by Levi Jones
It was the first day of the week. Darkness swallowed up the landscape, the stars and the moon. The air was crisp with the morning chill. Dew clung to the grass. She stumbled along the familiar worn path in the dark. She knew the way, though any stranger would have found it difficult, if not impossible, to follow in this inky black night. The shadows of the night hid her drawn face, the baggy eyes red from grief. She had cried until her tears had dried up like a river in the desert. Her heart felt like that desert, blistered from the scorching sun.
Her stomach growled, but she didn’t seem to notice. She had hardly put food or drink to her mouth. Her tongue was parched, but she paid no heed to her body. Her body… His body… Jesus’ body. The Romans were masters at destroying the body. They had beat Jesus relentlessly, screaming at him to testify to which one had struck him. They placed a purple robe upon his shoulders mocking his claim to kingship. They wove a wreath of thorns, forcefully shoving it down on his brow. His hair matted with blood and sweat. The thorns dug deep into the skin, rivulets of blood running down his face like red streams.
His body… Jesus’ body… The soldiers had stripped him of his clothes, pummeling him with rods and a whip. The whip was especially cruel, digging into the flesh, ripping skin and muscle. His back crisscrossed with the lashes, his breathing gasped and shuddered. His hands shook, his body convulsed… and still they spit upon him and mocked him as their physical torture continued.
The lump returned to the woman’s throat. It had refused to leave her as the grotesque visions would flash before her again and again and again. She had followed him as he carried the beams of wood that would serve as his death sentence. She saw Jesus’ eyes as the soldiers laid him upon the cross and began to pound the nails into his wrist. Pain shot through them. Then, something like pity replaced the pain. Three nails driven into hands and feet. The cross was raised into place with a sudden jolt as it slipped into its hole.
She tried to wash the barrage of images assaulting her mind, returning to her surroundings again as she trekked toward the place where his body had been laid. Jesus’ body… She recalled his hands and his smiling eyes. He had come to her when she was in the darkest place of her life, possessed by seven demons. Jesus had touched her, healed her, set her free! The darkness had lifted. He had shown her love and friendship that nobody had shown her before. He had welcomed her as one of his own. She had been so overwhelmed by his kindness that she wept and bowed at his feet. The tears fell on his feet and she gently wiped them with her hair. The expensive perfume that was her life savings and future, she poured out upon his feet. Those eating with Jesus were indignant and shouted at her. But, Jesus had said that it was a beautiful thing…
Her breath caught. It had been a beautiful thing to experience such freedom, joy, and love. But, that had all been taken away as Jesus breathed his last on Friday. She had prayed that he would save himself; that angels would sweep down to save him. But, she had witnessed him exhale and slump over. She had watched the soldiers remove his body from the wood beams. She watched Joseph and Nicodemus take the body for burial and prepare it. Even after two sleepless nights, two nightmarish days where her whole world had fallen apart… she couldn’t help but wanting to be where Jesus was. She was going to the place where they had buried the body… Jesus’ body.
She rounded the corner, entering the garden where the tomb was located. Coming upon where the stone should have covered the tomb, she realized that the giant boulder had been pushed back – no small task. Perhaps it had been robbers. Or, maybe the Jewish leaders or the Roman soldiers had returned to desecrate the body further. Jesus’ body. She turned and ran, fearful of what this might mean.
She ran to where John and Peter were and told them of her discovery. They leapt out the door, running for the tomb. She arrived just as the two disciples were walking back out of the tomb’s entrance. They didn’t say anything. Their faces looked bewildered. She stood at the door’s entrance weeping. Peter and John slowly walked back home. She just stood there bitterly weeping that the body her Lord was gone. Jesus’ body…
Moments passed. The sky was beginning to pale with the promise of dawn’s rising sun. Everything looked gray and bleak. She stooped to look into the tomb one more time to see where the body had laid… Jesus’ body…
There, where the body should have been, two men dressed in white were sitting. One perched where the head had been. The other reclined where the feet had been. They questioned her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Wasn’t it obvious!? This was a tomb, not a living room! She groaned, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”
Grief washed over her again; she turned to walk away. There was no hope of finding him here. There was another man standing in front of her. She was startled to find the gardener here at this time. This man asked her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Why did everyone keep asking these ridiculous questions!? Come on, Sherlock, check the clue! Supposing this man to be the gardener, she begged, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
There was something vaguely familiar about this man. The dawn’s light was now glowing bright over the edge of the horizon. What had appeared gray and shadowy was now springing to life with the vibrant colors of the morning. The man considered her for a moment, then spoke again, calling to her, “Mary.”
Her heart dropped. Her knees nearly buckled. She knew that voice. She recognize that face and those hands! Mary could see the healed wounds of Friday in his wrists feet, and face. She knew the face of Jesus. He walked, he breathed, he spoke. His body… Jesus’ body stood before her!
Waves of joy swept over her. “My dear teacher!” she cried. She clutched him, hugging him with everything that she had. She wouldn’t let go… never again. She clung to him even as the dew still clung to the grass. Tears streamed freely down her face. His hug released, but she couldn’t let go. He spoke gently 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.’”
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.
John’s Gospel begins Jesus’ story before the beginning of the world: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it… He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.”
Jesus is the Wisdom of God by which the entire world has been created. To put it another way, Jesus is the logic of Creation. Creation makes sense in light of Jesus. He embodies, lives out, what God intends the Creation to be. Namely, it is to live as a reflection of God’s holy love. It is to live in right relationship with God. This was the purpose from the very beginning.
Humanity was created and entrusted with the great responsibility of caring for the Creation. Humanity was made in the image of God to be good caretakers of the Creation, to help it flourish, to cultivate its life. But, as we might recall, humanity rejected God and is plunged, with all of Creation, into darkness, plunged into Death. We hated the Light, so we snuffed it out.
Our rejection of God was not a one-time act. It is the ongoing story of the world filled with darkness and death. We are surrounded by it. It is the air we breathe. We swim in it. We swallow it. We speak it. We live it. It’s in our very bones, in our very bodies. Good Friday and the crucifixion of God in Jesus, depicts the depth of our hatred of the Light and our rejection of God. We love the darkness and we killed the Light.
In the shadows of the dark night of the soul… in the dark night of Creation, we stand, like Mary, before the grave in the dead of night. We stand in the darkness hating that darkness, but sitting in despair as we find no escape from its pull, swallowed up by hopelessness, wondering if there can be anything truly different than sin and death. The futility of the grave overwhelms us. We stare into the tomb, recognizing just how broken, sinful, and dead we really are.
Think of the brokenness in your own life and you will see the tomb. The lies. The deceit. The hatred. The bitterness. The fornication. The lust. The fear. The anger. The violence. The heated words. The physical altercations. The disobedience. The pride. The gossip. The substance abuse. The addictions. The greed. The despair. We are surrounded and enveloped by the darkness of our hearts… and we love it!
We put a good face on it. We rationalize why we are the way we are. We try to convince ourselves it’s not that bad, we don’t need help, we’ve got everything under control. Sometimes we argue the other way. We can’t help it. We have no choice. Even worse, we will justify our actions because of other people’s sinful actions – “If we don’t defend our rights, then who will?” Try as we might to avoid the confrontation with death and the grave, there it stands – open, empty, and waiting for us. The tomb reminds us: “The wages of sin is death.” There we stand… at the mouth of the grave… this is the place where our bodies of death will lead us.
John 1 hints at a turn of events: “But.” There’s the Gospel in one word! This word alerts us to something new, something different happening in our midst. “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” By taking humanity into himself, Christ has reconciled God and humanity to each other.
God was not content to leave the Creation to its downward spiral into the Grave. God did not wash his hands of us or the Creation. No! Much more than that! God entered the very Creation. Once again, the Gardener is cultivating the life of Creation for life. And, it happens because God enters into the Creation, taking the Creation into himself. John 1 tells us that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. God got into the Creation and the Creation was taken up into God.
When Christ was crucified on Golgotha, he exclaimed, “It is finished!” After this, he breathed his last, he gave up his spirit. Jesus exhaled the entirety of himself, the entirety of his life, into the Creation so that by his death we might have life. Even as the Spirit, the breath of God, breathed life into the Creation at the beginning, now, the Gardener was again breathing his life back into the Creation – back into us! Having given up his very life, like a seed, Christ was buried in the ground and Resurrection was the harvest.
Resurrection, then, is the power of God’s New Creation. Jesus being raised from the dead to die no more is the first-fruits of this New Creation. You notice that it says Mary went to the tomb on the first day of the week… that’s the first day of Creation. Now, it’s the first day of the New Creation. Resurrection is the seed of Christ blooming into life, conquering death, and placing everything under his dominion!
Jesus becomes the first harvest, the first fruit of new life. Death no longer holds dominion. The Grave no longer has its power, nor its sting. Death swallowed up Life only to discover that Life had swallowed up Death! The tyranny of sin, darkness, and death was nailed to the Cross, but it is in the Resurrection that all things are made new.
St. Irenaeus writes:
“…The Word has saved what was created – namely, humanity which had perished. He accomplished this by taking it unto himself and seeking its salvation. The thing which had perished had flesh and blood. The Lord, taking dust from the earth, formed humanity; and it was for humanity that all the dispensation of the Lord’s advent took place. He himself therefore had flesh and blood, so that he could recapitulate in himself, not something else, but the original handiwork of the Father, seeking out what had perished. And because of this the apostle, in the Letter to the Colossians, says, ‘And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him’… He says, ‘You have been reconciled in his fleshly body,’ because his righteous flesh has reconciled that flesh which was kept in bondage to sin and brought it into friendship with God” (Irenaeus on the Christian Faith, 166).
God through Christ Jesus became what we are so that through Christ Jesus we might become everything that God is by nature.
When the risen Jesus stands before Mary, he sees a woman still standing in the dark, still looking into the void of the tomb. He sees a woman consumed with the fear of Death and the Grave. But, he calls to her, “Mary.” It is in that moment that Mary recognizes Jesus. Jesus’ light dawns upon her, dispelling her darkness. Her encounter with the risen Jesus opens up for her the possibility of receiving the New Creation life which is found in the body of Jesus.
The risen Christ stands in our midst this Easter morning. The Grave of Friday still looms large in our minds… we are standing in the shadow of night. The dawn of God’s new day and New Creation calls our name. He calls us out of our darkness and into his marvelous light. Jesus calls for us to put to death the old man or woman who clings to the darkness, whose deeds reflect the darkness. Jesus stands calling our name, each one, offering us Resurrection Life – calling us away from the tomb.
We have sometimes been quite confused as to what we mean when we talk about salvation and resurrection. Some have understood it to be a ticket to heaven, a get-out-of-jail-free card, an escape from this world. We have tended to talk about salvation and resurrection as a day when “I’ll Fly Away” and be whisked off to some clouded heaven and away from this Creation. But, God is buried in the dirt of Creation. His life-blood seeps into the soil. Even all the Creation will be healed by his wounds, revived by his dying breath, his exhaling the Spirit.
Irenaeus again is helpful in understanding the gravity of what we have been given in the resurrection. He writes:
“The maker of all things, the Word of God, the one who formed humankind from the beginning, when he found his handiwork impaired by wickedness, worked all kinds of healing in it. Sometimes he has done so for individuals, who are his handiwork; at other times, he has done so for all, to restore humanity sound and complete in all points, working to make humankind whole for himself, in preparation for the resurrection” (Irenaeus on the Christian Faith, 165).
In other words, Jesus lived, embodied, and enacted in his own body and life, the original purpose of humanity – to glorify God; to live as light; and to serve God, one another, and the Creation in love. Sin and Death came through the first Adam. Grace and Truth came through the Second Adam, which is Jesus. In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God holds up a mirror for us so that we can see who we really are in our sin and death and to show us who we can really be by God’s grace.
Resurrection is the power of God at work in the Creation to restore it back to its original purposes. It is the power of God that has shattered the darkness, conquered sin, and vanquished Death. Resurrection is the restoration of all Creation from Death to Life. Jesus is the merger of heaven and earth and the first-fruits of the new heaven and new earth.
Mary has experienced this as she stands hugging Jesus, seeing his restored body and touching the New Creation. But, Jesus tells her to not cling to him because he must return to the Father. Jesus’ absence feels like God’s absence in the Creation, even now. But, in going to the Father, Jesus is returning to the Father to reign in glory over all Creation. Heaven is the place from which God reigns. Heaven is not the absence of God, but the throne room of God. Jesus has already begun the Kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven.
Of course, it quite often feels like God is doing anything but reigning. In looking at the brokenness still in our world, it seems like God is absent or non-existent. But, the early Church understood that the darkness, sin, and death remaining in the world were simply the death throes of an already defeated foe. It was the last finger-hold that Satan held in the Creation. Soon, very soon, all would be put to right… Soon, very soon, God’s resurrection power would finish and fulfill what was started in Jesus and we would be found in resurrected, glorified bodies living in a resurrected and glorified heavens and earth. In other words, God would restore and perfect that which He created!
In the meantime and in the waiting for this full and final consummation of the New Creation, Jesus calls Mary to go tell the disciples the Good News. She is to be the bearer of the Gospel that God’s New Creation has been established in Jesus, who is the first-fruits of Resurrection. Mary is to proclaim what she has experienced in the risen Christ, who has freed her from her own darkness and breathed new life into her.
And, so it is now with Jesus’ disciples. We have been tasked with proclaiming the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection, “… the revelation of the triumph of God’s life giving purposes” (Warren Carter, John: Storyteller, Interpreter, Evangelist, 206). We are to proclaim the New Creation which God has established through Jesus and that we participate in through the Spirit as members of the Body of Christ – the Church! We are to practice resurrection by fulfilling in our bodies the very purposes for which God has created us: to glorify God; to live as light; and to serve God, one another, and the Creation in love.
As Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 5:14-21: “For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Live out the New Creation now – practice resurrection!
Levi Jones serves as co-lead pastor at Cornerstone Community Church of the Nazarene (Wagoner, Oklahoma) and an Associate Editor of Preacher’s Magazine.