Today’s passage is a description of what went down that day that Jesus rose from the dead.
By all accounts, it’s a crazy story. One that a lot of people think we are crazy for believing in. Yet it’s so factual when you read it.
What I mean is, I’ve been reading and hearing this story for years, and as someone who grew up in the church, I kind of stopped hearing it after a while. There’s not a lot of emotion described. Yes, Mary cries. And that’s it. It doesn’t talk about the others and how they feel. What it would have been like to be present. I’m the type of person that doesn’t really connect to a story unless those different elements of emotion are involved, so I decided to try to dissect this and explore what might have been going on. Maybe if you’ve seen the Jesus movies you have already done this, but I haven’t, so I am going to do my best to put myself there and see what happens.
So, just to recap, from the beginning of this particular ordeal that Jesus has to go through, really insane and hard to believe things have been going on. Jesus heals a man who is intent on killing Him, Jesus is pretty much tortured and then publicly crucified. He forgives those who are hurting Him and tells a guy that He’ll see him in Paradise. When He finally dies, there’s an earthquake, the temple curtain violently rips in half, people rise from the dead and just walk around the town likes it’s their business to do that.
And in the middle of this are the people closest to Jesus, watching their friend, teacher, son and brother humiliated and killed. Imagine being there. How can anyone have possibly seen any point to it all? For all the good Jesus did, He is treated like a criminal.
Now a couple days pass. His friends and family are still in the worst part of their grief. They’ve just had a Festival Day – their first without Jesus. I’m thinking that was awful. It probably felt that everyone in the world was celebrating something that should have been a happy day, and His family and friends were still trying to accept what had just happened.
Have you ever had to celebrate something right after losing someone near to you? A few years ago, my younger sister got married. It was supposed to be an amazing day, and it was. But it was 2 weeks after my Oma died. Even 2 weeks after her sudden death, the day was broken up by tears and wishing so hard that she could have been there. Something funny would happen and people would laugh and then suddenly we were all crying because we just knew what Oma’s reaction would have been, but it never came. When someone dies, the first few days are spent just trying to remember how to breathe, let alone smile.
So, they are in mourning. And even worse than that, they are crying for a man the rest of the world seems glad to be rid of. I doubt there was a lot of sympathy outside their circle.
Now it’s the day after the Sabbath, and Jesus’ friends and followers want to go to the tomb. This is something new I learned: That tomb was never meant to be a final resting place for Jesus’ body. He was put there until they could give Him a proper burial after the Sabbath. So Mary (there was quite a few others that went first, from what I understand, but in this passage we only hear about Mary), she heads for the tomb to put more oils on Jesus to get Him ready for that burial. She was not the first one there – there had already been others who witnessed the stone being rolled away. I’m thinking she was probably taking her time to get there. It was probably not a task she was excited about. Not that she didn’t want to do this thing for Jesus, but I bet she was still having difficulty in coming to terms with the fact that she even needed to do this. It’s only the third day, after all. How many people rush out to the funeral of someone they love?
But she eventually makes her way there. Only now she comes upon an open tomb. I feel like Mary’s someone I can relate too. She doesn’t go in. She probably doesn’t want to face what she knows is beyond that opening alone. I probably wouldn’t have either. All she knows is that the tomb is open, which it should not have been, and she freaks out and takes off looking for Peter. She finds him and the other disciple (not mentioned by name) and tells them, “They have taken Him!”
It strikes me that it’s almost something she expects, like it must have been one last way for “them” to hurt her Jesus one more time. Like “they” just couldn’t allow Him to rest in peace. In other history I’ve read, that is a huge disrespect to the deceased, and in many cultures that were surrounding the Jewish people it was straight up dangerous to their souls. Even though that wasn’t a belief that is talked about, I think it’s important to remember a lot of Jesus’ followers didn’t grow up with Jewish customs. No matter how much you change your beliefs, there’s often a part that may still hold on to or fear old superstitions and beliefs. For example, Egyptians believed that if a body was not well preserved with talisman giving proof to who you were in this life, the gods would not be able to find the soul. Desecrating a body pretty much damned a soul to eternal unrest.
So now, Mary, Peter and the other disciple all run back to the tomb together. The other two go in first and see that, yes, Jesus’ body is gone. And strangely all the burial cloths are there nice and neat. Then they just left! They just went on home. I would love to know what was going on in their heads in those moments. Maybe some incredulousness?? Terror? I mean, if “they” were going to go out of their way to steal Jesus’ body, what were “they” going to do to those who were hanging around the tomb?
But Mary stayed. She was weeping. I’m picturing more of a sobbing. How it must have hurt her to know “they” could still get to her Jesus! That “they” couldn’t just leave her and her friends alone in their grief. I kind of think she might have been getting angry too. After everything “they” had done, after everything she had witnessed, her emotions must have been boiling over like an erupting volcano. I think if that were me, I would be thoroughly furious! And when that happens, sometimes all you can do is just cry inconsolably.
So it doesn’t surprise me that she doesn’t recognize the angels as anyone significant and when Jesus showed up, she didn’t even really see him. She was distraught, probably crying so hard she couldn’t see clearly anyway. When He first spoke, it probably took her off her guard that she just assumed He was the gardener.
Then He says her name. “Mary.”
And she sees Him. She probably barely chokes out the word, “Rabboni!”
I don’t think she would have figured it out in that instant. There must have been some confusion, after all, she saw Him die! There was no mistaking He was dead! But here He was! And there was no mistaking that either!
He tells her to stop what she’s doing and go tell the disciples that He is going to return to His Father and their Father and His God and their God.
Wait, what?! By this time, she must have been shocked back into reality, as strange as a reality it was, because off she goes to tell them everything Jesus told her to tell them. She must be ecstatic! Weak with exhaustion from the biggest tragedy she’s ever experienced and then the most amazing thing that’s ever happened to her! Somehow she manages to make it to her destination, and we don’t know what happens immediately after that. We know some people didn’t believe her, but we know Jesus kept showing up around people He loved, and we believe it’s true or for some maybe at least that there must be some element of truth in it, because we’re all sitting here.
And that’s where today’s story comes to a close.
It feels like the height of the story. If this were a book, I’d be really annoyed it ended here, but that’s how we’re ending it today. But it’s not the end, it’s the very beginning.
The title of today is the “Give up Endings” I didn’t get what that meant until I got to the end of the Gospel of John’s telling of this story. It really is just starting to make sense. This story is like the epilogue and the prologue. In the story of Jesus’ death, it’s the amazing happy ending we are hoping for. He’s not dead! He’s alive!!
But in the story of what that means for us, Jesus resurrection is the scene setter. There is so many more climaxes and crisis to happen, but… He is Risen! We have another book to look forward to because of that.