Today, we will look at the Easter narration through the experiences of two persons. We will reflect on the experience of John and Mary Magdalene, and their responses to that first day of the week, the fist day when they learned Jesus rose from the dead. (Let us read John 20:3-10.)
I was in first grade when I learned that butterflies came from caterpillars. The first time I heard about this, I said: “I do not believe this.” It took a lot of explanation from the teacher to get my attention. The final act that turned me around was when I saw it for myself. Right there in our little garden in front of our house, I saw with my own eyes the emerging of a butterfly from his cocoon. For a young boy, it was a moving experience. It is so true, right? How can a beautiful creature like a butterfly come out of an ugly looking worm-like caterpillar? It is one of those things you would probably say: “I have to see it to believe.”
In that first Easter Sunday, the disciples had a hard time believing the resurrection of Jesus. Earlier, they saw signs that Jesus has risen from the dead. The women believed. (We see this in Luke 24:9 and Matthew 28:8.) In John 20:8, we see that John believed. But in verse 9, we know that Peter had a hard time understanding and believing. (Also, see Luke 24:11-12.) What exactly did John see that made him believe? What were the signs of Jesus resurrection that helped John’s belief?
The text says that John saw the cloth folded neatly. John 20:7 states “. . . and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself.” We do not know exactly what John was thinking. Perhaps, being the brother of Jesus, growing up with him, he knew what the sign of the folded face cloth meant. Those of you who grew up with siblings, sharing a room with them, seeing them everyday, you know your brother or sister better than anyone. I think John here saw a sign of his brother (Jesus) showing him that he is alive. Maybe, the folded cloth told him that it was his brother who did this.
The Bible says that the same resurrection power that raised Jesus from the dead is the same power that is working in us. (See, Ephesians 1:19-20.) Do you believe this?
It is easy to say “I believe” when things are doing well in your life. However, when one is experiencing a crisis in his or her life, then this question above becomes challenging. Do you believe in the resurrection power even if you are going through the experience of having a dying family member in your life? What about financial problems that seem to be impossible to solve? Can you still say, “I believe the resurrection power will bring a solution to my problems.” It is hard when these things are happening, or when your marriage is failing, or relationships are broken. It almost looks impossible when past failures come back or depressing memories haunt you. How can we say with Paul “As God raised the Lord from the dead, he will also raise me up from my situation.” (See, 1 Corinthians 6:14.)
Jesus knew this is going to be difficult. That is why, he came and visited with Mary Magdalene, to remind her that his resurrection power is also for everyone. He came to see each disciple. He reminded Thomas, who was struggling with doubt. He asked his disciples to remind each other of his resurrection power. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” . (John 20:29)
Somewhere in Illinois, there is a halfway house where ladies who have been abused and have suffered from a violent past are cared for. Some of them have been forced into prostitution. And now, they are living a new life and learning new skills that will help them live a normal life. For these women, the reality of a new life is a great challenge. How can we say to these women “He is risen!”? How can they face life after going through the experience of being sold like a slave and treated like an animal? How can the resurrection experience be true to their lives?
Mary Magdalene, went through the same experience. She came out of a past life forced to live as a prostitute and being used by violent men. Jesus rescued her. She received God’s salvation and renewal. Although she earlier had talked to an angel about Jesus’ resurrection, she still needed Jesus to visit her personally to remind her that Jesus is risen indeed from the grave. (John 20:16)
In Southern California, there is a desert that is barren and lifeless most time of the year. Anyone who sees this desert would certainly say there is no life here. But in the spring, when water comes down from the mountains, the desert is transformed. Flowers bloom and the prairie come alive with wildlife and animals of many kinds.
You may feel that you are like a lifeless desert. Or maybe, you feel that you are in a constant cocoon stage, never becoming a butterfly. Whatever your situation, God will transform you through the resurrection of Jesus. He is alive! He is risen! Come to Jesus. You may come like John, truly believing in the resurrection power of Jesus. Or, you may come like Mary Magdalene, with some hesitation. Just like her, you need more of a personal visit of Jesus in your life. Whatever your need, come to Jesus and believe that Jesus will transform your life.
(By: Rev. Dr. David W. Clemente. April, 2019. Kaohsiung, Taiwan)