May 6, 2016
John 20: 1 – 8 1 John 1:1-9
Have you noticed in the resurrection narratives, that there are a lot of people running in these stories? They are either running from the tomb, to the tomb, or back to and forth from, the tomb.
In John’s telling, Mary runs from the empty tomb to find Peter, then he and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, go racing back there, running neck and neck. The other disciple, who in some translations, is also known at the Beloved Disciple, actually beats Peter to the tomb. But then he stops, just at the opening, and Peter goes rushing past him, straight to the finish line inside the tomb.
Now, I know it wasn’t actually a race to see who got inside the tomb first. But that tidbit about the Beloved Disciple kind of throwing the race is an interesting bit of detail that the writer of the story thought worth mentioning.
While it may seem somewhat comical to us hearing it retold in our own day, all of this running thither and yon speaks to me of the sense of urgency, of the panic, fear, maybe even dread, that those first disciples must have felt, just 3 days after the worst day of their lives.
Mary Magdalene had been first on the scene, and when she discovers the great stone removed, she imagines the worst and goes in search of Peter (the already perceived leader of the group, despite his denial and disappearance) and she tells him. And so that’s when he and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, scramble back there, jostling one another on the way. Surely we can identify with their eagerness. The evidence that something untoward has happened, is laid before us. Peter enters the tomb first. With the same kind of forensic detail we have come to expect from the myriad of crime shows on television these days, there is a thorough description of the scene: the linen wrappings are there. The cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, isn’t lying with the rest of the linen wrappings but was rather, rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple also went in. While the statement doesn’t say so in so many words, it is clear that nothing else is in the tomb.
An extremely interesting fact is recorded in the witness statement: the other disciple, who, as has already been established, reached the tomb first, not only went in – he also “saw” (presumably meaning, that there was no body) – and he believed. However, it’s not immediately clear what it is that he believed.
Had we read on another 2 verses to kind of finish the thought or the paragraph, we would have heard that “for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.”
These verses make it clear that neither Peter nor the other disciple can as yet comprehend the full implications of what they’ve seen – and they won’t, until they connect it with the scriptures. When they return home to the rest of their company, all they can verify is that the tomb is in fact empty. Although we can infer from other passages in this Gospel of John that what the beloved disciple now believes is that Jesus is who he says he is; verse 9, the verse we didn’t read, suggests that even in this belief, at this point, he lacks the proper context for understanding that what they have witnessed is no mere disappearance – it is resurrection.
What we see unfolding here is the very essence of our Christian faith. The resurrection is central to us, for without it, we cannot, with any integrity, gather here and proclaim faith in a God who created us, a God who knows and loves us, who calls us by name and hears our cries, who forgives with redeeming love, who welcomes us into the fold with loving arms. Our God, the Keeper of Promises.
Though there is still some debate as to the dates of when the Gospels were written, they were most assuredly completed before the close of the first century and were therefore written by eyewitnesses or under the direction of eyewitnesses. Likewise the epistles, the letters to the various emerging churches, give us singularly enticing snapshots into the life of early Christians; for they chronicle their maturing faith. In the portion from the first Letter of John we hear a compelling statement from an eyewitness, reflecting on his experience:
“what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it; so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.”
Imagine receiving that on a postcard from Ephesus on one of those days when your faith is weak and your resolve faltering? Imagine receiving that message of joy and encouragement on a day when your faith is strong and your hope buoyant. Wow! What a difference it would have made.
Eugene Peterson says that “we Christians are stationed at a crossroads. As people of an Easter faith, we are here to affirm the primacy of life over death, to give a witness to the connectedness and preciousness of all life, to engage in the practice of resurrection.”
This idea of practicing resurrection comes from a poem by Wendell Berry. He writes: “every day do something that won’t compute. Love the Lord. Love the world. Work for nothing. Take all that you have and be poor. Love someone who does not deserve it. Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction. Practice resurrection.” What if we were to really live this faith we profess? What if we were to really believe – and trust with that first century zeal?
Today we celebrate this Feast of St. John, the Beloved disciple, who saw – and believed – and practiced resurrection by living fully into the faith he professed. We also celebrate and givethanks for this Community of Sisters which bears the name of the Beloved disciple, and with those who today make initial promises, with one who renews her promises, and another who makes her life promises as Oblates of this Sisterhood. Together with Associates and many friends, and indeed the whole world, we share the joy of the Resurrection and of our common life together. Amen. Alleluia!
The Rev. Frances Drolet-Smith, Oblate, SSJD