Text: John 20:1-18
Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.”
Easter Sunday is the yearly remembrance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That event was truly the most glorious in all of redemption, and so we are rightly filled with joy and excitement this morning. Christ is risen! Alleluia! He is risen indeed! The resurrection is the climax of Christ’s work, and it begins our “new creation” in the raised body of Jesus Himself.
Our text this morning gives us a look at this “new creation.” There are echoes of the original creation. It’s the first day. It’s dark. We are in a garden. There’s a man and a woman. But this is, remember, a new creation, and so things are characterized by movement and change. Indeed, there is movement, confusion, and more movement. Everyone rushes to the tomb. They are confused by what they see. And then they leave, still trying to make sense out of everything.
I want to show you that movement, confusion, and more movement is exactly what the resurrection brings. It totally upends the old creation. What we thought we knew turns out to be all wrong. Our assumptions about strength and victory are turned upside down. And Jesus leaves us in this state of dizziness, promising to go somewhere else and complete His victory. The resurrection is all about change. It’s about transformation. It is about new creation.
The resurrection turns us around. It turns us into something new. And it leaves us expecting more to come.
Look at all of the motion in this narrative. “Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb” (John 20:1). It’s early. Still dark. This is the first thing Mary does. And she runs, “Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him’” (vs. 2).
Early. Run. Movement.
The other disciples run too. Did you catch how John takes the time to let us know that he actually outran Peter? “Peter therefore went out, and the other disciple, and were going to the tomb. So they both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first” (vs. 3-4). They are running as fast as they can, and John, probably because he’s younger, outruns Peter and gets to the tomb first. But John doesn’t go in first. He stares in and can’t believe his eyes.
This brings us to the confusion. The disciples have heard that the tomb has been disturbed and the body of Jesus has been taken. But they aren’t prepared for what they see next.
And he, stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there; yet he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself. (vs. 5-7)
John tells us the details of the linen cloths because that is what first shocked them. A disturbed tomb would most likely mean that someone had stolen Christ’s body. Indeed, this was exactly the explanation that the Jews began circulating (Matt. 28:13). But while some of the grave clothes are just laying there, the handkerchief shows signs of careful and deliberate placement. It was not left in hate. No, it was “folded together in a place by itself.”
When the disciples see this they are dumbfounded. But then their confusion turns to believing. “Then the other disciple, who came to the tomb first, went in also; and he saw and believed” (John 20:8). They begin to put together the pieces. All that Jesus had been teaching them is now confirmed. “For as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead” (vs. 9).
But what do they do now? They don’t know, and so they return home. Mary stays. Matthew tells us that both Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” were there. John focuses only on Mary Magdalene. And she too is confused, but in her confusion, she comes to learn the truth.
She sees two angels! Where did they come from? And they speak to her as if she’s missing something obvious.
She saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. Then they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”
She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” (vs. 12-13)
Immediately after Mary says this, she turns around and there’s Jesus!
Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” (vs. 14-15a)
But what does the text say next? Mary’s still confused isn’t she? She doesn’t know that this is Jesus. In fact, she thinks he is the gardener! “She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, ‘Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away’” (vs. 15b). This event is so stupendous, that the original witnesses don’t even know what they’re encountering. There’s movement and confusion, and it takes Jesus appearing and speaking to finally make things plain.
More Movement and More Confusion
Thus far our story has been marked by movement and confusion. The people wake up early. They rushed to the tomb. And they couldn’t believe what they saw. Even when Jesus appeared, they didn’t know who He was.
He had to speak, and then their eyes were opened. This is true of us today, is it not? Jesus must first speak to us, and then our eyes are opened.
But the story doesn’t end here. It doesn’t say, “And then they got it.” No, things don’t just wrap up like we would expect. Look at what else John writes:
Jesus said to her, “Mary!”
She turned and said to Him, “Rabboni!” (which is to say, Teacher).
Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’” (vs. 16-17)
Now what is going on here?
When Mary realizes that she’s looking at Jesus, she quite understandably hugs him with great emotion. Matthew gives us a further description, “So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him” (Matt. 28:9). This isn’t just a hug, and it certainly isn’t a mere touch to confirm that Jesus’ body is real. No, the women fall at His feet, grasp them firmly, and worship Him as a God.
Jesus does not rebuke them for this worship. No, from this point onward, Jesus rightly receives worship, as He has now entered into His glory. But He does tell them that they cannot “cling” to Him. The word is ἅπτου, which means to “take hold of.” Jesus is basically saying, “You have to let me go.”
His explanation confirms this. “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father.” He is saying, “I have somewhere to go. “I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.”
And what do we see here? More movement. The resurrection is not, as we might expect, a permanent arrival. That’s what we would assume, right? He’s here. He’s back from the dead! But no, for Jesus, the resurrection is also an interlude. He’s back from the dead, but He is about to go somewhere else.
This is why, by the way, any church who has a theology that says they can have Jesus bodily present with them in their worship and sacraments, in the way that He was present while on earth, is wrong. They are missing the point of this text and others. Jesus did not want us to cling to Him in this state. He was going to heaven, and He said He would send the Spirit in His place.
This brings more motion, and with it more confusion. It will leave Mary and the rest of the disciples wondering what to make of it, and in a way, we are all still in wonder about it and just what it means. It brings faith, confirming all that the Scriptures have taught, but it also leaves us in a state of expectation, still looking forward to what’s coming next.
Easter is indeed a glorious triumph. Jesus rose from the dead, and when He did, He triumphed over death itself. But He wasn’t done.
No, we know there’s more to the story. Jesus had more to do, and He had more places to go. He had to ascend to His Father and ours, our Father in heaven. He had to sit down on His throne and begin ruling His kingdom. He had to send the Spirit, just as He had promised.
Easter was victory, but Easter was not the end. There was more movement. And we shouldn’t be confused.
Jesus is not here. He is risen. We cannot cling to Him, and really, we cannot and should not cling to anything on this earth. It is all in motion. It is all passing. We must ascend with Christ to heaven and see the real reality of God’s reign.
As Paul puts it in Colossians 3:
If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. (Col. 3:1-4)
Easter has surprised us, and so let us not be surprised again. And you know, the only way this can happen is if we always expect surprises. After all, God is making all things new. And so let us see everything in a new way, with the eyes of faith.
The Scriptures have come true. Christ is risen. But He has also gone to be with His Father from whence He is now working out His power on earth in new ways. He is remaking us. He is changing us, and He is doing this from the inside. This is the great surprise, and it continues to be the great movement, the movement of Christ’s Spirit at work through His word.
Let us pray.