Summary: This is a Resurrection Sunday message on Peter, John, and Mary Magdelene
From the outside looking in
Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb far earlier than usual. Obviously, she is still distraught over the previous days’ events. No matter what Jesus had said or did before crucifixion Friday, the fact remained that Jesus was dead. All the belief in his Lordship, all the conversation surrounding his divine origin, even the myriad miraculous events countless people experienced now amounted to a heap of burnt ash. Jesus was dead.
Hardly having any sleep, Mary Magdelne determined to get up and complete what had not been adequately done. She and, according to Matthew, Mark and Luke, a few other women headed out to finish preparing his body. As John’s gospel describes, MM travels to the cemetery. Once there, she makes her way to Joseph of Arimethea’s tomb, the borrowed place where Jesus had been laid. To her surprise the tomb is open, in her mind the likely the result of some type of vandalism. In her surprise, anger, and panic she ran to Peter’s home. John and Peter, two of Jesus’ inner circle, were hold up there in fear of being arrested and killed as Jesus was. She tells her story.
Peter and John beat a hasty path to the tomb where they find it as Mary had described. No one in sight; no guards posted; the stone closure rolled away. The bright glare of early sunlight clearly showed the tomb was empty. Yet both men, seeing the same thing, have different experiences. Peter saw Jesus’ burial cloths discarded, in a tangle on the slab; Jesus’ body was nowhere in sight. Peter was distressed, confused; his heart raced. John, who followed Peter into the tomb, had a different experience though looking at the same sight. He saw Jesus’ burial cloths discarded, in a tangle, on the slab but noticed that the napkin used to cover Jesus’ face and head had been neatly folded and laid to the side all by itself. John saw it for what it was: the folded napkin was a coded message. No one in a rush to steal a body would take the time to neatly fold anything! They would simply grab the body and run. No, this meant that someone had taken the time to fold it and lay it by itself as a message. John knew is Savior. Jesus is a man of great vision and he was a man of details. Jesus never did anything by accident; and this folded napkin was no accident. It was as clear a message as if Jesus had spoken it audibly: “I’m back!” John saw it and believed. No, Jesus wasn’t in the tomb but Jesus is here…somewhere. He’s not dead! Though he believed John kept these initials thoughts to himself. So he and Peter left. Peter full of questions and confusion; John having questions but still he believed!
MM did not go into the tomb with the men. She stayed outside feeling too helpless to do anything. Now, she could not even finalize her grieving by anointing Jesus’ body. There would be no closure for her this day, only constant ache and pain. Jesus had been body-napped in the middle of the night. Who would do such a thing? Who knew when or if they’d ever find his body? That was the last nail in the proverbial coffin: The Romans or the Pharisees had won. After Peter and John departed, MM looked in. What did she expect to see - Jesus’ burial clothes; the cold, stone slab; the damp dirt floor? As she steadied her gaze, two men were sitting there; one sitting at the foot of the stone slab, the other at its head. They asked her, “Why are you weeping?” They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they’ve put him.” So broken by her grief she failed to realize that these two men weren’t there as Peter and John looked in.
In her aggravation, she turned away to begin her personal search. Peter and John had failed to do what she felt they should have. She would scour the cemetery looking for a fresh grave or some sign of foul play. Seeing a man she thought the gardener she said, “Sir, if you’ve moved his body please tell me, and I will take him away.” At that moment Jesus called her name, M, and the sound of his voice melted away her grief. Teacher, is it you?!
From the outside, from MM perspective also Peter’s, everything had been lost, even Jesus’ body. Two out of three disciples were totally overcome by the appearance of events. Only John saw the coded message and counted that as God’s mysterious movement in human events. Only John believed and held onto his belief despite the situation. MM, lost in her grief, actually saw two messengers from God – and heard them speak! – but was so inured by suffering that she didn’t get it when they said, “Who are you looking for? He is not here! But she heard and saw what she wanted to hear. It was only when Jesus spoke her name that she came to herself and realized she had been outside her faith, looking in…