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Easter Sunday - Years ABC
John 20.1-18 option

Other texts:

This text is an option for all three years. The other options are: 


One might want to use John's account of the Resurrection, since most of the readings in Lent have been from this Gospel and most of the readings in the Season of Easter are from John. This reading would naturally follow the Passion account from John that was read on Good Friday.

On the other hand, if the Passion from Matthew was read on Passion Sunday (and probably heard by more people than the one from John on Good Friday), it could be beneficial to continue using his account of the resurrection. Also, the Gospel readings during the Pentecost Season will come from Matthew.

A short-coming of either of these arguments is that many of the Easter worshipers are not people who have been hearing the lessons from Matthew since Advent or will be hearing the lessons from John throughout the Easter Season or from Matthew during Pentecost. So, you can preach on whatever text you want.

The following are from the past notes I have presented on this text with minor revisions.


There are two biblical themes related to the resurrection: (1) finding the empty tomb and (2) appearances of the risen Christ. There are no canonical accounts of the actual resurrection (although there is one in the Gospel of Peter).

Our text is divided into two parts -- related to the two types of biblical resurrection narratives.

(1) Finding the empty tomb (20:1-10)

(a) by Mary (20:1-2)
(b) by Peter and the beloved disciple (20:3-10)

(2) The resurrected Jesus appears to Mary (20:11-18)

(a) Mary sees angels at the empty tomb (20:11-13)
(b) Mary sees Jesus, but think he's the gardener (20:14-15)
(c) Mary sees Jesus after he utters her name (20:16-17)
(d) Mary reports the appearance to the disciples (20:18)


Repeatedly Jesus had said that he would be "raised on the third day," but none of the resurrection accounts use that expression. Rather they say "on the first day of the week". Perhaps this was to emphasize the change from seventh to first day worship.

All four of the biblical accounts indicate that Mary Magdalene was one of the first at the empty tomb. In John she appears to be the only one, while in the synoptics other women are mentioned.

We are not told why Mary has gone to the tomb. Given the information from this text, I would guess that she went to mourn the dead. Four times we are told that she is crying (klaio -- vv. 11, 11, 13, 15) -- the same reaction of another Mary at the death of her brother Lazarus (11:31, 33). The deceased were usually buried on the day they died and the mourning followed.

John tells us that Mary came "while it is still dark." The synoptics indicate that the women come at dawn (Mt & Lk) or sunrise (Mk). A symbolic meaning of this difference has been suggested that the synoptics emphasize light's triumph over darkness and John (at this point in the story) emphasizes the darkness of the death and (supposedly) stolen body. Even if it was dark when Mary arrived at the tomb, light would have to come shortly so that the two disciples would be able to see the cloths inside the tomb.


"Dark" may also refer to the blindness of seeing the truth. Seven times in this text words for "seeing" are used; and the seeing always results in some belief about what is seen -- and that belief is usually wrong!

Her comment, "We don't know where they have placed him" recalls the theme throughout John about knowing where Jesus comes from and where he is going (e.g., 7:33-36; 8:21-23).

The use of we has led some to speculate that there were other women with Mary as reported in the synoptics, but it is a singular in v. 13. I am more inclined to think that she used "we" in opposition to the "they" she assumed stole the body; or a collective "we" to refer to all of Jesus' followers.

Grave robbing was a troublesome crime at this time. There was an imperial edict against it. It would have been natural for her (and other disciples) to conclude that someone had stolen the body.

Whatever the beloved disciple believed wasn't complete as v. 9 indicates: "For as yet they did not understand the scripture that he must rise from the dead."

Remembering that this is part of the "empty tomb" story, he could only believe as much as the empty tomb allowed -- Christ was no longer in the tomb, and it was likely that his body had not been stolen. Thieves would not have neatly folded the linens after unwrapping the body.

The angels give no Easter announcements, but draw attention to Mary's grief. Their sitting at the head and feet of where Jesus' lay may relate to "angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man" (1:51) and thus point to the in-breaking of the promised new age (rather than being messengers of the resurrection).

Note again the attention to Mary's grief.

It is only through the word from Jesus that Mary able to see and believe correctly. In addition, Mary is told to go and speak to the disciples (v. 17).

Mary declares to the disciples, "I have seen [orao] the Lord" (v. 18)

The disciples may not see what she has seen. She can't show them what she has seen. She can only tell them what she has seen and heard and believes.

So it is with us today. Our belief in the resurrection doesn't come from what we see, but from what we hear. What we see, may not necessarily lead to a correct belief about Jesus. Mary illustrates an emphasis in the gospel of John -- correct faith comes from hearing, not seeing.


Peter has many roles in this gospels -- most are negative.

Peter seems to represent a bumbling disciple. Sometimes he gets things right and sometimes he doesn't. He's a lot like us.

This is the first time that phileo is used for "the disciple whom Jesus loved" in John. The other references use agapao for the "beloved disciple" (13:23; 19:26; 21: 7, 20). It is usually thought that these two verbs are synonymous in John.

The "beloved disciple" represents the love and intimacy with Jesus that is the goal of all disciples -- all people who are loved by Jesus. John presents this second disciple as the first to get to the tomb and the first to believe (even if his faith was incomplete).


As I mentioned earlier, Mary's weeping is emphasized in this section. It may indicate the reason she came to the tomb -- to mourn the dead. It also contains a symbolic meaning in John. Besides the weeping at the tombs of Jesus and Lazarus, the only other instance of this word (klaio) is 16:20: "Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy."

I also think that 16:22 relates to our text: "So you have pain now; but I will see [orao] you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you."

Mary is weeping and mourning over (1) the death of Jesus; and (2) the fact that she thinks someone has stolen the body and she doesn't know where it is. The transformation promised in ch. 16 takes place through a word and the presence of Jesus. Her pain and weeping is turned into joy. Jesus has seen her again.

The calling of Mary's name recalls the image Jesus gives in John 10: "The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out" (v. 3).

A similar "eye-opening" event -- although centered on breaking bread with the word -- occurs in the Road to Emmaus story (Lk 24:13-35).

Mary is told not to hold on [hapto] to Jesus (v. 17), yet later Jesus will tell Thomas to touch [phero = put, reach out; and ballo = cast, put, place] his wounds (v. 27). Different words are used. The risen Jesus standing before Mary is not the Jesus who will stay forever. Neither she nor we can "hold on" to him. The permanent presence of Christ will be through the Spirit whom Jesus and the Father will send after Jesus' glorification (7:39; 14:26; 15:26; 16:13). Jesus' glorification involves being lifted up on the cross, being lifted up from death, and being lifted into heaven.

From the covenant language at the end of v. 17, it would seem that the ascension is necessary for us to have the same relationship with God the Father as Jesus has with him -- a relationship mediated through the Spirit.

I'll close with a comment I like from Fred Craddock on this text in Preaching through the Christian Year, Year A.

"...even for disciples like Mary, Easter does not return her and Jesus to the past; Easter opens up a new future. The earthly ministry is over; now the ministry of the exalted, glorified, ever-abiding Christ begins. "Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you" (16:7). In fact, the one who believes will do even greater works than Jesus did, "because I am going to the Father" (14:12). Therefore, Jesus says to Mary Magdalene, "Do not hold on to me" (v. 17). Rather, she is to go and announce his resurrection and his ascension to the presence of God, from whose presence the Holy Spirit will come to lead, comfort, and empower the church." [p. 246]

The resurrection is not a return to the past, but a movement to the future. Neither Mary nor we nor our congregations can hold on to the past after resurrection. We look to the even greater future that God has in store for us through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Brian Stoffregen
Faith Lutheran Church, 2215 S 8th Ave., Yuma, AZ 85364