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John 20:1-18 - The lessons of an empty tomb

Updated: Feb 27, 2022

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Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him." Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.


But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). Jesus said 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.


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This is the Gospel selection that can be chosen for reading aloud by a priest on the Easter Day primary service. It is possible to be read every Easter Day in all three liturgical years (A, B, and C). This will follow a “First Lesson” that might be from Isaiah 65, where the prophet wrote: “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent-- its food shall be dust!” If not that reading, then Acts 10 will take its place, where it is written that Peter told the Roman centurion Cornelius: “We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem.” If Acts 10 is read as the “First Lesson,” then a reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians will be read next, where it is written: “For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.” All will be accompanied by a singing of Psalm 118, where one verse says, “Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter them; I will offer thanks to Yahweh.”


I posted this commentary in 2021: An Easter Gospel like never been read before. That is a deep commentary about what can be revealed in this reading from John. I advise readers seeking the truth to read that at this time. I will not repeat that which has already been written; and, eighteen verses of Scripture is much to discern. Instead, at this time, I will only offer some insight that needs to be firmly grasped from this reading that will only be read during Easter. One needs to realize that Easter is about one’s own soul being raised, not that of Jesus.


The first thing I want to make clear is the body of Jesus has ascended. This is stated when Mary Magdalene told Peter and John, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” His body is gone.


Then John reached the tomb and “He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there.” The “linen wrappings had been wrapped around the corpse; but they were “lying there” on the floor of the tomb. The body was gone.


Then, Peter arrived and entered the tomb, when he “saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.” He saw cloths, but no body. The body was gone.


When Mary Magdalene is said to have returned, “she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.” She then saw Jesus not looking like the Jesus she knew very well. She thought Jesus was the gardener – a statement of Jesus looking like Adam, from the Garden of Eden. That was the same soul in a different appearance; but the body of Jesus was gone.


To that point, Jesus told Mary not to try and grasp him, because he was “not yet ascended to the Father” … which means the soul of Jesus appeared as an apparition on the earthly plane, but that appearing to be a body was not a physical body. The physical body was gone. That physical body had been “raised from death.” Only the soul of Jesus lingered; and, that soul took on multiple appearances.


The second thing I want to point out is this reading shows the effect of finding out the body of Jesus is out of the tomb had on three close followers of Jesus. While other women are named in the Luke reading that is optional to replace this reading on Easter Day, the point needs to be seen that Easter Day is about a personal experience of a spiritual change within oneself. When we read that John, “saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead,” the lesson is belief (a.k.a faith coming from personal experience). While John and Peter did not experience Jesus, they recalled a personal experience, where Jesus told them this would happen.


Mary saw two angels, where “angels” are spiritual entities that are not physical. The number “two” must always be read in Scripture as a duality in self – where “two angels” become Mary witnessing the “two spirits” that then possessed her being: her soul and the soul of Jesus – together as one. That then leads to us reading, “she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.” She experienced Jesus in her own soul for the first time and did not recognize his soul as hers. Jesus’ soul had remained to enter the souls of his closest followers; and, Mary Magdalene was one. Thus, the “two angels” were the souls of Mary meeting the soul of Jesus within. This is the truth of “resurrection,” where Mary was dead before that moment; but then when she saw the invisible truth, she was herself “raised from the dead.”


Going beyond what is written here in John, I want to point out the lack of sensation that speaks loudly by not being mentioned. When Jesus was placed in the tomb, his body had been prepared for burial by Joseph and Nicodemus. The women who arrived early in the morning (before the dawning of the light of truth) had gone to see where the tomb was, so they could return on the first day of the week to prepare the body for movement from Joseph’s loaner tomb to another tomb (not stated where that would be). They brought with them “spices that they had prepared” (Luke 24:1).


John had written that Nicodemus carried “a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds.” While this does not say “nard,” which is a most potent and strongly fragrant oil, the impression is smell is absent from the story of the tomb being empty. The wrappings and fine linen cloth and face cloth most certainly would have been soaked in perfumes, with the stench of death completely missing from all Easter sunrise scenes. It can be presumed that Nicodemus was sent by the Sanhedrin to soak the body of Jesus with strong perfumes, so a trail of scent could be followed (certainly by using bloodhound-like dogs), if someone broke the seal of the tomb and stole his body. The Sanhedrin employed soldiers to watch the tomb for that purpose (again, not told in this Easter Day reading).


Still, the recording of wrappings and linen (with face cloth) being witnessed, there is no mention whatsoever of either the sweet smell of perfumed death or a progressive state of death (in a warm climate), where the stench of death would exceed predatory perfuming, requiring follow-up spices to be prepared. This says the physical body of Jesus was like that of known Saints (males and females) whose bodies never decayed after death, with them smelling like roses (hundreds of years after death, when the bodies were exhumed for moving).


This sensual absence says even the physical odors of Jesus’ body were raised to the spiritual realm, leaving nothing behind that was part of physical Jesus (including his tallit and personal clothing he was buried in). Those wrappings and clothes left behind were meant for their rightful owner to repossess. This says there is nothing about one’s own physical body that needs to be coveted. One’s own physical body must take the place of Jesus’ body, as the one dead; so, his soul can be raised in one’s own soul and body.


The purpose of reading about Easter is not to prove that the man named Jesus really did die and resurrect. We read about the emptiness of his tomb because nobody reading any of this Gospel Scripture will ever be able to pay for a vacation to Israel and go on a tour of Jesus’ tomb and walk in and take photos to show all friends and family, “I was there!” There is no body of Jesus in the world anymore. It vanished on the Sabbath, the seventh day of the week. Each individual who is a close follower of Jesus, as family and friends of Yahweh, his Father, is called to experience the emptiness of that tomb because our bodies of flesh are being called to die and be raised as Jesus.


Anyone who thinks he or she can prove Jesus is risen by reading Scripture of Easter Day is missing the point of needing to have one’s own soul be raised from a body that will surely die; and, that raising can only come by being the soul in which the soul of Jesus is resurrected. Jesus continues to live, raised from his dead body and placed in the soul-body of one who loves Yahweh with all one’s heart, soul, and mind. Easter is about oneself being raised from the dead, so one’s soul can ascend to the promise of eternal life with Yahweh’s Spirit.

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