Reflections on the Orthodox faith and life in this crazy 21st century world by an Orthodox priest and a few of his friends.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
He Must Rise Again From the Dead (John 20:3-10)
3 Peter therefore went out, and the other disciple, and were going to the tomb. 4 So they both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first. 5 And he, stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there; yet he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there, 7 and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who came to the tomb first, went in also; and he saw and believed. 9 For as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went away again to their own homes.
In typical fashion, Peter takes off running for the tomb as soon as he hears Mary Magdalene’s testimony. John (“the other disciple”) follows right behind him. This action speaks volumes about Peter and John’s continuing devotion to Jesus (even though Peter had failed him earlier, he clearly still loves his Lord). Neglecting all risk to themselves, they are determined to see the empty tomb and to find out for themselves what has happened to the body of their Lord.
Because St John was present at the event narrated here, he is able to give us a detailed eyewitness account of what happened. We see how at first he runs side-by-side with Peter. Being the younger man, however, John outruns Peter and reaches the tomb first. We see also that John very specifically relates the order in which the two men entered the tomb and the arrangement of the burial wrappings. Why go into such detail? Fr. Farley offers this explanation:
“[John wishes] to present an eyewitness account, something which could stand up in court. John narrates that he came quickly and first to the tomb to stress that he came before anyone else and so can vouch for the fact that no one else was there who could have stolen the body or returned the burial wrappings. Their leader Peter could not have done so, because John got there before him and would have seen it if Peter had removed the body. John’s testimony that the disciples did not steal the body therefore was reliable. Moreover, he did not enter the tomb, and so he himself cannot be accused of placing the burial wrappings in the tomb. He saw them there, but could not have planted them there” (342).
Notice that John, perhaps from awe, perhaps from fear, perhaps from shock, perhaps from reverence for the tomb—or, most likely, from a combination of these—does not enter the tomb, but merely looks in. Peter, however (true to form) plunges right in when he arrives. And, as Fr. Farley comments, “Together Peter and John constitute two legal witnesses. This is important for the building of St. John’s case for the Gospel, for according to the Law, it is ‘on the testimony of two or three witnesses that a matter will be confirmed.’ (Deut. 19:15)” (342).
And these two witnesses did not see merely the absence of Jesus’ body. They also saw the grave cloths lying there, arranged in a peculiar way. To understand why this is unusual, we must first acquaint ourselves with the way that Jewish bodies were typically buried. As usual, I’ll let Fr. Farley give the description:
“As with the burial of Lazarus, Christ’s head was wrapped with a neckerchief. [In typical Jewish burials,} this neckerchief…was rolled up and folded upon itself so as to form a long piece of cloth which wast hen wrapped around his head (to keep the jaw closed). A knot was then tied at the top of the head to hold the neckerchief in place. The body was then wrapped in a large linen sheet [Fr. James’ note: we would call this a shroud.]…which covered the front, came up over the head and then came down to cover the back. This was held in place by bandages or linen strips, which tied and secured both the feet and the arms” (342).
The disciples noticed that the neckerchief was not wadded up and lying in a pile with the shroud and the wrappings. Instead, it was neatly folded together in a place by itself, apart from the other grave cloths. All this must have seemed very strange to Peter and John. The body was obviously not there; someone must have stolen it, as Mary thought. But if someone were to steal the body, they would have had to have done so in a great hurry. They almost certainly would have just taken the body with its wrappings. Even if they had taken the time to unwrap the body, they would hardly have taken the time to refold the neckerchief. As Fr. Farley writes, “Grave-robbers usually steal valuables from the grave and leave the body, not steal the body and leave the valuables!” (342).
St. John then tells us that he (“the other disciple”) saw and believed. This does not mean that he yet believed that Jesus had risen from the dead; he merely believed Mary’s story that the body was gone. In St. Luke’s Gospel, we read that the disciples initially did not believe the myrrh-bearing women’s stories about the Resurrection (told by the angel, which is narrated in the other Gospels), but thought them to be nonsense (Luke 24:10-11). And, as St. John himself writes: “as yet they did not know the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” However, this belief that the tomb was empty proved to be the starting point of their belief in the Resurrection.
On the disciples’ faith, Fr. Farley comments thus: “For [Peter and John] also it was necessary to see before they believe. If they had properly understood the prophecies of Scripture, they would have believed that the tomb was empty even without seeing” (343). Puzzled beyond measure, Peter and John return home, where they would soon be greeted by the myrrh-bearing women (minus Mary Magdalene) and, a little later, Mary Magdalene herself.