By Dr. Ben Stubblefield
Visiting assistant professor of Christian Studies, University of Mobile
I Have Seen
Today’s passage begins on the first day of the week. The Sunday Resurrection is the reason for Christian weekly corporate worship on Sunday. It is the Lord’s Day — the day He undid death and became the firstborn of the new creation, the firstfruits of many more to come. On this day, believers honor Jesus in weekly discipleship. It is a day of joy, hope, promise and sacred worship.
Mary Magdalene had the privilege of being the first to see the stone rolled away. She hurried to notify Peter and John, who raced to investigate. While John outran Peter, Peter was the first to peer into the tomb, where he found folded burial linens. That detail indicates two things: The tomb wasn’t robbed — thieves wouldn’t need a body and would have taken the garments. And whoever had the grave clothes on didn’t think He’d be needing them anymore.
For those reasons, John saw and believed. The disciples were perplexed about the death of their Messiah, but the seeds of belief had started to sprout. By evening, their misconceptions and doubts would dissolve (v. 19).
Many Jesus-seeking folks appreciate the Gospel writers’ honesty and plain presentation. These verses don’t read like myth or fable or clever storytelling. It’s ordinary flawed people describing a miracle as sincerely as they can. Perhaps this Easter we can learn from John by inviting others to consider the Gospel writer’s simple testimony and to examine the empty tomb with him in his uncertainty and doubt.
A faithful, yet desperate Mary Magdalene returns to the tomb and finds two angels seated where Jesus’ body had lain. Seeing her sadness, they ask, “Why are you weeping?” She, like most of us, struggles to believe, as indicated by her statement in verse 13.
The Lord and his angels don’t toss Mary aside for her struggle. In His kindness, Jesus will soon reveal Himself as more than a gardener (v. 15). It is encouraging that the Lord is patient with our struggle to trust and obey. He doesn’t cast us aside for our ineptitude or lack of faith. The Lord often counsels us who are weak, so we might follow Him more fully.
Mary does not recognize Jesus and thinks He is the gardener. Perhaps she couldn’t believe her eyes or was exhausted. Or perhaps His resurrected body was so astonishingly strong that He was difficult to recognize at first glance. In any case, when He called her name, Mary recognized and clung to Him.
Jesus’ instructions to her in verse 17 are perplexing. It’s best to envision a Mary so enraptured and excited that she doesn’t want to let Him go. He tells her in effect, “I’m not going anywhere yet!”
She leaves Jesus and bears witness to the disciples. We don’t know how they reacted to her news, but we know she was faithful. The disciples may have been frightened or confused, but her assignment wasn’t to convince them — it was to report her witness. Isn’t that our calling too?
We’re called to be faithful to go, tell and bear witness to the resurrected Christ, regardless of people’s response. I’ve heard people say culture is changing and folks don’t believe, but I wonder if the burden is on the other foot. Perhaps fewer believe because fewer bear witness.
Let’s be faithful to tell others about the hope of our Lord.