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 towards 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 round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ 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.
Summary – John describes the events in the darkness of this very “first day of the week.” Mary is fearful in her report, upon finding the tomb empty: “they have taken the Lord…” At this point Mary is sentimentally attached to Jesus, but thinking He is dead. In the next few verses (vv3-10), John outran Peter after the fearful report. They also find the tomb empty. They notice the burial clothes and John sees the shroud over the face folded/wrapped neatly and gains insight from this. In the last section (vv1-18), Mary encounters the risen Christ, but Christ does not reveal Himself to her immediately. He is taken by her to be the Gardener. Then when He speaks her name, she sees Him and holds Him. Jesus gives her a task, to announce His resurrection to the disciples.
Insight – All of history has been expecting something more impressive than the nice smelling corpse of a mild moral lecturer. So here we are. Now the tomb is empty and a “deeper magic” (CS Lewis) was at work to break the cold stone table of death and the power of Satan. Do not fear, Jesus is not dead, He is alive forevermore (Rev. 1:18).
This most important event of human history is described in this passage and 3 of 18 verses (vv6-7) are spent on details about the wrappings of the corpse. Why? The facial veil/shroud is both real and symbolic for John, like the “third day” (2:1), “behold the man” (19:5), and “153 fish” (21:11). The text says, “[Peter] 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.” When John “saw [this] and believed” (v8). Why is much made of this? It alludes back to Lazarus coming from the tomb and the image of the facial shroud fulfills prophecy (Is. 25:7; 1Cor. 15:54). When Lazarus came forth, he was “bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth” (John 11:44). Since others were to “unbind him” – i.e., feet and hands, this suggests that Jesus removed the facial shroud on Lazarus. It may be that the way Jesus rolled or folded it provided a clue to John that Jesus had also folded/wrapped his own facial shroud and placed it neatly by itself. Or, that when Jesus removed it from Lazarus, the wrapped linen was lifted directly from his head and retained its shape. Whatever the precise meaning, the empty tomb was not empty because grave robbers came in and hurriedly removed the body (since they would have hardly unwrapped it). John perceived that Jesus had arisen.
Then we read of the encounter of Mary with the risen Lord (v14ff). This too was quite real, but also implying something greater. Jesus eludes her recognition just long enough for her to think that He is the Gardener. This is true. Christ is the new Gardener, i.e., the New Adam who will cultivate a new creation. After Jesus reveals Himself in this way and for this purpose, Mary is sent to “announce” (angelo) His resurrection to the Apostles. On this first day of the new creation, His resurrection begins restoring the world. He opens a way back into the presence of the Father (v17), since He will prepare a place for His followers (John 14).
Child’s Catechism -What happened on the first Easter? Jesus rose from the grave, leaving behind His grave clothes in the empty tomb, in order to make a new creation.
Discussion – Do you believe you are in a world of death or a world of new creation life?
Prayer – O God of glory,
in the Easter dawn
you raised Jesus from death to life.
As we are united with him in death,
so unite us with him in resurrection,
that we may walk in newness of life. Amen.