From Fear to Faith on Easter Morning
User’s Guide to Easter Sunday
Like most of the Resurrection accounts, John’s version paints a portrait of a journey: out of fear and into faith. It shows the need to experience the Resurrection and then come to understand it more deeply. While the Gospel account begins with Mary Magdalene, the focus quickly shifts to St. John. Let’s study his journey, which is also ours.
The Gospel begins by describing everyone as running about. Mary Magdalene came to the tomb in the early morning darkness and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran to tell Simon Peter and John. Though Mary Magdalene is looking at direct evidence of the Resurrection, she presumes the worst: that grave robbers have snatched the Lord’s body! It doesn’t even occur to her to recall that Jesus said that he would rise on the third day. She is in reaction mode, instead of reflection mode. Do we live lives that are reactive and negative, or do we live reflectively, remembering that the Lord says that even our burdens are gifts in strange packages? “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
The text goes on to describe a subtle move in John from reaction to reflection. As Peter and John run to the tomb, John ran faster and got there before Peter. Scripture says, “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength … they will run and not grow weary” (Isaiah 40:31). So perhaps John runs faster because he begins to move from reaction to reflection and remembrance; he is exhilarated by hope. Something has started to happen inside John.
The text says, “When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths [lying] there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.” The Greek text describes the clothes as keimena — lying, stretched out in place; as if the clothes simply “deflated” in place when the body they covered disappeared. The most expensive cloth of all, the soudarion, also lies folded in a separate place. Grave robbers would not leave valuable linens behind all stretched out in an orderly way. Robbers work quickly; they snatch things and leave disarray in their wake. As we shall see, John is reassessing this evidence; it’s not robbers — it’s the Resurrection.
John now enters the tomb and the text says, “he saw and believed.” Believed what? Faith concerns things we cannot see. Hence this does not mean he now believed Mary’s story. Rather, he sees the evidence and now believes that Jesus is risen. Yet the text also adds, “they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.” It is as if to say that John came to believe that Jesus had risen but had not yet come to fully understand all the scriptural connections of how this had to be. John has gone from fear to faith. He has not yet seen Jesus alive, but he believes based on the evidence and on what Jesus had promised. St. John leaves this scene as a believer. His faith may not be the fully perfected faith that it will become, but he does believe. John has gone from fear to faith, from reaction to reflection, from panic to peace.
Jesus is truly risen!