St John 20: 1-10 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
Reflection Mary Magdalene was bewildered. She came to the tomb, saw that it was empty, and assumed that someone had made off with Jesus’ body. There has been speculation that she imagined a graverobber might have taken him away and she then fled in fear and anxiety to the two disciples to alert them to what had happened.
These two ran off together to look into the tomb to see what she was referring to. They discover, not just the absence of a body, but the presence of the wrappings that the body had been in. If the body had been taken by robbers, the assumption is that they would have taken these wrappings. The path is opened to coming to a different conclusion.
However, although John’s Gospel then refers to one of the disciples seeing and believing, at this point it’s not clear what exactly they thought that they were seeing, as the Gospel passage refers to them ‘not understanding the scripture.’ They were not necessarily thinking that the resurrection itself had happened.
It’s not until Mary encounters the risen Jesus, who at first she takes to be the gardener, that the truth of the resurrection comes home.
Coming close to the risen Jesus, and understanding the deeper meaning of the scripture, were not at this moment quick or immediate ways to faith. Wrestling with what was happening, being puzzled by what scripture was saying, characterise this moment in the lives of Mary and the two disciples. It comes as a reminder that today the journey of faith can have twists and turns, and moments of bewilderment, on the way to encountering the otherness and presence of God.
The role of hope becomes key – hope in the midst of struggle and despair and uncertainty, hope that holds open the possibility of new ways of seeing and understanding and encountering the fullness of God.
Prayer Loving God, giver of hope, May I glimpse your gift of hope in the times of my bewilderment, And in the midst of my struggles. May I be open to receiving again your unexpected presence, In the gifts of your creation, In the presence of your Son, And through the power of your Holy Spirit. Turn my puzzling into trust, My questioning into faith, And my life into living in your way of love. Amen.
The Rev’d Dr Elizabeth Welch, retired minister, active theologically and ecumenically, member of St Andrews Ealing.