Summary: A sermon for the Resurrection of our Lord, Series C.
The Resurrection of our Lord, April 8, 2007, “Series C”
Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Let us pray: Lord of all life, on this day you burst the bonds of death, defeated the power of evil, and came back to your grieving disciples in all of your glory. Come to us this day in the midst of our worship. And through the power of your Holy Spirit, enable our celebration of your resurrection to be a time in which we recognize your tremendous gift of grace and new life, empowering us to walk in the light of your redemption the rest of our lives. We ask this in the name of Jesus, our crucified and risen Lord. Amen.
William H. Willimon, in his commentary on our Gospel lesson for this morning, offers an interesting lens through which we might view this text. He says, and I quote, “How do we see?… What we see seems to be connected to some sort of template in the brain. When sensory images are fed in through the optic nerve, the brain sorts through its collection of previously experienced images, makes matches, fits what we see into a pattern, and we are led to say, ‘There it is! That’s a tree…’ If you have seen one tree, that enables you to see them all.
And yet, what does the brain do with things that don’t fit into previously experienced patterns? What if our vision is out of focus? What if our vision is limited by what we expect to see?” End quote. 
As Willimon and others have pointed out, this appears to be what John describes happening on that first Easter morning. Those who went to the tomb of Jesus that Sunday morning following his crucifixion, could only see what their minds expected to see. Just follow through this text with me for a moment.
John tells us that early Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb, perhaps to continue her grieving over Jesus’ death that was interrupted by the Sabbath, when such a journey would have been forbidden. As she arrives, she sees that the tomb was open, the stone removed from its entrance. She doesn’t even look into the tomb, but on seeing that the tomb was open, she perceives that someone had broken in and taken Jesus’ body.
This, of course, is not an unreasonable thought! She had seen Jesus crucified. She had stood at the foot of the cross, and watched him die. She knew that Pilate would never have given permission for his body to be removed from the cross without proof of death. And although she may not have participated in his burial, she knew where his dead body was entombed and sealed. Now, she saw that it had been opened, and assumed that someone had broken into it and stolen his body.
So she runs from the cemetery to tell Peter and the disciples whom Jesus loved, whom scholars assume to be John, the youngest of the disciples, that someone had taken Jesus’ body from his tomb. The two of them take off running to the tomb, to confirm Mary’s report. Thus, they, too, approached the tomb with a preconception of what they are about to see.
John, being the younger disciple, outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down and looked in, seeing the shroud that had been used to wrap the dead body of Jesus lying there on the stone slab on which his body had been laid. He did not enter the tomb, perhaps out of respect or fear, but he could see that there was no body in the tomb.
Peter, impetuous Peter, arrives at the tomb, and simply rushes in. He also sees the shroud lying on the slab, with the head cloth folded and lying in a place by itself. Then John also enters the tomb, and sees the same things that Peter sees, and we are told the he believed.
But what does he believe? For the author of our lesson quickly adds, “For as yet they did not understand the scripture that he must rise from the dead.” This says to me, that what these two disciples believed was what Mary had reported – that someone had broken into our Lord’s tomb and taken his body. What they saw and how they perceived it, was the only thing that made sense to their rational minds. And they returned to their homes, grieving the loss of their Lord all the more.
Mary had also followed these trusted disciples back to the tomb. And when they had left, she remained, weeping on her knees, staring into the empty tomb. Suddenly, she saw two angels in dazzling white, sitting on the slab where Jesus’ body had been laid. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Still, she could only interpret what she saw with her eyes; her mind fixed on the rational assumption that someone had stolen Jesus’ body. And so she retorts, “Someone has taken away the body of my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”