Reflection on John 20:1-10

John 20:1-10  (7th Matins Resurrection Gospel)

1Now on the first day of the week Mary Mag’dalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 2 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.”

Though Mary Mag’dalene is mentioned in all 4 canonical accounts of the Gospel at the Resurrection, she is introduced in John’s Gospel (as well as in Matthew and Luke’s) only at the crucifixion of Christ.  Only St. Luke makes a passing reference to her earlier in his gospel as a women Jesus had cured of demon possession, but then Luke does not mention her at the crucifixion.

One reason I think the Gospel accounts of the resurrection has a ring of historical truth to them, is that they are not written to make the disciples of Christ look good, which I think would have been a temptation of myth writers especially years after the events occurred (when the Gospels were written).  Mary Mag’dalene goes to the tomb, not looking for the resurrection like a child on Christmas morning rising early to see if Santa has come, but going to the tomb to weep over unfulfilled expectation and crushing disappointment.  Jesus had raised his friend Lazarus from the dead, but could not prevent his own death.

Mary Mag’dalene is astounded to find the tomb open and the body of Jesus gone.   She does not immediately think “resurrection” but “grave robbers” or some other bad news.  She runs to tell Peter about the missing body of Jesus.  “THEY” – she does not identify whom she suspects of having taken the body, but one might surmise the enemies of Jesus.  Killing him was not enough, now they have decided to desecrate and abuse the corpse as well.  “They” intend to humiliate Jesus and his disciples further.  But Mary’s conclusion is the body has been stolen and dumped in an unknown location.   The empty tomb will discourage any cult of a saint from developing and prevent the disciples from making the tomb into a holy place of relics, or so “they” believe.

 3 Peter then came out with the other disciple, and they went toward the tomb. 4 They both ran, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first; 5 and stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying, 7 and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not know the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.

Peter and the unnamed disciple (tradition says it was John) run to the tomb also not looking for the resurrected Jesus but to see if Mary’s story is true – what now?  It’s bad enough they tortured Jesus to execute him, what is happening now to his corpse?   (The disciples had fled from Jesus at his arrest.  Mary ran away from the empty tomb to tell the disciples about it, not as good news, but as very troubling news).  Strangely, whoever had taken the corpse of Jesus had taken the time to remove the linen burial shroud, and even to neatly roll up the napkin which covered his face.  Who would go through that trouble and why?   What was going on here?  Peter and the other disciple now believe Mary’s story that the tomb is empty, but John the gospel’s story teller notes that at this moment the disciples do not make any connection to the resurrection, nor really to the promises of God (thus the “they did not know the scripture”).    The empty tomb has left them with questions but no answers. What’s going on?  Who took the corpse of Jesus?  Where did they go with it?  For what purpose?  The disciples do not make an immediate leap of faith to the resurrection, an idea which was still foreign to them.  Corpses do not walk out of tombs.  Somebody must be responsible for this.  Tombs are made empty by grave robbers, the macabre, or by the enemies of the dead who want to make sure the deceased is not immortalized.  The empty tomb is not at first a sign of the resurrection, it is immediately more troubling news for Christ’s disciples. Will they in fact be accused of being grave robbers as an excuse to arrest or discredit them?

10 Then the disciples went back to their homes.

What else can they do?   Are the authorities likely to be interested in investigating the theft of the corpse of a criminal?   More likely they are the very ones who stole the body and going to them can only bring threats and punishment to the whistle blowers. 

The empty tomb however will become everything the enemies of Jesus would not want – a holy place, the site of the revelation of the holy One of God, a confirmation of the Messiah. 

It will only be back in their own homes that the truth of what happened to the body of Jesus will dawn upon them.  

And this particular Gospel, read at Sunday matins or Saturday vigil, gives us the same glimpse into the historical fact of the resurrection.  And after we behold the resurrection, we go to our homes, like the first disciples, to contemplate what is the meaning of this totally new and unexpected event for our lives?  How does it change anything?  Or Does it change everything?

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