Distraught and weeping, Mary says to Peter, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” (John 20:2) Peter and another disciple immediately run to the tomb to check things out for themselves. The other disciple outran Peter. He arrived at the tomb first.
They would have cut the tomb where Jesus was laid into the rock of the Judean hillside. The entryway would have been low to the ground, so that the other disciple would have needed to bend low to peak in. As the sun had risen higher, enough light would have entered the tomb so that this other disciple could see what Mary could not have seen earlier. He sees the linen burial strips lying there. He does not go in. We can excuse him. This was, after all, someone else’s tomb. Laws prohibited, just as today, tampering with someone else’s grave.
However, when Peter catches up, true to his character, without inhibition, he goes straight in. He sees, as Mary saw, that the body was gone. He sees, as the other disciple saw, the linen clothes. Yet, he also sees more. He sees the cloth that was wrapped around Jesus’ head.
Put on your Sherlock Holmes hat for a moment. What would you deduce? Mary told you, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb….” How do you square what she told you with what you see? First, if someone like Joseph of Arimathea, or anyone else for that matter, moved the body, why leave the grave clothes behind? Second, everything is very carefully placed. The verb in the original Greek translated “lying” (in John 21:5) refers to something that has been placed intentionally. This does not appear to be the work of a robber. A robber would not have left things so neat. A robber would not have left behind the expensive linen, let alone the even more expensive 75 pounds of burial spices Jesus’ body was wrapped in (John 19:39).
Mary’s initial assumption cannot explain the empty tomb. For Peter, assumption gives way to uncertainty (see also Luke 24:12). This was a Sherlock Holmes case of epic proportions. Many of us enter this phase on the way to belief. Our assumptions about Jesus need to give way to a very unsettling, uncomfortable, uncertainty about this Jesus. But more than deconstruct our false premonitions about him, Jesus invites us to reconstruct a fuller understanding of who he is. He has given us a fully trustworthy account in the Bible.