March 31 – John 20:1-18


Main Focus: Mary Magdalene encounters the resurrected Jesus and becomes the first evangelist.

Every year at Christmas and Easter I try to warn you about the dangers of letting these monumental occasions, ones that we think are worthwhile enough to celebrate year in and year out, of becoming old hat. Like many other things about our faith, overwhelming familiarity with the Bible can make us less astounded than we really should be. It might take some work to make the resurrection fresh again in your group discussion, but it’s worth paying attention to. Upon Jesus’s resurrection stands every hope the Christian has for this life and the next. Paul says it this way: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile.”(1 Cor. 15:17)

This week we’ll look at the initial discovery of the empty tomb on Resurrection Sunday and, in particular, Jesus’s appearance to Mary Magdalene (who is often confused with Mary of Bethany; see our Deep Dive: The Marys post for more). She was one of the first people on the scene of Jesus’s resurrection, along with several other female disciples (the “we” of John 20:2). These women came to the tomb early that morning fully prepared to mourn and complete Jesus’s burial rites. At the sight of an empty tomb, they could only assume someone had taken the body, and with Jesus’s enemies, someone certainly could have had motives for disposing of his body dishonorably.

Peter and John arrive, peer in the tomb, wonder at the possibility of Jesus’s resurrection (20:8), and then leave, saying nothing to Mary or their sister disciples. We find Mary in verse 11 weeping outside Jesus’s tomb, and if you can, try to feel what Mary felt, still grieving Jesus’s gruesome death, now weeping at his tomb over the theft of his body. Imagine her confusion as she talked to a man she thought was the gardener, then imagine her heart leaping when Jesus said her name. As we read this account we get, as Tolkein put it, a glimpse of joy beyond the walls of the world. This is the hope of the resurrection.

As a semi-aside, when Jesus appeared to Mary he then made her the first person to be witness to his resurrection by telling her to go and inform the apostles. These elements of Jesus’s resurrection are remarkable. In the first century, the testimony of a woman was thought to be unreliable; it was legally inadmissible in a courtroom. But in the face of these cultural norms Jesus gave these women the most precious news. This is the upside-down Kingdom, where God utilizes what the world calls weakness in order to shame what the world calls strength.

Mary’s story will help us discuss both the theological and emotional implications of the resurrection. Depending on you and your group’s proclivities, you might be a little more comfortable talking about the cool theological implications of the resurrection, how Jesus’s resurrection is proof that he has conquered sin and the grave, the first fruits of the age to come, the prototype for glorified humanity, proof that we will rise with him, and the sign that the last age has been inaugurated (1 Cor 15:12-49). As mentioned above, if Chris is not raised, all our theology and theological hopes are in vain. But let’s also not miss the emotional dimension here, because our hope isn’t merely in a theological reality but in a real person; the risen Christ hasn’t merely appeared, but he has appeared to us through the gospel (ex. Gal 3:1).

It’s both of these, theological and emotional implications, that determine how Jesus’s resurrection intersects with our daily lives, our last question for the day. For example, when faced by the looming shadow of our mortality, whether far off or too close for comfort, we take heart that if Jesus has risen, so will we. When wrestling with our sin, we find strength knowing that Jesus has already crushed its power, making our victory possible through him. But perhaps, in reading Mary’s story, we can also hear Jesus speak our name tenderly. Perhaps we can have our hearts leap with joy that the Risen King, robed in resurrection power, would pause, take our face in his hands, and call us his child. That is the kind of joy that changes you.

Discussion questions

– Before we read the passage, what do you feel like you’ve gotten out of this Easter season?

– Could someone read John 20:1–18 for us?

– What stood out to you from the passage?

– On a theological level, why is Jesus’s resurrection important?

– How do you think this moment was important to Mary on an emotional level?

– How do you think Jesus’s resurrection can affect our daily life?