John 20: 1-18
Easter Sunday, April 24, 2011
It’s not the first time it happens in the Bible, after all. Lazarus is raised from the dead by Jesus not too much time before he himself is crucified. That one was so that the people around him could see the glory of God, according to the Gospel of John. I understand this to mean power, maybe-God can do this.
But I think it is also a precursor, a prelude-the thing in the movie that seems insignificant at the time, but it instead turns out to be the device that turns defeat into victory.
Think about it from the people at the time’s perspective. Jesus has died. He was killed in an absurdly insulting fashion, bloody, messy and in a manner fit for people who are less than human-non-Roman citizens. He taught some great things, died nobly, having chosen to show God’s love for humanity by choosing to die at their hand rather than use the power available to him to free himself and lay waste to those hurting him. He chooses to stay. That’s a great story, but that was three days ago.
Pontius Pilate’s gone on to other administrative duties, making more morally dubious choices to try to keep both the people of Judea and his Roman overlords happy.
The disciples are at a loss, kind of milling around, mulling things over, still not sure about whether it is safe to show their faces, and feeling like it has been a great ride, but I guess the time has come to get back to their daily bread, which still has to be earned, no matter how many times they have said to God to give to them this day that bread. They still haven’t figured out why Jesus just didn’t deal with everyone all at once, with one wave of the hand. They all believed he could, so we must think about why he didn’t.
Peter’s down in the deepest well of despair, having done exactly what he said he would never do, in denying Jesus three times before the cock crowed. He has betrayed the one man he loved the most in this world, and what makes it sting even more, Jesus even told him he was going to do it. He knew he would.
The Marys and the other women are left to contemplate the harshness of the world again, and their role in it-sure, the story may be over for the men, but someone’s still got to do the ritual cleansing and dressing of the body, which was put in the tomb three days ago, now. It’s not going to be too pleasant when they go back this morning to do the job of caring for Jesus’ body. They’ll have to endure the eyes of the soldiers sent to guard the tomb, endure the catcalls and wolf whistles, and figure out a way to open the tomb back up. Another unpleasant task that the women have to take up. Who’s got the Myrrh?
We know Mary believes in the resurrection at the last day-she says so when Jesus tells her that Lazarus will rise again. She says “yes, he will, on the last day.” He tells her that he is the resurrection and the life, and everyone who believes in him will not die, but live.
But she’s probably not thinking about that as she walks to the tomb, hands full of towels, spices and oils with which to properly dress the body that once was Jesus. She’s no Martha, but she’s probably still running thorough the to-do list, because, dreamer or not, as a woman this is still her role in that society. Remember not to make eye contact with the soldiers.
The prospect of dressing a body is already unpleasant. The discovery that there is no body to dress is probably worse.
It’s still dark, and the soldiers are blessedly, absent. Something else is clearly amiss, even from a distance. No soldiers, and the tomb is. . . open?
What did those gentiles do with Jesus’ body?
So she drops her stuff and runs back to the gathered group of disciples and others, telling them the tomb is open and empty.
Simon Peter and the other disciple go into the tomb, sees this to be true, but goes home, not knowing what to do. Mary, in the meantime, has followed the two men back to the tomb, and is standing, crying, overwhelmed by all that has happened. She looks in again, and there are these two people sitting there. They’ve got smiles on their faces, like they know something she doesn’t. they’re not unkind, they just are in on the joy that she is about to realize, and, like parents that grin like fools just before their child opens a great present, are anticipating her joy.
“Why are you weeping?”
“They took away my Lord, and I don’t know where he is.”
She turns around, not wanting to talk to these two grinning fools dressed all in white, and bumps into the gardener.
He asks why she’s weeping, too. Didn’t these idiots pay attention to what happened on Friday? Men!!
And the light bulb goes off. She remembers what happened to her brother. She remembers what he said then, that he was the resurrection and the life.
And she gets it.
Then she runs and tells the disciples again. Two sprints in one morning!
God can overcome it all. God could indeed have saved Jesus from that cross, laid waste to Jerusalem, been the wrathful God everyone remembers from their Bible stories. But here, finally, there was something new under the sun. God was not wrathful when his son was killed by human weakness, greed, and ignorance. God chose the proper moment, and showed even greater power than if he had mowed down the city. He showed grace and restraint, and that translates to love, and then he raised his own son from the dead.
It’s better to have great power and to not use it. It shows your grace, and love.
It tells us that death is not the final word. It tells us that there is something after, something bigger, something beautiful.
Christ is Risen, Indeed! Happy Easter!