Christianity as a whole is based on the Resurrection.
It was customary to visit the tomb for three days after the burial. They also believed that the spirit of the person hovered for three days and only then departed. Thereafter the body would become unrecognizable through decay.
For Jesus they could not make the journey on the second day, the Sabbath. It would mean they would break the law. On Sunday morning Mary came early. The Greek is proi, which means the last of the four watches between three and six am. The sky was still dark grey but she couldn’t wait any longer.
Mary Magdalene loved Jesus. She was liberated, healed, redeemed and whole and she will never forget the Man who made it all possible.
She was amazed and shocked. Tombs in ancient times were hewn out of rock and closed by a huge circular rock running in a groove in the ground to close the opening. The authorities sealed and guarded the tomb of Jesus (Matthew 27:66).
Mary might have thought the Jewish leaders took the body, but it is unlikely that they would touch a dead body or have anything to do with the dead over the Sabbath.
She had to share the fact that He is not there, so she ran to get Peter and the others. In the other Gospels it tells of the man or men guarding the tomb who told the women (it was not only Mary) that Jesus is risen (Matthew 28, Mark 16 and Luke 24). Mark tells of the young man by the grave specifically mentioning Peter’s name.
What follows is the description of a race – by John himself with, most probably, himself in the race. It reads almost comical. (John 20:3-8)
Peter was still acknowledged as the leader. It was to him that Mary went. Jesus mentioned Peter by name. He was amongst his brothers. Even in his failure, defeat and heartbroken state of bewilderment, he found his way back to them. Judas was alone in his suicide. Peter’s denial of Jesus probably spread like wildfire, but he could still, in his deepest brokenness, face his brothers and found solace in their company. Even in his defeat he was still the leader.
John ran faster; he was younger. John looked in but Peter ran right on and in, so typical of his nature. Peter was amazed and still, but John’s mind started working. If somebody stole the body why did they leave the grave clothes?
The clothes were not disarranged. The clothes were where the body had been and exactly in the shape of the body – in their folds. The grave clothes told a whole story of their own. They looked as if the body has just evaporated from them. The napkin for the head was folded neatly. It was folded like the napkin of somebody with the intention to come back to the meal at the table. The sight spoke to John and he believed. He saw with his own eyes and believed.
Love is the foundation of faith. Love brought Mary to the tomb, love made John believe. Love opened his eyes and mind.
Love is the interpreter of life. Love knows truth when the mind is still struggling and uncertain.
The scene in the garden where Mary recognizes Jesus is probably one of the most dramatic moments in literature. Mary was the first to see the risen Christ. Her love is the driving force of all her actions.
Mary brought the news to the disciples and was probably left behind in the race, but comes back to the garden. They have already left again, running to the others with the news. Mary stood weeping. She didn’t know where to now or what to make of things. She was confused and bewildered. She could not recognize this man talking to her through her tears. Her sorrow blinded her.
In loss we weep for ourselves. The loved one is with God, no need for tears there. But we feel the sharp pain of loss. As long as our tears are lifted up to God so that we do not miss the glory.
Mary’s eyes were on the tomb. She was looking in the wrong direction. Our eye must be on heaven and God with us where we will know that our loved one is in His presence. Tears are good, cry, grieve – but do not despair and keep your eyes on the tomb.
Her conversation reflects her love. She asks to know where Jesus is. She asks humbly and respectfully. She does not mention His name.
She assumes that everyone will know of whom she is talking. Her whole world begins and ends with the man she loves.
He calls her name. She knew immediately. The way He spoke her name was instant recognition. Her answer was Rabboni (Aramaic for Rabbi or Master).
Jesus instructs Mary not to touch Him (20:11-18). Just later on in the chapter he invites Thomas to touch Him (20:27). He says He is flesh and bone (Luke 24:39). Normally one would say: flesh and blood, but His blood was shed and He never took it back.
In Matthew (28:9) the disciples held His feet and worshipped Him.
The commentators give various reasons for this. They suggest it might be a mistranslation and might have been intended to be: Do not fear, instead of do not touch. They also think it might have been Jesus’ instruction to Mary not to hold on to Him too much, since He was on His way to heaven and will not be with her always. She had to learn to communicate with Him without physical touch.
My own inclination is to accept the explanation that Jesus was on His way to enter heaven triumphantly as described in Revelation 5. He was the first fruit of the church (sheaf of wheat) to wave before the Father, just like at the Feast of the Firstfruits:
“Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, when you come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then you shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest unto the priest.
And he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted for you: on the morning after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it” (Leviticus 23:10-11)
The Feast of the Firstfruits is celebrated after the Sabbath in the week of the Passover and the first sheaf of wheat is waved before the priest. Jesus was the first fruit of the harvest of the church and was glorified before the Father.
But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:20)
We have to explain things in calculated time. In a glorified state Jesus could enter time and leave it again as He wanted to. He had full control over His glorification. He was back in His heavenly realm and showed Himself on earth to whom He willed and when He wanted. He entered the seen from the unseen as He conducted His appearances until the Ascension.
It could be that His words not to touch Him, reflects the heavenly Feast of the Firstfruits. He entered heaven without human touch to be glorified before the Father in triumphant celebration of His victory.
And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain,having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth. Then He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. (Revelation 5:6,7)
Our earthly spiritual rituals as explained in the Word of God have heavenly counterparts. The New Jerusalem is the perfect cube just like the Ark of the Covenenant, signifying the presence of God.
It is what the church should be – the place where the world enters into the presence of the Most High.
Jesus’ resurrection had actually occurred near or at sunset the previous day as the weekly Sabbath day was ending. The Sunday is actually not the day of the resurrection, but the celebration of the first fruits.
Jesus ascended to the Father to be accepted formally as the first to be raised from the dead in God’s spiritual harvest of humanity.
[A short explanation of Easter and the origins of eggs and bunnies:
Easter is associated with the Babylonian feast of first fruits, a spring festival when the pagans asked their fertility god Ishtar, where the name Easter comes from for new babies. The egg hunt is to celebrate the attempts to conceive new life. Fertile things in nature are worshipped like rabbits. The people wore new clothes to celebrate the buds on the trees.]