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Easter Sunday

Things Are Not as They Appear

Isaiah 25:6-9
John 20:1-18

by Sally Vonner

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 toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 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’s 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.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb, and she saw two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not touch me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and she told them that he had said these things to her.

John 20:1-18
Sally Vonner
Sally Vonner

Happy Easter! Christ is risen, risen indeed! Proclaim the good news that the tomb is empty! Jesus has risen!

Mary Magdalene, obviously still grieving the death of Jesus, goes to his tomb and sees it empty. Her first impression is that someone has stolen our Lord’s body, which profoundly distresses her. She runs and alerts Peter and the beloved disciple and they return with Mary to the empty tomb to see for themselves. Upon entering the tomb and seeing Jesus’ burial clothes, their first impression is that no one has stolen the body. Jesus was gone—end of story—and the disciples returned home.

Mary’s second impression is that there is more to the story, she stays at the tomb after the disciples leave. She weeps and seeks after the Lord again. She sees angels in the tomb who tell her Jesus is risen. Next, she encounters our resurrected Lord. Can you imagine? We read of her disbelief that the person asking, “Who are you looking for?” is Jesus. I, like Mary, would be asking comparable questions. Who?  Why? Where? How? When? Then Jesus calls her name. She recognizes his voice and responds with jubilation, “Rabbouni/Rabbi/Teacher!” John does not indicate that Mary had other questions, with my holy imagination, I am sure she did.  

As Jesus instructed her, Mary ran to tell the disciples. Her role as the first witness/evangelist to the resurrection underscores the importance of women in the ministry of Jesus, the early church, and the church in this age and yet to come. Mary’s encounter with Jesus also reminds us that when we have struggles, disappointments, and weeping, this is not the whole story. Things are not always as they appear. Like Mary, if we seek and wait upon the Lord, we too can run tell the good news that Jesus walks and talks with us, every day. Hallelujah!

Sally Vonner is general secretary and CEO of United Women in Faith.

The photograph is from the 2024 Prayer Guide.

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