Jesus did the hard work of the cross. He rose from the dead. He appeared to the disciples over a period of 40 days, then ascended into heaven and told them to wait until the Spirit came to them, which happened 50 days later on the Day of Pentecost.
We have just celebrated our most holy day of the year—Resurrection Sunday, so what is next?
We begin with the women who came to the tomb so early and were the first to discover that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Their response, and particularly Mary Magdalene’s, shows us what a great mystery the resurrection is. John 20 tells us what happened that first morning.
1Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” 3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying. 11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. 13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. 15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). 17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
Having recently been to the place that the early Christians believed was the garden tomb and Calvary area, I have a new perspective on Mary Magdalene’s experience. If you haven’t been there, you might be surprised to know that there is no rock quarry visible to the eye. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is in the midst of the built-up city of Old Jerusalem. This is because Jerusalem like most cities continues to grow and is quite large now, which has totally changed the landscape of Jesus’ time. Inside the church are several altars over holy sites, such as Calvary and the Garden Tomb.
Our guide led us to a less popular site that gave me great insight into the experiences of those who looked for Jesus there. He took us to a chapel nearby where another tomb was excavated. It was definitely not Jesus’ tomb because there were places to accommodate two bodies, and the tomb where Jesus’ was buried had only one place for a body according to the gospels. What amazed me about this tomb was how different it was in size and shape from what I had imagined and from pictures I had seen. The opening for the tomb was about three feet high. There was a narrow place in front of the two places for bodies that was called a crying room where relatives could come and be close to the body of their loved one as they grieved.
We were invited to look into this tomb. I quickly came and looked inside, imagining how this tomb was once used. Then I stood back, listening to our guide and watching others look at the tomb. My experience at the tomb was similar to John’s when he arrived at the tomb before Peter—he did not go in. Peter, on the other hand, went right into the tomb. After I saw others going into the tomb, I got in line again to actually go inside the tomb myself. I felt the enclosure around me and wondered what Mary Magdalene could have been thinking when she came inside and saw those two angels sitting there speaking to her. Yet she was still so dazed since she was looking for a gardener to give her answers about where Jesus’ body could be found, rather than angels. Sorrow and bewilderment are not the responses that Jesus longs for us to have to the great resurrection.
It took Mary a while, but she finally understood that Jesus was indeed alive and standing before her. She had gotten everything so wrong at first, but with the help of Jesus she carried out her part in the resurrection story—to go and tell the disciples that she had seen Him and be the first human witness. I have a role to play in the resurrection story, too. My job is to carry the news that He is risen to the places where it pleases the Lord to place me. Do you understand your purpose in the resurrection story? When will you begin?