Sunday 1st April: John 20:1-22 – Resurrection: Emptiness, Surprise, Breath

Sometimes, if I’m at home and fancy a bit of lunchtime entertainment while munching, I’ll put the TV on and try to find a quiz show. Unfortunately, 1-2pm is a graveyard slot for quiz shows, so I occasionally resort to Impractical Jokers, in which four American friends, sometimes in collaboration and sometimes in competition, engage in tomfoolery around New York. Each episode, one of the four is deemed the loser and receives a forfeit. I was recently watching an episode, where in front of a live audience who have come to see a reputable magic show, the episode’s loser is bound by a straitjacket and metal chain, placed in a tank of water, and asked to escape. He can’t though – and the humiliation is his punishment! Other trained magicians might have managed the feat, and they would probably have performed it with great showmanship.

Some have simply viewed Jesus as a miracle-worker from Nazareth, but refused to believe that he was God’s son. The resurrection is Jesus’ greatest miraculous act. He saved and even raised others like Lazarus, but to rise from the dead himself was another level. It is an extraordinary event, recorded here in John 20, but Jesus’ actions are disarmingly ordinary and not very “showman-like”.

Jesus’ followers would have been left feeling empty on that Sabbath. The next day, Mary Magdalene goes to inspect the tomb (v.1). To her surprise, it is empty; the stone rolled away. She goes and tells Simon Peter and the “other disciple”. They run to the tomb and see that his cloths are lying there, but no body (vv.4-7). While there is a hint that something significant might have taken place – “the other disciple… saw and believed” (v.8) – that the resurrection, based on Scripture, has happened is unknown (v.9). It can only be said that the tomb is empty.

Attention switches to Mary Magdalene, who is crying in the tomb. To her surprise, two angels appear at the head and feet of where Jesus’ body lay (v.12). They ask why she is crying, and she logically answers that she does not know where Jesus has been put (v.13). She turns around and notices another figure, whom she believes to be an ordinary gardener, who again asks why she is crying and “whom do you look for” (v.15). This is the same question Jesus asks those in the garden with Judas Iscariot (18:4). Jesus does not conceal his identity for long though and reveals himself simply by saying Mary’s name (v.16). She is overjoyed and soon runs off to inform the disciples (v.18).

This same Jesus knows each of us by name and will reveal himself through the Holy Spirit to anyone who genuinely looks for him (cf. Revelation 3:20). Later that first Easter Sunday, John records what happened when Jesus appeared to those disciples who had been terrified (v.19). His first words were simply: “peace (be) with you”. He showed them his crucifixion scars, and they were filled with joy (v.20). Then, again, he offers them peace (v.21), before sending them on. He breathes on them and says simply: “receive the Holy Spirit” (v.22). Ordinary but extraordinary.

On Easter Sunday, we can celebrate that Jesus indeed rose from the dead. We can also remember that he reveals himself by His Spirit to all who seek Him. He offers His peace and sends us out, with the breath of the Spirit, to tell others that He is risen. Happy Easter!

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