Sunday 17 April 2022

Bible Book:

'I have seen the Lord.' (v. 18)

John 20:1-18 Sunday 17 April 2022

Psalm 118


Here in Israel everything closes for Shabbat: it is a day of rest and worship that begins at nightfall on Friday and finishes after three stars appear in the sky on Saturday evening. In today’s reading the Shabbat has just ended and Mary Magdalene and the others have taken their first opportunity to visit the tomb of Jesus.

 On seeing the stone to the tomb had been removed, Mary runs to tell Simon Peter and the unnamed disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. (Many commentators believe it to be John the beloved, the writer of this gospel.) Mary declares “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” (v.2)

The disciples also run on hearing the news. The faster of the two arrives first but only looks in, allowing Simon Peter to enter first. (Perhaps he was younger than Simon Peter and allowed the older man to take the first look as a mark of respect.) The tomb was empty of Jesus’ body, just as Mary had said, although strips of linen and the head covering were still there. The head cloth was folded and lay separate from the strips of linen. We are told that the other disciple on entering the tomb “saw and believed” (v. 8) but we are not told what he believed.

 After the disciples left, Mary lingered at the tomb. When she looked inside, it was no longer empty: two angels were seated where Jesus’ body would have been. Unlike others in the Bible who saw angels and were described as being terrified, there is no such description of Mary’s response to them. They ask her why she is crying and she repeats what she told the disciples: "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” (v. 13) In her answer this time she calls Jesus “my” and not “the” Lord.

Then Jesus reveals himself to Mary, but it’s only when he calls her by her name “Mary” that she recognises him, exclaiming “Rabbouni!” which means my teacher in Hebrew. He tells her to “Go to my brothers and say to them that I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” (v. 17) Mary went with the glorious Easter message, “I have seen the Lord!” (v. 18)

 It would have been a shock to hear the body of Jesus was not in the tomb. Mary ran to tell the disciples, they ran on hearing the news. Their hearts must have been pounding as they tried to process what had happened. Who had taken his body and why? All three looked inside the same empty tomb, and each, it would seem, had a different experience. Simon Peter sees the linen strips and burial cloth. It is the other unnamed disciple who “sees and believes”.  Perhaps Simon Peter needed time to process what he had experienced, the ‘other disciple’ believed there and then.  It’s Mary who physically sees Jesus and has a conversation with him. Each one is at the same location, the same tomb, however their faith journey in the Risen Christ is different and unique to them. It’s Mary who encounters the Risen Lord first and who is asked to share the good news.

Over eight years ago, I spent my sabbatical at the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem. It is one of two sites in Jerusalem that depicts Christ’s tomb. There I had the opportunity to guide people of all nations who visited, heard the scripture reading in the context of a garden, and who worshipped the risen Lord. At the Garden Tomb there is a sign on the door of an empty tomb that reads “He is not here, he has risen.” The same Lord who called Mary by name is the same Lord who calls each one of us today by name to follow him.

 To Ponder:

  • What is your reaction to reading today’s passage? What thoughts, emotions, questions, do you have?
  •  Who do you identify with in the reading?
  •  What does it mean to you that Jesus rose from the tomb?
  •  Have you heard Jesus calling you by name and how have you responded?


Death and the tomb could not contain the saviour of the world. Hallelujah, Christ is risen, he has risen indeed! Amen.

The Garden Tomb, Jerusalem. Image: David Dicks, used with permission.


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