John 20:1-18 – Easter Sunday – for Sunday, April 16, 2017
“Early in the morning of the first day of the week, while it was still dark . . .” (John 20:1)
Before Easter became Easter, it was a moment and movement of shadows. There was dashed hope and incredulity, simmering anger and personal regrets, sweet memories and a bitter future, and a splintering of once brash and committed disciples that were—again—fearful, hesitant, self-doubting individuals.
Some disciples had fled. One had deceived. All trembled.
The Beloved Disciple (the “one whom Jesus loved”) bent down to gaze at where Jesus had been laid.
Until now, his eyes had seen everything, from the first unexpected call to discipleship by the backcountry preacher, to the towns and villages with miracles, healings, parables, and tender mercies.
Many were stunned by Jesus’ wisdom, with so many lives transformed through his message: the wayward and wounded, the ill and the ill-begotten, the women and children, the poor and the rich, the whores and tax collectors, the haters and lovers, the strong and silent, the young and elderly, the forgotten and the cursed.
But then came Jerusalem.
The chief priests whispered and plotted.
Lies. Schemes. Bribes offered, bribes taken.
The diffident Romans were manipulated into brutal action.
And then a trial that was a comedy or a comedy that was a travesty, swiftly followed by a punishment ending in a cross, a tomb, and now . . .
The light had left. The brightest and best words, those gracious acts of forgiveness, those precious times of mercy, those hallowed moments of joyous laughter, those raucous encounters with the blind that had suddenly seen and the deaf that had abruptly heard and the lonely and lost who had been finally found had all, with the thud of a hammer against a nail, with a nail penetrating flesh and bone, seemed like some cruel joke from a faraway past.
The Beloved Disciple hesitated.
Behind him, Mary waited. Why was she always more confident than any of the others?
Beside him, Peter seemed as tense as one of the Roman Centurion’s stallions about to charge into battle. Why could Peter, with his faults and failures and foibles, always recover and reclaim belief?
The Beloved Disciple felt more like the Dreadful Disciple; may God forgive him, he was afraid to enter.
Then Peter, with his ragged breath and slumped shoulders, stumbled by and entered the tomb.
Should he let Peter come out and tell him what to prepare for?
Should he let Mary also enter the tomb so that—again—he could lean on her calm demeanor and steady faith?
What if he entered the tomb and only saw dried blood and more futility? What if he entered the tomb and there, in the deepest shadows, was the broken body, made worse in the gloom by the actions of grave robbers? What if he entered this evil cave and only heard the grim echoes of his own doubts, delusions, and denials?
What if . . .
Before Easter became Easter, all the Beloved Disciple saw, all that he knew, all that he could guess, was shrouded in shadows.
How much the past can inspire us!
How much the past can conspire against us.
He could see the linen clothes lying there.
There was no body.
And yet, Peter’s eyes weren’t his eyes. And yet, Mary’s hopes weren’t his hopes. It was up to him now.
The disciple who Jesus loved entered the tomb. Entered the darkness. Entered the shadows. Entered into a future.
Did he believe because of what he saw, or of what he didn’t see? Because of promises made? Because of mercies and healings and miracles of the past? Because just enough of his fear had truly been replaced by just enough of his faith?
Every place that mattered up until had been with Jesus. From feeding a hungry crowd with food (and more than food), to viewing Lazarus leaving his tomb, to standing alongside Jesus’ mother and witnessing her child—his beloved friend—bleed from a cross, everything had been for, because of, and with Jesus.
Now the Beloved Disciple was on his own.
Now he believed in his heart of hearts, that he would never be alone again. If he could claim the courage to leave this last tomb, and if he risked the courage to live a life of forgiving others and serving others and sharing God’s love, he would be fully alive.
But he had to leave.
And he did.
Not for Peter, not for Mary, but on his own, and for Christ’s sake.
Outside, forever and ever, the dark had faded. Evil had limits; love, none. Above, the leaves on the trees shimmered, and below each blade of grass glowed a green flame.
Light revealed the newborn morning.
With dawn dappled in bright hope, Easter became Easter.