John 20: 1 – 10
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 towards 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.
Mary Magdalene, having almost not been mentioned at all in John’s gospel until being present at the death of Jesus, is now described as firstly discovering the empty tomb, secondly telling the disciples what she has seen, and thirdly (in the next passage) speaking to the risen Jesus first of anyone. In the other gospels she is accompanied by Mary mother of Jesus and perhaps two other women. While no one else is mentioned here she uses the first person plural when speaking to the disciples, indicating she may not have been alone. Perhaps, it being late when Jesus died, they were going to finish the burial rites started on the Friday with the industrial quantities of myrrh that Joseph had provided.
By this time the ‘disciple Jesus loved’ has reunited with the other disciples. In describing Jesus death, quick and terrible, he must have made Peter feel even worse after his performance, albeit a predicted one, on the Friday night. Perhaps they had not even visited Jesus’ tomb up to this point, as they were sufficiently worried of facing a similar treatment at the hands of the Roman authorities.
While Mary is unsure what to make of the rolled stone and discarded linen wrappings she found at daybreak, this young disciple sprints to the scene and knows straight away that Jesus has risen. Remember the parable of the prodigal son, running was frowned upon deeply in Jesus’ culture, and shows that the they were truly desperate to see and try to understand what had happened. Mary is described as having run back to the disciples too! Simon Peter, presumably much older than the young disciple, hurries after him but is not prepared to run.
Importantly, this young disciple, although he believes, he is not described by John as having understood what has happened. John states that this ‘understanding of scripture’ will come at a later date. It is enough, for the moment, for the disciple to ‘see and believe’. This phrasing will be used again later on in John in Jesus’ other resurrection appearances.
The linen cloth is very important in this scene, and is the key to the young disciple knowing what has happened. If Jesus body had simply been stolen by the Romans or Judeans, they would have probably taken the cloth along with them. If the body was unwrapped from its grave clothes, these would probably have been left in a sticky, myrrhy pile somewhere. But they are not: they are neatly folded with the headcloth some distance away. Would anyone have done this just to create an effect? When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, he needed someone to unwrap him from his clothes. Jesus, on the other hand, has left them behind entirely.
While this doesn’t feel like a particularly complete or uplifting passage to read on Easter Sunday it reflects the confusion felt by the disciples on the first Easter. Sorrow at Jesus’ arrest and death now turns into confusion. What were they to make of the empty tomb, and what had happened to Jesus’ bloody and broken body? The men return to Jerusalem, unsure what to do next. But Mary stays…