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Easter Sunday

Resurrection of the Lord

April 1, 2018

Easter Morning Service:

Psalm Reading OT Reading Epistle Reading Gospel Reading
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 Isaiah 25:6-9 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 or Acts 10:34-43 John 20:1-18 or Mark 16:1-8

Easter Evening Service (not Vespers):

Psalm Reading OT Reading Epistle Reading Gospel Reading
Psalm 114 Isaiah 25:6-9 1 Corinthians 5:6b-8 Luke 24:13-49 (Luke 24:13-35, Luke 24:14-43) (Luke 24) *

* commentary for these texts is in Year C readings

Commentary on the Texts

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

There is no Lectionary Commentary for this reading, but there is available a
Voice Bible Study on 1 Corinthians 15:1-34

1 Corinthians 5:6b-8

There is no Lectionary Commentary for this reading, but there is available a
Voice Bible Study on 1 Corinthians 4:1-5:13

John 20:1-18

(There is also a Voice Bible Study on John 19:16b-20:10 and John 20:11-21:25)

John's version of the Easter story in 20:1-18 reflects traditions that are also attested in the Synoptic Gospels. Note the following parallels:

v. 1a Early on the first day of the week, Matt 28:1; Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1
v. 1b Mary Magdalene at the tomb, Matt 28:1; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:10
v. 1c Stone removed from the tomb, Matt 28:2; Mark 16:4; Luke 24:2
v. 2 Empty tomb, Matt 28:6; Mark 16:6; Luke 24:3;
v. 6a Peter at the tomb, Luke 24:12
v. 6b Peter sees linen wrappings, Luke 24:12
v. 12 Vision of angels, Matt 28:2; Mark 16:5; Luke 24:4
v. 14 Jesus appears to Mary, Matt 28:9
v. 17a Mary holding on to Jesus, Matt 28:9
v. 17b Mary sent to the disciples to announce news, Matt 28:7; Mark 16:7
v. 18 Mary announces the news, Matt 28:8; Luke 24:9

These parallels do not necessarily mean that the Gospel of John was dependent on the Synoptic Gospels as sources. There is no scholarly consensus as to whether these gospels were available to the author of the Fourth Gospel. In fact, there is a fairly strong scholarly agreement that although the Fourth Gospel was written later than the other three gospels, it was written independently of them. Nevertheless, it is also clear that the author of the Fourth Gospel was familiar with traditions standing behind the gospels. The Easter story in John then reflects some of the same traditions that informed the other gospels.

On the other hand, the Easter story in John is told in such a way that theological motifs unique to John are clearly interwoven with the traditional strands. Johannine themes frequently emphasized throughout the Gospel appear in John's story of the resurrection as well. Note the following:

v. 2 Prominence of the disciple whom Jesus loved, 13:23; 21:20-23
v. 3 Association of Peter with the Beloved Disciple, 13:24; 18:15; 21:7
v. 8 The perceptiveness of the Beloved Disciple, 19:35; 21:7
v. 9 Lack of understanding on the part of the disciples prior to Jesus' resurrection, 2:22; 12:16
v. 17 Jesus ascending to the Father, 1:1, 18; 3:13; 6:62; 7:33; 12:32; 13:1, 3; 14:4, 28; 16:5; 17, 28; 17:11, 13

It should be obvious that John's unique theological and literary tendencies have left their mark on the resurrection account in 20:1-18, while at the same time it is equally clear that John has made use of traditions common to the other gospels. Now, this raises some interesting issues. First, John is faithful to the traditional accounts of the resurrection of Jesus that have come to him --the empty tomb, the appearance of angels, Mary Magdalene, and so on. On the other hand, John is at liberty to tell the resurrection story in his own way, bringing his own theological understanding, perspective and purpose to the accounts he has received. For example, John brings the Beloved Disciple into the traditional resurrection story. He observes that the disciples prior to the resurrection did not understand that Jesus must rise from the dead. He tells the story of Mary Magdalene and her encounter with the resurrected Lord. He includes a reference to the ascension, which is the culmination of the glorification that has been so prominent in the discourses of Jesus throughout the Gospel.

In some ways this liberty with which John tells the story of Jesus may create difficulties for modern readers no less than readers in the ancient church. How can two or three stories that have conflicting details be equally true? How many women were at the tomb? How many angels appeared? It is no wonder that a second century writer named Tatian decided to harmonize the four gospels into one gospel. The Syrian churches for a long time read in their worship services from this harmony, which was called Diatessaron, rather than from the individual gospels. The church at large, however, decided to reject Tatian's harmony of the gospels and canonize the four individual gospels as four different witnesses to Jesus, even if they conflicted with one another in their details of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

One of the unique characteristics of the resurrection story in John is the central place given to Mary Magdalene as a witness to the resurrected Lord. She is a witness not only to the resurrection of Jesus but also to his death (19:25). The Synoptic Gospels tell us that she along with the other women witnessed also the tomb where the body of Jesus was laid (Matt 27:61; Mark 15:47; Luke 23:55). She was a key witness to the final events in the life of Jesus.

But who is this Mary Magdalene? Unfortunately, our sources do not shed much light on this woman. Luke 8:1-3 tells us that Jesus had expelled seven demons from her and that she along with other women accompanied Jesus and the twelve disciples as they traveled through cities and villages proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. According to verse 3, these women were serving "them" out of their resources. There is some textual uncertainty about the pronoun. In some manuscripts the pronoun is singular ("him"), thus referring to Jesus. The Greek word for "serve" is diakoneo, which implies ministry. According to Mark 15:40-41 Mary Magdalene was one of the women who were at the cross and witnessed the death of Jesus. These women, Mark tells us, "used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee." The Greek word for "follow" is akoloutheo, which is the verb used to describe a disciple. Thus there is considerable evidence to support the proposition that Mary Magdalene was a faithful disciple.

The account in John tells us that Mary Magdalene was the first person to whom the resurrected Jesus appeared. She was a key witness to the resurrection of Jesus. Yet surprisingly Mary Magdalene is missing from the early tradition to which Paul refers in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, which gives us a list of people to whom Christ appeared after his resurrection. Peter is at the head of this list and there is no reference to the empty tomb or to Mary Magdalene. Even in the Gospel of John, which clearly makes Mary Magdalene the first person to see the resurrected Christ, there are elements in the Gospel that create certain tensions. For instance, John 21:14 tells us that "this was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead." That statement is made after the miraculous catch of fish when Jesus appeared to the disciples by Lake Tiberias. The first two appearances are presumably, first, to the disciples without Thomas, and then a week later to them with Thomas.

Why is the appearance to Mary Magdalene not mentioned? It is either that she is not considered a disciple or else that this appearance for some reason does not count. This is particularly puzzling because the Gospel of John actually treats women with the greatest dignity. The Samaritan woman (John 4) and Martha (John 11) are among the few in the Gospel who confess Jesus to be the Messiah.

According to Luke 24:10-12, Mary Magdalene and the other women come and tell the apostles about the empty tomb and the announcement of the angels. Luke says that the women's words "seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them." Yet Peter apparently believes them and runs to the tomb, looks in, and is amazed.

Two apocryphal gospels, the Gospel of Peter and the Gospel of Thomas, also mention Mary Magdalene. The Gospel of Peter identifies her as "a disciple of the Lord." She and the other women go to the tomb and they see a youth (presumably an angel) seated in the middle of the tomb. When he talks to them and tells them that Jesus is risen, they are frightened and flee. In contrast, the Gospel of John indicates no fear at all on Mary's part. The Gospel of Thomas, a Gnostic gospel, also mentions Mary at the very end of the book. Simon Peter says, "Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life." Jesus says, "I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven."

It seems reasonable to conclude from this brief discussion that Mary Magdalene was indeed a disciple of Jesus and a witness to his resurrection. But in a patriarchal culture that devalued the testimony of women and in the face of opponents who debunked the resurrection of Jesus, the Christian tradition was somewhat uneasy about a woman being the first witness of the resurrection and therefore muted it. Yet in spite of such tendentious muting, John includes this remarkable story of Mary Magdalene as the first witness of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Another unique feature in the Gospel of John in general and the resurrection story in 20:1-18 in particular is the role of the Beloved Disciple and his relationship to Peter. As mentioned earlier, the Beloved Disciple must have had a significant role in the Johannine community and appears at significant points in the Gospel. He is first mentioned in the account of the Last Supper in 13:24. He is the disciple who was reclining next to Jesus and in response to Peter's request asks Jesus who it was that was going to betray Jesus. This is the disciple that was known to the high priest and after Jesus' arrest he follows Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest (18:15). When he sees that Peter is delayed at the gate, the Beloved Disciple speaks with the woman who was guarding the gate and brings Peter in.

When Jesus is on the cross, he entrusts his mother to the Beloved Disciple (19:26-27). The author of the Gospel attests to the truthfulness of the Beloved Disciple's witness concerning Christ (19:35). It is the Beloved Disciple who recognizes the resurrected Lord on the shore of Lake Tiberias and says to Peter, "It is the Lord!" (21:7). After the dialogue between Jesus and Peter in John 21, which ends with the statement of Jesus indicating what kind of death Peter will experience, Peter looks at the Beloved Disciple and asks, "What about him?" Jesus says, "If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!" (21:20-22). The Gospel writer comments that the rumor spread in the community that this disciple would not die. The writer clarifies that Jesus did not say that he would not die, but, "If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?" (21:23).

Finally, at the very end of the Gospel there is another endorsement of the Beloved Disciple. In 21:24 the author of the Gospel attests to the reliability of the Beloved Disciple's witness in these words: "This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true."

Several things should be noted about the role of the Beloved Disciple in the Gospel of John. First, the Gospel never makes explicit the identity of the Beloved Disciple. Although traditionally the Beloved Disciple has been identified with John the son of Zebedee, there is no indication of it at all in the Gospel. This may be because the Johannine community knew who the Beloved Disciple was. He had a crucial role in the formation, identity and history of the Johannine church.

Secondly, the statement at the end of the Gospel (21:24) that "this is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true," is made by someone other than the Beloved Disciple. The same can be said about the parenthetical statement in 19:35. There is therefore a clear indication that the authorship of the Gospel of John was a complex process rather than simply the product of one person such as the Beloved Disciple. No doubt the Beloved Disciple had a key role in the earlier stages of the formation of the Johannine tradition. However, it is also clear that other hands were involved in the further development of the Gospel after the death of the Beloved Disciple. The comment in 21:20-23, alluded to earlier, that Jesus did not say that the Beloved Disciple would not die indicates that he had already died. All of chapter 21 in fact may be an addition to the Gospel that had originally ended at the conclusion of chapter 20. It could very well be that chapter 21 is an appendix added to the original composition after the death of the Beloved Disciple. If so, chapter 20:30-31 was at one time the conclusion to the Gospel.

Third, in nearly all of the references to the Beloved Disciple there is also a reference to Peter. Not only that, but the Beloved Disciple is almost always favored over Peter. Thus, for example, at the Last Supper the Beloved Disciple is reclining next to Jesus. Peter motions to him to ask Jesus who it was that was going to betray him. Peter is not as close to Jesus as the Beloved Disciple. After Jesus' arrest, the Beloved Disciple has to vouch for Peter to get him past the woman who was guarding the gate. And in chapter 21, there is likewise a comparison between Peter and the Beloved Disciple: how is it that Peter must suffer a violent death whereas the Beloved Disciple apparently dies a natural death after a long life?

The Gospel of John recognizes the leading role of Peter in the first-century church. Peter who, according to tradition, suffered martyrdom in Rome was recognized as the chief of the apostles and later would be considered the first pope by the Roman Catholic Church. The Johannine community also recognized Peter's leading role in the church at large. However, the Johannine community was also aware that the key person to whom they as a Christian community owed their existence and identity was the witness that the Beloved Disciple bore to the Lord in their midst.

That brings us to our text in chapter 20 and to the two figures of Peter and the Beloved Disciple in the resurrection story. Note how delicately Peter and the Beloved Disciple are portrayed here. First, it is obvious that Peter has a leading role. Peter is named first in verses 2 and 3, and the Beloved Disciple is named second. They both run to the tomb, in a foot race as it were, but the Beloved Disciple outruns Peter and reaches the tomb first (v. 4).

Now at this point the story becomes interesting. It's as if the author of the Gospel is wanting to say something as sensitively as possible. The Beloved Disciple arrives at the tomb, bends down to look in, and sees the linen wrappings, but he does not go in (v. 5). Then Peter arrives, "following" the Beloved Disciple, and he goes into the tomb, and he sees the linen wrappings lying there, and the head cloth rolled up in a place by itself (vv. 6-7). Then the Beloved Disciple, "who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed" (v. 8). The author of the Gospel recognizes the Christian tradition that Peter was the first one to go into the tomb of Jesus and to see the empty tomb. Yet the Beloved Disciple had already taken a peek inside the tomb, but without going in. So neither Peter nor the Beloved Disciple is slighted. They are both recognized as having a key role in the Christian movement. However, the statement that the Beloved Disciple, "who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed" in verse 8 is most significant for the Gospel writer. We are not told whether Peter believed, but we are told unmistakably that the Beloved Disciple believed.

So what does all of this have to do with the resurrection of Jesus Christ? What difference does it make who arrived first and who arrived second? What difference does it make who saw first and who saw second? Is not the important thing the reality of Christ's resurrection? Is it possible that the Gospel writer has unwittingly (or perhaps intentionally?!) invited us as readers to enter into such a dialogue with the text? If the above analysis is correct, it appears that the writer of this Gospel has painstakingly described the roles that these two disciples of the Lord would play in the emerging Christian movement. The story of the resurrection must be told. But it cannot be told without the human characters who will play key roles as witnesses. For the Gospel of John everything must ultimately point to the resurrected Lord rather than to this or that person who had a role in the telling of the story. Thus the author states the purpose of the Gospel in 20:31 in these words: "These are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and through believing you may have life in his name."

It is true that the Beloved Disciple has seen the linen wrappings and the head cloth and has come to realize that this was not the work of a grave robber; otherwise, why would these cloths be left undisturbed? Such a sight had led the Beloved Disciple to faith that Christ has been raised from the dead. But we cannot read this without keeping in mind the story of Thomas a few paragraphs further down. When Thomas hears reports of resurrection appearances, he says that he would not believe unless he put his fingers in the wounds of Jesus. Jesus grants him his wish and appears a second time among the disciples and invites Thomas to put his hand in the wounds and says to him, "Do not doubt but believe." At that point Thomas exclaims, "My Lord and my God!" Then Jesus says, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe" (20:24-29). So whether it is Thomas or Peter or even the Beloved Disciple, they all have seen the evidence, the empty grave, the grave clothes, and even the wounds in the hands and side of Jesus and have believed. The real beatitude from Jesus is for those who have not seen and yet have come to believe. That includes all of us who can never be part of that first generation of witnesses.

The statement in verse 9 that "as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead" is interesting after the statement that the Beloved Disciple believed (v. 8). But it should come as no surprise. This implies that neither Peter nor the Beloved Disciple, nor any of the other disciples for that matter, anticipated the resurrection of Jesus. It came as a total surprise because they did not understand the scripture. But what scripture does John have in mind? Here scripture is singular, which would normally mean a specific passage of scripture. Yet John does not quote an Old Testament scripture. So we are left wondering whether he has a specific scripture in mind or if he means scripture as a whole.

Peter's Pentecost sermon in Acts 2 quotes Psalm 16:8-11, which would suggest that this Psalm was used in early Christianity as an Old Testament prophecy of Christ's resurrection. Whether or not John has Psalm 16 in mind is difficult to say. My hunch is that John is thinking of the testimony of all of scripture rather than a particular passage. This would be in keeping with Luke's account of Jesus' exposition of the scriptures (plural) to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (24:25-27) and later to the whole group of disciples in 24:44-47, and also Paul's reference to Christ's resurrection on the third day being "in accordance with the scriptures" (1 Cor 15:4).

Perhaps a more important issue that the statement in John 20:9 raises is what it says to us about the nature of Old Testament prophecy and its fulfillment in Christ. It is only after the disciples' experience of these events in the life of Christ that they come to a new understanding of the Old Testament scriptures. This means then that the Old Testament prophecies are not straightforward, precise predictions of future events. Otherwise, how do we explain the disciples' lack of understanding? Rather, it is from the perspective of the new thing that has happened in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that early Christians begin to look at the old scriptures with a new lens. And conversely, their understanding of the Christ event is informed, interpreted and enriched by their new understanding of their scriptures.

The final point of this resurrection story unique to John is the encounter of Mary Magdalene with the resurrected Lord and the ensuing dialogue. The fact that she does not recognize him at first but mistakes him for the gardener is not unique. The two disciples on the Emmaus road in Luke 24 do not recognize Jesus either. What is unique about John's account of Mary Magdalene is what Jesus says to her when she has either held on to him or was about to. Jesus says 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'" (v. 17). The Greek of the verb, "do not hold on," is present imperative, which implies continuous action and may be translated, "do not continue to hold on to me." Mary's relationship to Jesus can no longer be the same as it was in his earthly life before his death.

The next clause, "because I have not yet ascended to the Father," causes considerable difficulty. It implies that it would be all right to touch him after he has ascended to the Father. Why can't Mary touch Jesus but a few verses down Thomas is not only allowed but also commanded to touch Jesus? Some commentators have suggested that between the encounter of Mary with Jesus and that of Thomas the ascension will have taken place. But if that were John's understanding of the ascension, he surely would not have left such an important event up to the reader's inference.

C. K. Barrett suggests that the clause, "because I have not yet ascended to the Father," should be related to the next clause, "But go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father . . .'." That is, Jesus is telling Mary that even though he has not yet ascended to the Father, he is about to do so and he wants Mary to make that announcement to the disciples even before the event has taken place.

John's understanding of the ascension of Jesus is not quite the same as that of Luke in Acts 1. Luke's understanding is that the ascension takes place forty days after the resurrection and he describes it in realistic, visible, temporal and spatial language. Then ten days after that the Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost. We must not impose Luke's language on John. In John the resurrection of Jesus and the coming of the Spirit both occur on Easter Sunday (20:22). The resurrection and ascension of Jesus and the coming of the Spirit in John cannot be conceptualized in terms of time lapse. John is describing a reality that cannot be placed within the confines of space and time. For that reason Mary can no longer touch Jesus, nor can anyone else. After the resurrection-ascension-Pentecost the disciples of Jesus must experience the presence of Jesus in a different way than they did before the death of Jesus. That is exactly what Jesus says to Thomas--"Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe" (20:29).

Jesus tells Mary to tell his disciples that he is ascending, that is, he is about to ascend, "to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God." A question may be raised here about God's relationship to Jesus and God's relationship to the disciples. Are these two different relationships or are they the same? On one hand, there is the recognition in the Gospel of John that Jesus is the eternal Word, who was with God, and was God (1:1). He and the Father are one (10:30, 38). On the other hand, Jesus gives believers power to become children of God, who are born not of the flesh or the will of man but of God (1:12-13). That is why Jesus calls his disciples "my brothers." This understanding of God's relationship to Jesus and to the followers of Jesus agrees with the statement in 20:21, 23: "As the Father has sent me, so I send you... If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

Preaching Paths

This resurrection story tells not so much what happened to Jesus or how the resurrection took place but who were the witnesses to the resurrected Lord. A related question that this passage raises is how to tell the resurrection story. Is there only one way to tell it? Or can it be told in a variety of ways, depending on who is telling it? Is it simply a tradition of the past that we glibly and halfheartedly mumble or parrot? Is it a story that we read and recite as sacred text but without anchoring ourselves squarely in the middle of it? Or is it of such cosmic significance that our whole existence, experience and identity are wrapped up in the way we tell the story? This is not to suggest that we change the resurrection accounts in the New Testament to make them fit our own worldviews, tendencies, experiences, desires and wishes. Rather, it is to suggest that we plug our own story into the resurrection story that has come down to us from long ago. Thus, under the illuminating guidance of the Spirit, this "old, old story" must continually become the good news that addresses us where we are. It must become our story.

For the Johannine community the life and witness of the Beloved Disciple was pivotal. Thus the Beloved disciple has such a central role in the way the Easter story itself is told. No other gospel writer says anything about a Beloved Disciple. The Johannine community cannot tell the resurrection story without planting the Beloved Disciple squarely in the middle of it. At the same time, John cannot tell the story without saying something about Peter, even though Peter's role in the Johannine community was probably not as pivotal as that of the Beloved Disciple. Peter cannot be simply written off the script. He has become larger than life in the Christian tradition and the church at large, and John knows that and acknowledges it. And it is because of this knowledge that our writer involves not only the Beloved Disciple but also Peter. No one else can tell the story this way because no one else has a Beloved Disciple as part of its history as a community of faith. Peter may have entered the tomb of Jesus first, but it is the Beloved Disciple who is the first to believe.

This resurrection story acknowledges that the response to the Christ event may vary from one Christian to another. Peter unhesitatingly enters the tomb. The Beloved Disciple is more cautious, but once he enters the tomb and sees the undisturbed grave clothes, his perceptiveness leads to faith in the resurrection. Mary on the other hand is outside weeping and will experience the resurrection of Jesus yet another way. It is no wonder then that there is not a single gospel written but four. Indeed, more than four. There is also the preaching of Paul, and James, and Hebrews, and the rest of the New Testament. In spite of the central reality of the resurrection of Jesus, the story can be told in so many different ways because the resurrection is not merely a fact of history but a reality that is experienced existentially by believers in a wide variety of ways. The Beloved Disciple believes when he sees the abandoned linen wrappings. Mary believes when she hears the Lord call her name. Thomas believes when he is given a chance to put his fingers in the nail-scarred hands of Jesus. The two disciples on the Emmaus road believe when Jesus breaks the bread. How do I believe? How do you believe?

John feels free to make use of the traditions that have come down to him. But he does not blindly or rigidly bind himself to a story of the past. He retells the story in his own way because it has penetrated his very being as well as the very life of the community of believers among whom he is articulating the gospel. Let us then ask ourselves, How will the story of the resurrection of Jesus be told today? What difference will it make in the nitty-gritty of life for us as individual believers and as a church in our kind of world? Why do we need the Easter story?

The reason we need the Easter story is that it provides the possibility of a future for those who have lost hope. People who have faced the cul-de-sacs of life have nowhere to go. Where would the disciples go when their hopes were shattered at Golgotha? When that marriage is dead, when that cancer takes its toll, when calamity strikes, when gang warfare or bombs claim the lives of loved ones, can there be a tomorrow? When our hopes are dashed to pieces and our nerve has failed, can anyone restore the music? The resurrection story gives us God's "Yes!" in the face of life's darkest moments. When seen this way, the resurrection of Jesus is not simply a creed that we recite, as important as that is. It is not merely a story that we read from the pages of a holy book written long ago, even though we must faithfully recite the scriptures. It is God's address to us as we face life in our present circumstances. The Gospel of John bears witness to the possibility of taking the old, old story and retelling it in such a way that it becomes our own story, the living story of a community of believers. The resurrected Lord calls Mary by name, and her tears turn to an exclamatory "Rabbouni!" Teacher! Of course, the resurrected Lord is much more than a teacher, as she will soon find out. But the mere recognition of the presence of the resurrected Christ turns this woman's tears into a triumphal shout.

Fanny Crosby penned these memorable words:

Down in the human heart, crushed by the tempter,
Feelings lie buried that grace can restore.
Touched by a loving heart, wakened by kindness,
Chords that are broken will vibrate once more.

Jesus manifests himself to Mary Magdalene, and she becomes the first witness to the resurrection of Christ. The Christian community in a patriarchal culture struggled with a woman being a witness of the living Lord. Yet the Gospel of John as well as the Synoptic Gospels tell us in so many words that a woman's witness does count! It may jar cultural sensibilities, but the church of Jesus Christ ought to be the place where people can find the freedom to transcend cultural boundaries and limitations and fulfill God's design and purpose for the individual and the corporate body of the church.

Mary Magdalene must learn to dismantle old categories that she had been used to and accept a new paradigm of faith and a new responsibility as a disciple of Jesus. Her relationship to Jesus will no longer be one of physical sight or touch. She must learn to experience the daily presence of Christ through the mediating work of Another Comforter, the Spirit of truth that Christ will send. She will have to bear witness to what she has seen and heard, in spite of cultural barriers. Will she hang on to the old ways, or will she launch into this new adventure of faith?

But a word of caution is necessary. The word of Jesus to Mary Magdalene and to all the disciples does not mean that the Spirit becomes a substitute for Jesus. The Spirit comes to bear witness to Christ, never usurping the place of Christ the Son or God the Father. If the Holy Spirit is made the prime focus, all sorts of unbridled excesses can result from it. We would do well to heed the collective judgment of the church expressed in the early creeds of Christianity, namely, that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. Our pneumatology must always be christocentric and theocentric.

The resurrection and exaltation of Jesus to the right hand of the majesty of God the Father does not strain his relationship with the disciples. On the contrary, it makes the relationship even more precious. Jesus calls the disciples his brothers (and sisters). In the farewell discourses he calls them friends rather than servants or slaves. "I do not call you servants any longer," he says, "because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father" (15:15).

As John Wesley would put it later, is our faith that of a slave or is it the faith of a child of God? In the prayer of John 17 Jesus asks the Father concerning the disciples that just as "you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world" (17:21-24). The question then for us is whether we have entered into such a relationship with God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit that is beyond the faith of a slave. This is the faith of a daughter or son of God.

-Jirair Tashjian, Copyright © 2017, Jirair Tashjian
and The Christian Resource Institute, All Rights Reserved
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