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For Your Weekend: The Grave and the Glory

Mallory Smyth

Dig Deeper into this Sunday’s Gospel: Read John 20:1–9

My husband and I recently visited the beaches of Normandy. On June 6, 1944, the Allied forces stormed the beaches to overtake the German troops which occupied France.

As we drove toward that sacred site, we told stories that we knew about the war. I remembered what I had read in the book Unbroken, the biography of Louis Zamperini, the Olympic runner turned Air Force pilot. While fighting the war in the Pacific, he crashed his plane and survived a remarkable 47 days at sea. Unfortunately, he landed in the Marshall Islands, where he was scooped up as a prisoner of war and tortured for the next two years. 

But he didn’t first come to my mind; his mother did. She had to live every day, not knowing if he would ever return. During the years of his absence, under the assumption that he was dead, Louis’ mother embodied so much stress that she developed a rash on her hand, which rendered it useless. After Louis returned home safely and began to rebuild his life, her hand healed completely. History is much easier to study when the outcomes are known. It is so much harder to live through not knowing how things will turn out. 

Imagine then what it must have been like to go through the three days between Jesus’ death and resurrection. What would it have been like to watch the One who claimed to be the Messiah die? How would it have felt to bury Him? What emotions would have stirred over those long, silent hours? Jesus said He would rise from the dead, but would He? There was much reason to hope, but then again, much to doubt. 

In this week’s gospel from John 20:1–9, we encounter Mary, Peter, and John, the other disciple in the story, as they enter the third day of waiting.[1]

Mary approached the tomb while it was still dark. Not knowing what to do when she saw the stone rolled away, she ran to the apostles, saying, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him” (John 20:2).

Peter and John then took off for the grave. John got there first and peered into the tomb, witnessing the burial clothes on the ground.

Peter finally arrived and walked into the tomb. He surveyed the entire scene, the stone, the burial clothes, and his Messiah’s head cloth rolled up neatly in the corner. This was not the work of a grave robber. It was the deliberate work of Christ who had risen from the dead. They saw and believed. What an incredible morning!

It is easy to enter Easter and celebrate it as a magnificent event. Jesus rose from the dead; He is the Messiah. We know the outcome of that morning 2,000 years ago. Still, we wonder if Jesus can bring about resurrection for us today—in the circumstances of our lives that have not been resolved, that cause us stress and anxiety and make us doubt that Christ can redeem all things.

But the beauty of Easter—the part to really celebrate—is that Christ’s resurrection reaches into every grave, all the places in our lives marked by sin and death. He offers us new life right now and reminds us to have hope. Even if we don’t know what is around the corner, we can rest assured that Jesus will eventually bring about redemption, even if it looks like there is no possible way for that to happen. Through His resurrection, Christ stands victorious, and He invites you into that victory to share in His new life. The question then becomes, how far will you follow Him to receive it? 

Mary ran to the tomb but did not go in. There, she found the stone rolled away, a sign of resurrection, but her fear kept her from seeing the glorious truth. John peered in but also waited to enter. Theologians speculate that John may have thought the body was still there and did not want to enter out of respect for the dead.[2] Doubt stopped him from stepping into the grave.

How often do we find ourselves battling the same fear and doubt? We know what Christ has done but forget. We should trust Him, but following Him with abandon makes us feel out of control. So, we stay back, witnessing only half of what He wants us to see. 

Peter, on the other hand, ran right into the grave. He followed his Savior, where all seemed lost, and was able to survey the entire scene: the stone, the burial clothes, the head wrap. With complete perspective, he knew he was witnessing the greatest miracle ever to have taken place. 

Jesus tells us in Revelation 21:5, “Behold, I make all things new.” He invites you to resist the temptation to stop short and follow Him into the grave, just as Peter did, with all your flaws and imperfections so that He can eclipse them with the glory of His resurrection. As Romans 6:5 says, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

This Easter, receive the resurrection. The God of the universe could not be held down. Worship Him. Celebrate what He did then and what He is doing now. Follow Him as far as He leads and look for signs of His life along the way. 

Where is He rolling back a stone?
Where is He shedding old cloth?
Where is He bringing life to a place where death and sin once reigned?

Enter in wholeheartedly and immerse yourself in His redemption. Happy Easter!

In Him,

Food for thought or journaling…

What are you longing for the Lord to make new in your life? In what ways is this unresolved situation affecting you? Do you see signs of God’s life? If so, where?

Jesus, You are who You say You are. You said that You would die and rise from the dead to bring us back into a relationship with the Father, and that is what You did. Thank You. Please, Lord, bring me deeper into this mystery. Help me to worship You for all that You are this Easter season and receive the ways You are making me new today. Amen.

[1] Bible Reference, “John 20:4,” (March 2023): https://www.bibleref.com/John/20/John-20-4.html.
[2] David Guzik, “Study Guide for John 20,  An Empty Tomb and a Risen Jesus,” Blue Letter Bible, (March 2023): https://www.blueletterbible.org/comm/guzik_david/study-guide/john/john-20.cfm?a=1017001.

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