John 20:1-18


As the Word descended from the Father and became flesh at the start of John's Gospel, Mary is experiencing the reverse process - of the flesh becoming Word.

Year A, B, C
Easter Sunday, Alternate Reading A

Read the passage at the bottom of this post: John 20:1-18, The Message   or   John 20:1-18, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

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One of the people I hope I get to meet in heaven is Mary Magdalene.

The four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John often differ in the details, but one thing they all have in common is that Mary Magdalene is the first to witness, believe, and testify about the empty tomb / the risen Jesus.

She is the first Easter Christian.

And then she disappears from the Biblical story.

(There is a non-Biblical Gospel attributed to Mary - and much folklore and contemporary speculation.)

John makes no mention of Mary Magdalene until the crucifixion when she is mentioned as one of the women who witnesses Jesus being lifted up on the cross.

Verse 1. John gives no explanation of how the rather large stone that had sealed the tomb had been removed.

Verse 2. Notice that Mary makes the assumption that "they" have removed the stone and "they" have taken Jesus' body. This verse hints both at the existence of outsiders who would commit the sacrilege of robbing a grave and at a human way of explaining the empty tomb.

Verses 2 to 10. John doesn't explain why Mary goes to Simon Peter and the other disciple (nor where are the rest of the disciples). Then there are the odd but vivid details of the footrace to the tomb and of what the two disciples find and do.

Note that it is the other disciple, not Peter, who believes, and yet neither of them understands the scriptures that he must be raised from the dead. Belief and understanding are a multi-step process that is not automatic. At this point in the story, Peter is an example of those who see with their eyes and yet neither believe nor understand.

The male disciples go home, but Mary remains - weeping.

Is it a cheap shot at typical masculine behaviour to say, "Thank God for Mary," and her presence in this story?

Verses 11 to 18. When Mary looks in the tomb - unlike Peter and the other disciple - she is honoured by being given a vision of angels who engage her sorrow.

Again, she is honoured that in response to her statement / question, "I do not know where they have laid (Jesus' dead body)," she is given the answer by turning around and seeing the new body of Jesus - which she does not recognize at first, assuming Jesus to be a gardener.

Again Mary states her concern about where Jesus' body has been taken.

(Malina and Rohrbaugh explain that Mary's concern would be that the body be allowed the proper one year long purging / decaying / purification process so that the remaining bones can then be given a final burial in readiness to receive a new body at the time of the general resurrection. See footnote below, SSC on John, page 276-277.)

Click here to read my post on the text for Holy Saturday, John 19:38-42, for important background on why the resurrection on the third day (actually about 36 hours) is a vindication of the truth of Jesus' words and deeds.

It is crucial to understand that Jesus' resurrection is NOT just about "love is stronger than death," or "life beyond death," important though these may be. These truths could have been learned from the raising of Lazarus on the fourth day.

But because it is JESUS who is resurrected on the third day, it is Jesus' ministry that is vindicated.

Who Jesus was; what he stood for; it is these that are shown to be un-killable.

God's love for the world; God's desire for justice, peace, and well-being; these are stronger than the worst the world can do.

The exchange of Jesus speaking her name, and Mary calling Jesus, "Great One," is an expression of and a re-establishing of the relationship between Jesus-now-resurrected and Mary.

But unlike the later appearance to Thomas next week, Jesus' resurrected body cannot be touched because it has not yet ascended. (And even the story of Thomas does not say that Thomas actually does touch Jesus' body.)

As the Word descended from the Father and became flesh at the start of John's Gospel, Mary is experiencing the reverse process - of the flesh again becoming Word. A process that requires ascending to be completed. That is, just as once there was an embedding / joining from the spiritual realm into the earthly realm, so now there is an embedding / joining from the earthly realm into the spiritual realm.

(Click here to read my annual rant about why it is important to assert the actual reality of the resurrection.)

Jesus gives Mary a message to deliver to "my brothers" - a new status for the disciples. And again, an honour for Mary - to become an agent for Jesus-now-resurrected; to carry messages on his behalf.

Her announcement, "I have seen the Lord," inaugurates the post-resurrection era.

A happy and blessed Easter to everyone.

David Ewart,,
Short, easy to use, faith inspiring explanations of the meaning of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John for your sermon, homily, bible study, or reflection.

Note: Historical background information in this post is drawn primarily from Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Gospel of John, pages 278-281; and the writings of Amy-Jill Levine, et. al.

John 20:1-18 (NRSV)

   1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him." 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

   11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." 16 Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her. 

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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John 20:1-18 (The Message)

   1 Early in the morning on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone was moved away from the entrance. 2 She ran at once to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, breathlessly panting, "They took the Master from the tomb. We don't know where they've put him."

   3 Peter and the other disciple left immediately for the tomb. 4 They ran, neck and neck. The other disciple got to the tomb first, outrunning Peter. 5 Stooping to look in, he saw the pieces of linen cloth lying there, but he didn't go in. 6 Simon Peter arrived after him, entered the tomb, observed the linen cloths lying there, 7 and the kerchief used to cover his head not lying with the linen cloths but separate, neatly folded by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, the one who had gotten there first, went into the tomb, took one look at the evidence, and believed. 9 No one yet knew from the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead. 10 The disciples then went back home.

   11 But Mary stood outside the tomb weeping. As she wept, she knelt to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels sitting there, dressed in white, one at the head, the other at the foot of where Jesus' body had been laid. 13 They said to her, "Woman, why do you weep?"

   "They took my Master," she said, "and I don't know where they put him." 14 After she said this, she turned away and saw Jesus standing there. But she didn't recognize him.

   15 Jesus spoke to her, "Woman, why do you weep? Who are you looking for?"

      She, thinking that he was the gardener, said, "Mister, if you took him, tell me where you put him so I can care for him."

   16 Jesus said, "Mary."

      Turning to face him, she said in Hebrew, "Rabboni!" meaning "Teacher!"

   17 Jesus said, "Don't cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go to my brothers and tell them, 'I ascend to my Father and your Father, my God and your God.' "

   18 Mary Magdalene went, telling the news to the disciples: "I saw the Master!" And she told them everything he said to her. 

Scripture quotations from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

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