The Resurrection of Our Lord • John 20:1–18 • March 27, 2016
By Timothy Dost
Mary Magdalene as Determined Eyewitness
Here we have John’s account of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, the report of Mary Magdalene, and the response of Peter’s and John’s and Mary’s subsequent conversations with the angels and the risen Jesus.
General comments on the text: The text here is anchored in time and space by many small details. This is not a vision, an allegory, or a dream but a true bodily resurrection. The time is specified: the first day of the week (Sunday), while it was still dark. The strips of linen and cloth wrapped around Jesus’s head would indicate that a stolen body was unlikely, and that death could simply not hold Jesus. To me, the cloths are reminiscent of the passage of scripture, “surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” The time for sorrows is over, the resurrection has come.
The personalities of the various figures also present this as an eyewitness account. John and Peter respond differently under the circumstances, with John running ahead and stopping and Peter going straight in. John, as an eyewitness, would have been well aware of these events. Then there is the steadfast person of Mary Magdalene, who, unlike the disciples, would not leave and was ready to bury the body of Jesus once again, quite a task for her. And it is she, the unclean one, who had taken upon herself the task of seeing to Jesus’s body, a task of uncleanness according to the Jewish law. And there is Mary’s weeping, her sorrow over not even being able to care for her Lord in death. The question of the angels prepares her for what is to come. “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” Imagine seeing two angels in white. Her grief must have been intense not to have stood in awe at the sight. Jesus’s question is to the point, “Woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?” Mary does not answer the questions, but rather seeks the body once again. “I’ll take care of it,” her answer cries out, “it’s no problem.” And Jesus undoes everything with one word. He calls her by name, “Mary.” In this one word, all of her earthly priorities are undone. She has found the living Lord. She recognizes him immediately, calling him “teacher.” Jesus’s relationship to her has changed. He is not dead. He is the risen Lord, full of hope and love. He tells her not to hold on to him, but to tell “my brothers, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Here Jesus makes the ascension an ongoing essential event. And Mary does what others would soon do, she bears witness through the words of Jesus to the risen Lord.
Law and Gospel
There is not much law here. One could comment on how unimportant people make the resurrection today, and how it is often not a priority in our own lives. It would also be possible to speak about why we worship on Sundays, and how we can celebrate the resurrection on each Sunday of the year. These ideas are not derived from the text directly, but would provide some handles for discussion.
The gospel is obvious. Here we have Jesus risen from the dead, and here, in his bodily resurrection, we have the answer to the penalty for sin that he paid for on the cross. The resurrection means that the reign of sin and death is coming to an end and that this veil of tears is but a passing matter compared to the eternal life we enjoy partially now and will soon enjoy fully with Jesus in heaven.
Two Kinds of Righteousness
Here I would focus on the determination and response of Mary. She will not give up on the worldly task of burying her Lord and that determination makes her the first eyewitness to the risen Lord. And having witnessed the Lord, she brings the good news to the other disciples of Jesus. It is Jesus, who by his words has created and redeemed this devoted follower, and now he renews her by his gracious words, and her response is to immediately go out and take the message of her Lord to the other disciples. Having been renewed by Jesus, we too, bring that great good news to others.