Beacons of Hope: Easter Sunday

John 20:1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 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.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

The dust of Holy Week turmoil has settled, but the grief of execution hasn’t. 

At the end of each gospel account, the original witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection are all surprised and confused, which may be surprising and confusing to us astute readers, who may recall Jesus explaining that exactly this would happen. But Jesus is a strange person. To me, the fact that he prophesied his death and resurrection, and people didn’t understand it, means they were probably accustomed to his saying strange things and not understanding them. According to Luke, the scribes stopped asking Jesus questions altogether (Luke 20:40). 

I wonder, too, how much sense Jesus’ life made to him while he was living it. He asked that “this cup may be taken away” and was otherwise cryptic about where he was going after this supper that turned out to be his last. Maybe he didn’t have all the details. Perhaps he knew just enough to get by, to get through a literally torturous weekend.

I love how Luke’s and John’s gospels narrate the discovery of Jesus’ clothing. It must have been bizarre to see his clothes there, starting to get dusty. Did someone steal a naked Jesus? Why did they bother to fold the clothes, at least the cloth on Jesus’ head? Jesus’ mystique continues.

Peter and “the other disciple” were fascinated by the empty tomb and these clothes: they raced there, and Peter got there second but entered first. I imagine Mary and, at first, the other disciple were too struck with grief to be able to enter. The best-case scenario of entering the tomb would mean seeing Jesus’ dead, decaying body. The worst-case was confirmation of grave robbers– one of the few things besides death that can make death worse. In either case, it meant the struggle to make sense of Jesus wasn’t over.

Have you ever attended a Saturday funeral and had to go back to work on Monday? Have you ever watched the sunrise after crying all night? Sleepless with fear, confusion, sadness, or loneliness? Monday blues is more the tone of original Easter joy than trumpets and donuts.

It is in the depth of loss Mary epitomizes that God meets us with resurrection joy. It is in that sense of hopelessness that we meet the risen Jesus and can’t help but share what we’ve seen. Mary’s desire to bear witness comes before her desire to make sense of what she saw.

At the end of John’s gospel, Jesus tells Peter that someone else will dress him and lead him where he does not want to go. That’s exactly what Jesus modeled in his death and resurrection: other people dressing him (Joseph of Arimathea) and leading him where he didn’t want to go. He left behind his clothes to collect the dust that was his death, and ours, free now to live a life of meaning and clarity.

Risen God, we rejoice before you today. We remember the grief out of which resurrection joy was first born, and we lift up all of our losses to you. We celebrate your triumph over death and our liberation from it. May we protest with joy for peace, with love for justice, and with faith for your redemption of all things. In Jesus’ redeeming name, we pray. Amen.

Kevin is a Ph.D. candidate in Religion and Society at Princeton Theological Seminary, where he also earned an M.Div. His research focuses on the relationship between the Israeli occupation of Palestine and Palestinians with disabilities, and how the occupation produces disability. He is currently waiting to continue fieldwork in Bethlehem until it is safe to do so. In joining CMEP, he is excited to complement his research with advocacy work.

Kevin also earned a BA in philosophy from University of Chicago and has researched how churches can better care for and empower people with various disabilities. He has affiliations with the Evangelical Covenant Church, Vineyard USA, and United Methodist Church. In his spare time, you can find him running, biking, or playing the piano. CMEP is very thankful for the writers who contribute Spiritual Resources. However, CMEP does not necessarily agree with all the positions of our writers, and they do not speak on CMEP’s behalf.