking for?â€ She is thinking back to the empty tomb. He directs her forward to a living person.
Other religions celebrate the tombs of their founders. The Christians didnâ€™t give a whit about where He was buried. That came much later as the church got into paganism with its shrines and relics.
When Mary hears Jesus say her name, she immediately recognizes her Lord. Her joy is enormous. Her greeting very personal: itâ€™s not just â€œTeacherâ€ but â€œMy teacher.â€
Some think Jesusâ€™ words, â€œdonâ€™t hold onto me,â€ meant not to touch Him at all. But He invites Thomas to do so. Some, follow Bultmann, suggesting there is no body to touch, a ridiculous idea for a buried man. They had taken his battered body from the cross to the tomb.
Realizing it was Jesus before her, I suspect she falls at His feet and He lifts her up. Iâ€™d like to think she embraces Him. He responds with a gentle, â€œDonâ€™t cling to me.â€ Though He is reassuringly, personally, physically real, that will not last. He will soon ascend to the Father and the relationship will change. Not that it becomes unreal, but it will be completely different. It will no longer be a physical presence, but a presence mediated by the living Spirit.
Neither she nor we can embrace the reality of the garden.
So we live in faith, seeing the power of Jesus in forgiveness, the cleansing of shame. We see Him when demons leave people. We see Him when the little boy goes to Jesus with the little girl. We see Him when He frees from the legal demands of law.
But we donâ€™t see Him. People still look for Him in the terror of the night, in the loneliness of loss. in the pain of brokenness. We pray, â€œThy kingdom come, Even so Lord come quickly.
John believed quickly. Maryâ€™s faith emerged, sealed with loving presence. Peterâ€™s took longer but led to restoration. Thomas needed to see the holes, but when he did, it was unwavering faith that went all the way to India.
Like the disciples, like Mary, we cry, â€œI donâ€™t get you, LORD.â€ Itâ€™s a good starting point.