People are different and that leads them to respond differently to events that happen to them. Christians are different from one another too, and always were, right back to the time of the disciples. In John’s Gospel we are told about Mary Magdalene, Peter and the beloved disciple (probably John) and how they reacted to the empty tomb on that first Easter morning. Each of us may react differently to the news of the resurrection, retold in this the most important season of the Church’s year.
The readings on Sunday were Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, Isaiah 65:17-25, Acts 10:34-43 and John 20:1-18. Read on to find out more …
In the post-modern world we live in, many people don’t like to commit themselves to anything. Political parties, trades unions, clubs, churches find less people prepared to join, to declare themselves members. They are more likely to hover around the edges of things, ready to move off to something new when it seems right to them.
However, if someone does join an organisation they usually do so because they have something in common with the other members and want to share experiences with them. Those in a Dr Who fan club could assume that others want to talk about or blog about all things Dr Who related. Those joining in role play here in SL each want to enter into the same fantasy world and behave in a way that fits the particular fantasy.
Those who join a church have at least some connection with Jesus which is what we could say is in common. Beyond that, we are very different in so many ways. Our characters are different, our life experiences, how we understand the Gospel or even if we understand the Gospel. Our faith may be secure or wavering, mature or just in its infancy. When we say the creeds we may have very different understandings of just what we are declaring. Here on Epiphany Island, our community comprises those from all over the world and who are of many RL denominations. This might be their only church or just a supplementary church. Even if members are Anglican, there are enough differences among Anglicans to make it hard to see the similarities at times!
This variation in the Christian family is nothing new. In the Gospels we meet many of Jesus’ followers and they are very different characters indeed. Their differences show up in their response to the events of Easter Day when Jesus rose from the dead.
The first person we meet on that Easter morning in John’s Gospel is Mary Magdalene. On seeing the stone rolled away from the entrance to Jesus’ tomb, she didn’t stay but rushed off, seemingly certain that the worst had happened: her beloved Lord’s body had been stolen. By whom, she knew not, but ‘they have taken the Lord out of the tomb’. In distress she ran to two of Jesus’ closest disciples. We have no idea what she expected of them but she obviously had to share this terrible news with someone.
Later, when the two disciples had left the tomb, Mary stood and wept. There was little else she could do. Her Lord was dead and his body was certainly gone. She knew the body wasn’t there any more as Simon and the beloved disciple (whom we presume is John) had checked. Yet something drew Mary to look in the tomb for herself, something she hadn’t done before. She didn’t seem surprised by the sight of angels; perhaps in her grief nothing seemed very real except the shocking loss of her Lord’s body which she needed to tell of to anyone who would listen, including to the gardener. How quickly she changed! Jesus uttered her name and all doubt disappeared; grief turned to joy. Mary was totally convinced that Jesus was alive and went off to announce that news to the disciples. She risked being thought insane but nothing deterred her.
John ran to the tomb when Mary gave the news of a possible grave robbery. It was not possible to stroll there; this was urgent, he had to know what had happened. John bent down to look through the low doorway of the tomb, having arrived first. He saw Jesus’ burial clothes there, the wrappings from the body which would have had possibly 100 pounds of spices within them. The Greek word suggests John only glanced quickly. It was only after Peter had actually entered the tomb that John also went in. Something about standing there faced with the evidence that Jesus’ body had gone without disturbing the grave clothes made an impact on John: he saw and believed. We’re not told exactly what John believed but it seems he made a beginning in piecing together what Jesus had been teaching his disciples during his three year mission.
Peter, ever the impetuous one, was not content to just peep in the tomb from outside. He may have arrived second but it seems he plunged straight in and noticed the arrangement of the grave clothes, with the cloth for Jesus’ head being separate from the rest. That was not something that grave robbers could easily have arranged. However, we are not told of any reaction by Peter to what he saw. Unlike Mary, both disciples, though they seem to have reacted differently from one another, went to their homes rather than spreading the news of what they had seen.
We too, Jesus’ modern followers, will react differently to this amazing day. Some will receive the news ‘Christ has risen!’ and will be shouting ‘Alleluia!’ with enthusiasm and conviction. Easter Day is what they’ve been waiting for. For others, whatever the calendar says, they will still be in Good Friday mood. Perhaps like Mary on that first Good Friday, they feel that whatever gave life hope and meaning has been snatched away, never to return. There is no future worth thinking about. Maybe like John who found himself given the care of Jesus’ grieving mother, they feel weighed down by new (or old) responsibilities that they feel inadequate to carry. Possibly, like Peter who denied his Lord three times just hours before the crucifixion, they are burdened with guilt and shame or a sense of losing the opportunity to put things right.
If these less than rosy pictures come close to what you are experiencing now, take heart. As Tony Campolo is fond of saying: ‘It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming!’
Isaiah wrote his inspiring words describing a new heaven and a new earth while the old one was very much the reality that he saw, with all its imperfections and darkness. He looked forward beyond what his eyes could see, believing God’s promise, faithfully recording the words God gave him which challenged what his senses could perceive.
It was when it was still dark that a grieving Mary came to the tomb where she had seen her Lord laid two days before. It was in the darkness that Jesus called her name and that she received his promise that he was ascending to the Father. Perhaps her senses were muddled by grief but she held on to those words in the darkness as a greater truth than what she had feared her future would be like.
The world is still in darkness, messed up and full of dreadful things. Our lives are still challenging and difficult at times. We should not be surprised; we are living between Jesus’ first and second comings. We are called to look forward, beyond our senses to what God promises.
It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming! Alleluia!
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor