Only the Beginning
John 20: 1-18
She quit the house quietly and on her own. She wanted to clear her head, hold her hands to that huge cold stone, and then figure out what to do next.
She hadn’t slept much for two nights now and she couldn’t stay away any longer. This was the longest Mary Magdalene had gone without being near Jesus since they had met. It’s not as if she was expecting the tomb to feel like him, but she couldn’t think of any other place to be.
The garden was dewy at this time of the morning and the dim light was soft and bluish. She felt herself slowing her pace as she approached the tomb. Why was she here? What answers was this rock going to provide? She came around the bushes and saw it. Gaping, dark as Friday.
She turned and ran back to the house, her thoughts racing, too. Who was behind this despicable theft? Why wouldn’t they at least give him peace now? What could they possibly want with him after all that he’d already given?
At the house she flung the door open and ran to the back bedroom where Peter and the beloved disciple were sleeping. She was panting and had a hard time getting the words out…Jesus…gone…no stone…taken him. They understood enough to follow her back out into the street, where the light was stronger than before and the air warmer.
They didn’t follow her for long. The three were all running together and then Peter and the beloved took off in a sprint. Like schoolboys, it seemed to her, they were jostling one another the whole way, kicking up dust in their wake, until the beloved pushed ahead in the final steps to beat Peter to the tomb.
Even from here, the beloved could see. The linen wrappings they had put on him two days ago were lying in piles inside the tomb. No body. No Lord.
He was still standing there, facing that cool dark hole, when Peter caught up and rushed straight into the tomb. Peter turned around in the tomb, scanning it all with his eyes. Look how the body wrappings are there in that pile and there is another pile here, for the head cloth.
The disciple Jesus loved stepped inside too, now. Mary could see them both from where she stood by the cypress tree a few feet away in the garden. She was weeping now, silent tears pooling in her eyes and making tracks through the dust on her cheeks. She was hoping they would come out and tell her it was all ok, that their Lord was still there where he should be.
The two men stayed in the tomb for several minutes, saying nothing to one another. Peter was thinking. This isn’t anything like when he raised Lazarus. Lazarus came out of the tomb still wrapped up as when he went in. But here are our Lord’s burial clothes… Quietly, beside Peter in the empty tomb, the disciple whom Jesus loved was also thinking. Death has been defeated. I’m not quite sure how this is happening, but it truly is. He tried to tell us about this but we couldn’t listen then…Now, I believe.
After several moments they came out of the tomb, looking sober and calm. They weren’t speaking and they walked right past her towards home. She edged closer to the tomb and peered into the dark hole for the first time. There were angels! Angels, sitting one where his head had been and one where his feet had lain.
Mary was crying in huge, heaving sobs now. Terrified, and she couldn’t turn away. The angels began talking to her, asking her why she was crying. What kind of angels are these, anyway? They aren’t acting like the angels I’ve heard about. First and foremost, they’re supposed to tell me not to be afraid – and the fact that they haven’t done that, on top of all the rest of this, is absolutely terrifying!
Weeping and angry at the same time, she blurted out, “They have taken away my Lord and I don’t know where they have put him!”
Jesus was standing in the garden now and she turned away from the tomb when she heard a slight noise behind her.
Mary saw a man standing there watching her and she was relieved. The disciples had been no help, running ahead without her and then leaving her at the tomb without a word. The angels were exasperating and useless. Certainly this gardener will be able to help her figure out what’s happened.
Before she could ask him anything, he said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?”
She was willing to offer anything to make this right again. Since no once else was taking this seriously, she would have to take care of it herself. “Sir, if you’ve taken him away somewhere, tell me where, and I’ll go and get him and take him away for you.” She was crying and pleading and desperate and hopeful.
And then she heard it.
The sound of her own name in his voice. The most soothing sound she had ever known and one she thought she had lost forever.
My God, he is here! She recognized him at once and called out.
Immediately, her mind began to race. He’s back and things can be as they were. I want to hold on to him this time, hold onto this moment. I want to understand what all this means, start making some sense and stop all this crying.
His words cut through her jumbled and grasping thoughts.
“Don’t hold onto me, Mary. It doesn’t end here. Just wait, it gets even better than defeating death. Remember what I said about returning to the Father? Don’t hold onto this, Mary. You have to let it all keep unfolding. Trust me.”
She looked at him, mind calm, eyes dry.
“Now, go and tell my brothers and sisters. Tell them I am ascending to my Father and your Father, my God and your God. You can believe all that I’ve been saying. This is only the beginning.”
Back at the house, she opened the door, and – just in case anyone was still asleep – she shouted out, “I have seen the Lord!”
Thanks be to God!
© 2007, 2012 Deborah E. Lewis