Holy week Reflection: Easter Day (John 20:1-18)
We return to John’s Gospel, to the emphasis it brings on personal interaction. And here, the first personal resurrection appearance.
Mary Magdalene is still devoted to Jesus, but she isn’t expecting to see him alive. The other disciple, the one who Jesus loved, saw the empty tomb and believed. Mary hasn’t quite got there as this scene begins to unfold. She is grieving, confused. To her, it seems there has been an act of desecration.
“They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we do not know where they have laid him” (v2).
Jesus is beyond the last person Mary expects to see. It’s simply an impossibility. She saw him die. He is gone. Perhaps her hope is gone.
I am reminded of some verses from the Song of Solomon:
Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is as strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. (Song of Solomon 8:6-7)
Love is perhaps the most powerful thing we will experience in this life. In a way grief is part of love. We can never truly grieve if we have not loved; if not, we lack the vulnerability to do so.
Our love, however, is finite. We are finite beings. Even if our love is as strong as death, this results in stalemate. Nothing changes. Our love may be extinguished, either in our death or the deaths of those who remember us. God, however, is not finite and does not forget us. God’s love knows no limits and no bounds. Death is finite and therefore God’s love may consume it. Jesus is ‘the firstborn from the dead’ (Colossians 1:18) but he shall not be the last.
Have you ever expected to lose someone close to you, only to have the situation turned around? Perhaps a friend that you had fallen out with, with no hope of reconciliation? Someone who moved away, and you never expected to see again? Perhaps a loved one who seemed close to death, for whom there seemed to be no hope? Mary’s loss was beyond that. She had seen Jesus die. There was no hope. No wonder she doesn’t recognise him.
What would your reaction be if such a person, for whom you had lost any hope of seeing again, were to approach you? In ordinary circumstances my reaction might be to want to embrace them. To hug perhaps? To hold on to them? I think all of us, in our relative isolation, are now in a position to understand a little of what it might mean to be told “Do not hold on to me” (v17).
Mary has faced a degree of hopelessness, and loss, as severe as anything we will experience. Her response is crucial. She does what Jesus asks of her. She doesn’t hold on to him. As he requests, she leaves him and goes to tell the other disciples “I have seen the Lord” (v18).
And so, Mary finds herself as the first person to share the good news that death really can be defeated.