“Word for Today” – John 20 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com

April 13, 2009 at 4:45 am Leave a comment

mary-magdalene-11At the turn of the millennium, a crush of reality home redecorating shows flooded the airwaves of both network and cable television.  “Clean House,” “Extreme Makeover:  Home Edition,” and “Trading Spaces” were just a few.  Out of the three shows just mentioned, “Trading Spaces” always struck me as the most risky.  The premise of the program is relatively simple.  In each episode, two sets of neighbors get to redecorate a room in each other’s home with the help of a team of designers.  Each team has no say over what happens in its own home, but is allowed to decorate its neighbor’s house with a fair amount liberty.  Hence, the name “Trading Spaces.”  I hope these folks knew – and trusted – their friends well.

Our reading for today from John 20 is most certainly the culmination of his gospel.  Here is the story of resurrection.  John’s account, however, is unique from those in the synoptics.  Mary Magdalene is presented as the first witness to the empty tomb.  But unlike the other accounts, there are no angels to greet her (cf. Matthew 28:2, Mark 6:5, Luke 24:4).  This is probably because Mary’s venture to the tomb in John’s gospel took place “while it was still dark” (verse 1) while her foray into the tomb in the synoptics took place “just after sunrise” (Mark 16:2).  But not to worry, Mary will return in John’s gospel in just a bit after light has dawned to be greeted by the angels of the other gospels.  But for now, she finds nothing.  No sign of Jesus.  No hint of what might have happened.  She is only bewildered and befuddled.  So she hurries to Peter and John and announces, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him” (verse 2)!  Simon and John go to see for themselves, but, after a bit of sleuthing, they wind up just as perplexed.  And so, “the disciples went back to their homes” (verse 10).  They give up trying to solve the mystery of their missing Messiah.

The disciples leave.  But Mary stays:  “Mary stood outside the tomb crying,” verse 11 says.  Now, cue the angels:  “As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been” (verses 11-12).  This is fascinating to me.  Mary has already looked inside the tomb.  She’s already observed the vacant cavern.  She’s already noted the rolled away stone.  She’s already surveyed the laundered linen resting where Jesus once lay.  And yet, she bends over to take a second look.  Why?  She’s already seen what she needed to see.

I suppose we will never know why Mary bent over a second time to peer inside the empty tomb, but I’m sure glad she did.  Because when she did, she saw the angels.  And when she did, she heard their resurrection message.  And when she did, she saw that there was not just an empty tomb, but a risen Messiah.

The Greek word for “bent over” is parakupto.  And this is quite a rare word.  In fact, it is used only four other times in the entire New Testament, two of those times being in the accounts of the resurrection.  One of the times when it is used away from the empty tomb comes in 1 Peter 1:10-12:  Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.”  This final phrase, concerning that which angels “long to look into,” uses the word parakupto.  In other words, Peter is saying that the angels at the empty tomb, if they would have had their choice, would have “traded spaces” with Mary.  They would have chosen her vantage point, bent over outside the tomb, bewildering and befuddling as it might have been.  Mary, Peter says, got to see what the angels were longing to look into:  the wondrous glories of Christ in his resurrection.  And this is exactly what she sees.  For as soon as she turns away from the angels, she turns into Jesus.  And Jesus says to her, “Mary.”  And she responds, “Rabboni” (verse 16)!  She now sees the resurrected Christ.

This, then, is one of the many glories of Easter:  that we have a vantage point of Christ that any angel would be happy to “trade spaces” with us for.  Indeed, as lowly as our earthly vantage point of Christ may sometimes seem to us, Scripture would remind us that, from heaven’s vantage point, we maintain a most privileged position to watch God’s superior salvation unfold.  We have the best seats in the house, as it were.  For we live on the back side of the tomb.  And, trusting in this tomb, we trade our space in eternal death for a space in eternal life.  So, this Easter, bend over and, by faith, peer inside the empty tomb.  For Christ is risen!

Entry filed under: Word for Today.

“Word for Today” – John 19 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com “Word for Today” – John 21 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com

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