It’s the day the grave stands open. The stone has been rolled away. Life shouts from the depths that death is conquered. Death’s sting has been removed.
And yet … this year death’s sting has been so present. Heaven has become more precious and more beautiful but sorrow has been close at hand. Rejoice in the middle of grief and sorrow – yes! Write about it – that may be why this post has felt like it just would not come.
Early 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. 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!” So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) John 20:1-9 emphasis added
Grief and loss is always magnified in the dark. More times than I can count, “It will all look better in the morning,” has been a phrase that I have heard. And yet this was early in the morning and all looked bleak. Hope had not risen in the minds and hearts of those who loved Jesus. Rather they grieved deeply, believing all to be lost.
With the stone removed, I can completely understand why Mary Magdalene jumped to the conclusions she did. The stone was massive, requiring significant force to move it. She had come to grieve. The stone should have been in place in front of the tomb. Little makes sense in the midst of deep grief. Her confusion makes perfect sense. In her mind an empty tomb did not equal a risen Saviour but instead thievery of the worst and lowest order. Rather than being relieved, in that moment, grief multiplied.
I love that two disciples listened to Mary Magdalene. They could have ignored her. Attributed her comments to useless drivel. Ruled out her perspective because of her gender. But they listened, they must have questioned the story because they went to check it out. And they weren’t content to just stand on the edge and be bystanders. They went in, the took in the scene, they demanded answers.
They got it in a piece of linen. I’ve always been intrigued by John’s reference to a specific piece of fabric. The cloth that covered Jesus face was by itself, folded up, a sign. A napkin or a serviette serves a specific purpose. It’s meant to get dirty, covered with the bits of a meal from sticky fingers and a messy mouth. It might mop up a spill or attempt to blot a stain. Jesus gave His friends a clue from the traditions of a meal. A crumpled napkin at the end of the meal signified that the host was finished eating, all that was left to be done was to clean up and put everything away. The folded napkin, that clue told the servants and guests at the table that while the host had been called away, it was a temporary departure. The host would be returning to reclaim their spot at the table because the banquet was not complete. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen.
I need constant reminders of Jesus presence. I cling to them as anchor points throughout the journey that my feet have found themselves on. It would be too easy to live a hopeless life, surrendering to the tides of discouragement and despair that threaten to swamp me. But the promises of Jesus are too numerous to ignore. His physical body does not walk the journey with me. But He is with me. The Holy Spirit continues to guide each step. The journey of my life is not complete, much more is yet to be written and discovered. And He has promised that He will not abandon me. Rather, He will walk each moment with me guiding and directing, calling and reminding, because His plan is far more than I could ever imagine. He’s left many obvious reminders but I take great comfort in a folded piece of linen – He is not finished! He is coming back! Christ is risen indeed!