16 April 2017
Year A (RCL)
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
It always amuses me that, in John’s Gospel, Jesus’ male disciples get into a foot race to the tomb and remember which one won the race. John is careful to tell us that they did not yet understand that Jesus must rise from the dead. As readers of the Gospel, we know something new is happening, because of the contrast with Lazarus’ “resurrection.” Jesus grave clothes are neatly folded up, and the linen that had been over his face is folded up off to the side. Lazarus, the dead man, had emerged from the tomb, still wrapped in his windings and with his face still covered.
Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved returned to their places, but Mary stayed behind. She entered the tomb and encountered two angels, one seated where Jesus’ head had been and one seated where his feet had been. These are the cherubim of the mercy seat in the inner sanctum. Where Jesus’ body had been is the empty space that served as the throne of God in the Temple. Mary, in John’s telling, serves as the high priest. She raises the same question the first two disciples had raised: where is Jesus? Where do we encounter God? The irony here is that we encounter God/Jesus precisely in the empty space where his body had been, a body no longer constrained by death.
Mary leaves the tomb, and encounters Jesus’ supposing him to be the gardener. John is here referring to the primal garden, and Jesus is in fact the gardener. When Mary recognizes Jesus, she is not afraid or ashamed – she does not hide herself, but falls at his feet in worship. The friendship between God and humanity has been restored, and now they walk together in the cool of the morning.
But humanity is not to stay in the garden. Jesus tells her, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the father.” The word used for ascended means something like embark on a ship or a journey. He then tells her to go (journey) to my brothers and say to them, “I am embarking to my father and your (pl) father, my God and your (pl) God.” The resurrection is a journey toward God, not a return to the Garden.
The passage from the letter to the Colossians also hints that the resurrection is a current state, rather than a future state, or a return to some pristine past. “If you have been raised.” Or perhaps a better translation would be, “Since you have been raised with Christ.” And the second sentence could be translated, “Whenever Christ, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.” This revelation is not a one-off affair. We must be always on the lookout for the revelation of Christ, our life. We live in the expectation of the revelation of Christ and our own glory, always in this life.