I. Establish the text
A. Select the Pericope: John 20:1-18
B. Establish translation: Review NIV, NRSV, TEV, BHS/NA26, …
C. Other texts for Year A for 1st Sunday in Easter
D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?
1 John does not tell why Mary Magdalene went to the tomb. It could have been to adorn the body as explained in the Synoptic Gospels, or it could have been to mourn at his tomb as people do today. In the first century (and in the Middle East today) the dead are typically buried on the day of death and mourning follows (c.f. Mary mourning for Lazarus).
1 The stone was rolled away to let us in rather than to let Jesus out. Note in other post resurrection appearances Jesus appears bodily despite locked doors. us).
2a “The one whom Jesus loved.” Why this title? Were not all of the disciples loved by Jesus? This title is also used at John 13:23, 21:7, and 21:20. At no citation is this phrase associated with a name. Was this Lazarus, “whom Jesus loved”? us).
2b Does Mary jump to the conclusion that the body has been moved based on the stone having been removed, or has she looked in side as well? Would the empty strips of linen been easy to see from the door? us).
7 The details on the folded grave cloths point to the error of Mary’s statement, no one has taken the body away. Jesus has left death behind!us).
8-9 If the beloved one, saw and believed, but did not yet understand from Scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead, what then did he believe? Did he merely realize the desecration of the tomb? us).
10 Why did they leave Mary there crying? Was the beloved one unable to explain what he now “believed”? us).
11 Believers wept at the cross, while the world rejoiced. Now Believers will rejoice at the empty cross and the empty tomb and the world is perplexed. us).
12 The angels sitting where the body had lain echoes Jesus promise of angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man and are evidence of the in breaking of the Kingdom of God.us).
13 Mary seems too readily accept the presence of the angels. In other appearance of angels, the humans typically fall to their knees in fear and trembling. us).
14 In her grief had she forgotten or had her eyes been covered as the two on the Road to Emmaus? And how often do we neglect to recognize Jesus in our midst? us).
15 Jesus’ question Mary: “Whom are you looking for?” and Mary’s response: “Rabboni!” parallel the questions by John the Baptizer’s disciples. This may be a good question for us today. us).
15b Mary is quite willing to get a partially decayed body herself. Are we as willing to get messy for Jesus’ sake? us).
16 It is indeed Jesus who has carried him away, as Jesus has the power to take up his own life and lay it down again. us).
17 Jesus calls us his siblings, not his children nor followers! What does it mean to be on a par with Jesus in the household of God? Able to call the creator of the heavens and the earth our Father? us).
18 Mark’s Gospel ends with the women in fear and silent, not telling anyone. John records Mary as the first evangelist. Luke spreads this honor among the two other Marys and Joanna. Matthew talks of two Marys.
F. Are there any significant variants in the manuscripts? Why?
II. Literary Study.
A. What is the history of the text? Who wrote it? When? In what social context? What Historical/Religious/Sociological factors influenced its writing?
B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?
- Mark 16 Mary M., “Mary the mother of James” and Salome went to the tomb to anoint Jesus. They were addressed by “a young man dressed in white” who tells them to tell the disciples [Jesus] is going ahead to Galilee, but they are afraid and tell no one. Mark’s abrupt ending allows the reader to wonder how the Good News came to be heard by others and brings the reader into the urgency of telling others.
- Matt 28 Mary M. and “the other Mary” went to look at the tomb. Adds the stone was rolled away by an angel who frightened guards away. They are addressed by an “angel of the Lord” who looked like lighting dressed in white. They run with joy to tell the disciples and encounter Jesus along the way. They clasp his feet. He tells them to tell his brethren.
- Luke 24 “The women” (3 named plus “others” in 24:10) take spices to the tomb. While in the tomb, two men clothed gleaming like lighting stood beside them. They tell the disciples but the disciples don’t believe. Peter’s going to the tomb later to look for himself in verse 12 may have been a later addition to harmonize with John 20.
- John 20 Mary M. goes to look at the tomb. She tells Peter and the one “whom Jesus loved” the tomb is empty. After they leave she first encounters the two angels and later the risen Jesus on the way to the Father, but she is forbidden to clasp him. After this encounter she runs announcing: “I have seen the Lord!”
C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms
- Many of the action verbs of the narrative are in the present tense. Particularly those involving approaching the tomb or Jesus.
- “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!
2 “The one who Jesus loved” – /filew/ which tends towards friendship.
14 & 16 Mary *IS* turned around. The NIV and RSV ignore the passive form of the verb and give Mary the action of turning. Is it we who turn to God or does God turn us?
15 Mary refers to “the gardener” with the same title that she has given for Jesus to the angels, unaware of her accuracy.
15 The verb used when Mary says what she will do with the body is the same as used in 1:29: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” It has the sense of “pick up and carry away”.
17 Jesus “ascends” although NIV and RSV render this as passive. Active agrees with 10:17 – “I lay down my life, that I may take it again.”
18 Mary cannot contain her news. She “comes announcing.”
18 “Seeing” verb used here connotes something has been revealed unto Mary.
D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?
III. Question the text.
A. Observe the passage from the perspective of its characters.
B. Are there any unusual details? Un-named characters? ‘Pointless’ description? Meanings of names of characters? What does a literal meaning of natural metaphors imply?
The text gives many details that beg for explanation.
- The un-named disciple out runs Peter, yet he does not enter until Peter has entered.
- Mary’s return to the tomb is unmentioned. Has she simply followed the disciples?
- Why is the burial cloth folded and laid separately from the linens? Where the linens folded? Is this to refute the idea of a grave robbery? (If so would the cloths have been taken as well or left in a heap?)
- What did the un-named disciple believe if he still lacked understanding of the Scripture?
- Why two angles in white?
- What is the significance of Mary’s not being allowed to hold on to Jesus before he ascends?
C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?
D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.
E. Is there anything you wish the author had included in the passage? Why do you think this was not a part of Scripture?
F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?
- The resurrection is hardly a routine way to start the day, or is it? – Harvey Mozolak in http://www.ecunet.org/Sermonshop.2003.04.20/ April 8, 2003
IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?
Gail R. O’Day in The New Interpreter’s Bible: “The Gospel of John”. Pay little attention to which disciple does what, as this only leads away from John’s central point: The tomb is empty. The tomb is not merely empty, but its emptiness bears witness to Jesus conquest of death. Since the resurrection has not yet happened nor has the Paraclete been given, the empty tomb inspires hope of what is to come.
Fred B. Craddock in Knox Preaching Guides: John. The Bible does not recount for us the resurrection only post resurrection appearances. Where as non-canonical post resurrection accounts, tell of Jesus making shocking and compelling appearances to the general public and to strangers, the Bible contains restrained accounts with Jesus only appearing to disciples.
Brian Stoffregen http://www.ecunet.org/Gospel.notes.for.next.Sunday/, April 13, 2003 — 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.
William H. Willamon (Pulpit Resource, March 23, 2008) reminds me of how the resurrection interrupts the normal pattern of life. Easter happened on the first day of the week; a day when everyone was attempting to get back into the normality of life after a particularly bloody weekend. Consider inviting the listener into Mary Magdalene’s shoes. What would we expect to find? How would we react to a disturbed grave? What Peter believes on seeing the empty tomb is ambiguous, as he did not know the scripture. What would we believe? He suggests asking rather than when did Christ do such and such, but where is Christ doing such and such, recognizing Christ’s ability to get past locked doors.
V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?
Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond
A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?
B. Focus Statement: Central, controlling, unifying theme.
C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?
- Mary did not expect to see the risen Jesus. When/where do we not expect to find Jesus?
- Contrast the empty protestant cross with the crucifix.
- In Tuesday’s with Morrie, the title character encourages the author to embrace death, because once death has been embraced, one may truly live.