Devotional for Easter Sunday (April 12)
John 20:1-18 (NRSV)
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.
Depending on which gospel you read, the resurrection story is told in slightly different ways. The core facts are the same, however: Jesus was definitely dead, crucified on a cross.
Then he was and is clearly alive, fully recognizable and yet transformed in a way that should still astound us.
We often rely on the gospel of John during Holy Week and Easter, where we find precise details regarding both the crucifixion and the resurrection appearances. In John’s telling of the resurrection, Mary Magdalene, a woman who had been healed by Jesus, becoming his follower, finds the stone rolled away from Jesus’ tomb.
She goes for help, returning with Peter and a disciple described as “the one whom Jesus loved.” (Traditionally, the assumption has been that this disciple is John. You also can make a good argument that he is Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead.)
The men see the carefully discarded burial linens and leave the tomb. Mary stays and sees the risen Jesus, mistaking him at first for a gardener before speaking with him. When she runs back to the disciples, she announces, “I have seen the Lord.”
Just as angels indicated at Jesus’ birth that the world was changing because God had come to live among humanity, Mary was saying that nothing will ever be the same now that Jesus has defeated death.
The Greek verb we translate as “announce” was used very specifically in Jesus’ day, indicating that previously unknown, transformative news was being delivered. In announcing what she saw, Mary Magdalene was the first to deliver the Good News about Jesus Christ and his world-altering resurrection.
And indeed, nothing is the same. Before the resurrection, death was a frightening uncertainty, at best a descent into a shadowy existence. After the resurrection, death is meaningless for those who follow Christ.
We don’t seek death—we certainly don’t relish what might accompany the dying process—but faithful Christians intuitively know they have nothing to fear. How can we fear what Christ has crushed? How can we be anxious about facing Father God when we know the resurrected Son will stand by us and say, “I have made this one holy!”
And more than just the afterlife is changed. This life now is changed.
In making us holy through the cleansing action of the cross, God can dwell in us. He gives us his Spirit to sustain us until all creation is set right in the general resurrection, the complete remaking of heaven and earth. (If you don’t know that part of the story, take hope—it is where history is headed.)
The joy of eternity with God begins now, not in our passing. Easter is a reminder that the resurrection happened in this world, impacting living people, including us today.
The resurrection is a story worth hearing again and again, whatever our circumstances, whatever our joy or pain. Nothing can match it; certainly nothing can embellish the story that makes eternity possible.
Hallelujah! He is risen!
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