April 9 , 2023
The Reverend Dr. Carl W. Filer
Topic: John 20:1-18
Each of the four Gospel writers paints a slightly different picture of exactly what happened at the tomb on that first Easter morning. In John, the Gospel text we’re using this morning, Mary Magdalene goes by herself to the tomb while it’s still dark. In Luke, Mary goes with other women to the tomb to anoint the body—and they go at dawn. We shouldn’t miss the significance here of John telling us that it’s dark when she goes to the tomb. In John, darkness represents unbelief—or sin itself. A key line in John is that “. . . the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
When Mary arrives at the tomb, she sees something she definitely doesn’t expect. The stone’s been rolled away from the entrance to the tomb. Something has changed. Something new has come up, but she doesn’t know what it means. Maybe something bad has happened. So she runs off to tell Peter and the Beloved Disciple, who’s identified with the disciple John. She tells them that an unspecified “they” have moved the body. Maybe it was grave robbers, or the Jewish religious authorities, or some of Jesus’ followers. Who knows? Her only concern is that Jesus’ body has been taken—disrespected—treated shabbily. So she tells the two disciples, and the focus shifts to them.
These two disciples—Peter and John—do something unexpected. They run to the tomb. Two grown men—part of Jesus’ inner circle. They slough off all measure of dignity and act like children when they hear that the stone has been moved. They engage in a footrace to see who can get there first. John wins the race to the tomb, but he doesn’t go in right away. He pauses at the entrance, looks inside, and sees the grave clothes lying there. But big and bold Peter, when he gets there, doesn’t pause a moment, but barges in—as we might expect. He, too, sees the linen cloths along with another piece of linen that had covered Jesus’ head.
Notice how the process of faith unfolds. Peter, while he was second in the race to get to the tomb, was first to enter; but John, who followed Peter to the tomb, was the first one to believe. Who can account for the workings of faith in a person’s heart? It’s only by the initiative of the Holy Spirit that anyone can ever come to faith.
We often hear that what happens when we die is that our body passes away and our soul floats up to heaven. The New Testament doesn’t teach that. The New Testament teaches the Hebrew notion of the unity of all that we are that becomes transformed. No part of us is eternal by nature. We live only because God transforms us. As Paul says in 1 Cor. 15: “Flesh and blood cannot inherit eternal life.” God sent His Son into the world so that we might believe and have eternal life. When we believe, we overcome our doubts. When we believe, we trust. When we believe, we praise and thank almighty God.