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.
Mary, still literally in the dark, sees the stone taken away from the tomb where her beloved friend was laid. Given the low sunlight – the sun had probably just cracked the horizon – she probably could not see into his cave-like tomb. She assumes, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb…” (John 20:1)
Mary’s assumption was reasonable enough. Imagine you were at a cemetery walking up to the grave of your loved one. You see a pile of dirt next to a hole where you know your loved one was laid to rest, but you have not yet moved close enough to peer in. What might you assume? You might assume someone took the body. Mary did. She did not know better.
The darkness, in John’s Gospel, signifies something more than the early hour. We all, like Mary, start in the dark. We all, like Mary, start with assumptions about who this Jesus really is. In John’s gospel, people have been making all sorts of assumptions about Jesus. Some called him “the Prophet (John 6:14).” Others called him the Christ without yet knowing what that title meant (for example, John 7:31). Still others said he had a demon or was insane (John 10:20).
In the wee hours of the morning Mary Magdalene went to the tomb of her recently deceased Master and friend, Jesus. The sun had not yet ruptured the horizon. When she arrived, the stone sealing the tomb, much to her surprise, had been taken away. (See John 20:1)
We know from the other gospel accounts that Mary Magdalene was not the only one there. Other women accompanied her. Yet, Mary Magdalene, in all the gospel accounts, is given center stage. Later we find out that she was also the first to meet the risen Lord.
When we take into account the culture of that time, Mary’s center stage presence at the empty tomb surprises us. A woman? Women were not even considered legally valid witnesses in a Jewish courtroom at that time. A woman like Mary Magdalene? Jesus cast seven demons out of this woman not long ago (Luke 8:2). She had a checkered past. Furthermore, if I am doing the math correctly, she was likely the youngest of this group of women who went to the tomb.
The first Palm Sunday looked like people throwing a birthday party for a birthday boy they did not know. People had high expectations on the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem, but the full meaning of the event would not make sense till later. (Read John 12:12-19)
The crowd that met Jesus on the way expected a national hero. They came out to meet Jesus thinking he was the one who would lead an insurrection against Rome and return the nation’s sovereignty back to the Jews.
Other people there on that first Palm Sunday responded in a different way. They did not lift palms or chant victory. They boiled with rage. The Jewish leaders feared an insurrection would threaten their socio-economically beneficial relationship with Rome.
One day Jesus will come as a warrior king to palm branches and shouts of victory to claim his Kingdom once and for all (Revelation 7:9-10). However, if Jesus was marching to victory on Palm Sunday, victory started with a death march to the cross.
A man might spend his whole life drinking, smoking, and eating poorly. He knows these things are killing him and that he will most likely die prematurely unless he stops. However, he loves the booze. He loves the way it numbs the pain. He loves smoking. It calms him, and he cannot imagine coping without it. He loves the fatty food. Why eat such bland food, when tastebud tantalizing food awaits? So, although he knows he will die sooner, he keeps living this way. All the while, he has no clue what life could be without his senses dulled, a wheeze in his lungs, and all that cholesterol blocking his arteries. And, though he says, “I could never live that way,” he is robbing himself of experiencing a more enjoyable life.
No other document in American history has more profoundly shaped our nation’s sense of identity than the Declaration of Independence. Not only did our founding fathers declare independence from Great Britain with it, but the reasons they gave to legitimize such a radical declaration later came to shape our nation in the years to come.
One line in that declaration holds such gravitas that we Americans find our hearts stirred anew every time we hear it: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Neither the man who originally penned those words nor many of our founders succeeded to live fully up to those words. Nevertheless, the profundity of those words helped shape governance and jurisprudence in the infant years of our country.
But where did our founders get that idea that “all men are created equal” and that this truth was “self-evident”? One well-known rabbi said: “The striking thing about this sentence is that ‘these truths’ are anything but self-evident. Most societies at most times have held as self-evidently true that we are created unequal. […] Plato held that society was stratified into three classes: guardians (philosopher-kings), auxiliaries (soldiers), and the rest; and that whether or not these distinctions were given by birth, people should be taught that they were. Aristotle believed that some people were born to be slaves. Gradations of class were written into the structure of reality. The strong, powerful, wealthy, and highborn were meant (whether by nature or by God) to exercise supremacy over others.” Neither would Nietzsche nor the Hindu caste system hold the truth that all men are created equal to be self-evident.
It was the year 1510 when the monk Martin Luther first visited the holy city of Rome. Luther had greatly anticipated seeing Rome. When he first glimpsed it from afar, he fell to his knees and lifted his hands in praise, saying, “Hail to thee, O Holy Rome.” Luther’s excitement, however, quickly dwindled with every step he took into that alleged holy city. Luther later wrote, “No one can imagine the trickery, the horrible sinfulness and debauchery that are rampant in Rome.”
As furious as Luther became over the immorality of Rome, his fury paled in comparison to that of another man who entered another alleged holy city. When Jesus entered the Temple in Jerusalem, he too became indignant (John 2:13-25).
Jesus once attended a wedding where a catering crisis threatened the reputation of a couple of newlyweds. In the middle of the party, the wine ran out. Someone had not done their math right.
Taking measures to help the couple save face, Mary, the mother of Jesus, turns to her son and insists he do something. She says to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you (John 2:5).”
Are you going through a tough time right now, perhaps something worse than running out of wine? Is your marriage on the rocks? Are you being socially ridiculed? Did you do something wrong, like mess up the math for an important celebration? Whatever it is, whether you are the one at fault or the victim, ask Jesus for what you need and then trust him.
No one can appropriate good news unless that news gets to them. In the information age, it is easier than ever to share information. However, on the other hand, it is more difficult than ever to get information in front of people. We have too many people, organizations, and mediums fighting for attention.