The following is an excerpt from a sermon I preached –
When Gossip becomes Gospel? JOHN 20:10-31
ST. LUKE TABERNACLE COMMUNITY CHURCH ROCHESTER, NY
SUNDAY, APRIL 23, 2017
The sequence of the message is almost as important as the message itself.
Similar to the game of telephone, as I discovered as a child, sometimes it matters who receives the message and who it comes from.
I see this passage of scripture broken down into 3 equal parts that raise the stakes each time. Verses 10-18 comprise part 1, part 2 consist of verses 19-23, and the last section is from verses 24-31. There are several common mistakes made. Too often the story for many only begins at verse 19. Mary's part in verses 10-18 is excluded, maybe because it reads more like a Resurrection Sunday message. But whatever the reason, it is excluded. Even in the Gospel of John itself, it is an overlooked piece of the story. After Jesus appears to the disciples again and helps them “cor-rangle,” my special way of saying corral, some fish, chapter 21 verse 14 says,
"This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead."
This is, of course, true as the disciples refers to the 12, (now 11) but something still doesn't sit right with me in that regard. We gloss over the clear chain of communication. Peter and John just stroll on back to their homes, while Mary Magdeline stays at the tomb weeping.
Maybe they didn't want to cry in front of her or each other or something like that. They were men after all, and men don't do that type of stuff. Do they? If that was the reason then they would be sadly mistaken because even Jesus, who is GOD, wept (John 11:35) over his friend Lazarus' death! Nevertheless, they were gone and she was still there to see about this thing.
When we have looked at this text in the past we have overlooked Mary's role. Even when we acknowledge her, we oversimplify the sequence as if she hurried to tell the disciples, who then tell Thomas, who says “Nah,” and has to be confronted by Jesus. What we rarely hold up is the fact that Jesus showed up at every stop along the way. Thomas takes the heat here, but it is safe to assume that he wasn't the only one doubting.
Mary is in distress when Jesus shows up and gives her reassurance and an assignment. The passage in John 20 doesn't explicitly say it, but we can infer that the disciples probably look at her like she was crazy.
Can't you hear them now? One of them probably even grumbled, "she was aight' when Jesus was still around, but he ain't here no mo' (bad grammar and all).
We can even reference the other Gospels for a fuller picture. In Luke 24:10-12 the two men wearing clothes that gleamed like lightning appeared to the women who had come to the tomb with the spices they had prepared. They asked them why they were looking for the living among the dead, and reiterated the message Jesus continually spoke about - the Son of Man being betrayed, crucified, and resurrected on the third day.
Verses 9 through 12 tell us that,
"When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdeline, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened."
I'm not making this up; it's all in there. They didn't believe!
Like Luke's account, John tells us that Mary Magdeline, "went to the disciples with the news." It is not a stretch of the imagination or an unreasonable claim to place on John's Gospel (even if not explicitly written), that they in fact did not believe her. This didn't stop anything, however, because Mary's testimony was hers! And the disciples doubt soon gave way to the presence of Jesus, which provided them with a testimony of their own.
It is also no accident sisters and brothers that Jesus went to Mary Magdeline first. She was also first to the tomb as 20:1-2 shows, but she was also one of the last at the cross. I came across a sermon that was entitled "Last at the cross, “First at the tomb" that delved deep into this overlooked reality. It also reminded me of a Good Friday sermon preached by Minister Michael Poindexter from John 19:25-27 entitled "Three Mary's and One John." In it he explores how when all others, including the rest of the disciples, had either abandoned Jesus or could stomach the cross no longer, there remained his mother Mary (and her sister), Mary the wife of Clopas, Mary Magdeline, and John.
The woman was the first to encounter the risen Lord! The reasoning for that is echoed loudly today, as women, especially in our tradition remain the backbone of our churches and the life of faith. These same women are often the workers, many without titles, who go overlooked, overworked, and under-appreciated. They are like Mary Magdeline, who didn't hold a title but could definitely be considered the glue that held it all together. And for the purposes of this part of the story, if it had not been for Mary!
Think about Peter and John for a second. They say nothing to anyone when they discover the empty tomb. And Mary was the one who told them about it! She is in the thick of it all.
For many of us, a woman was our first introduction into the life of faith. I'm reminded of my mom, who remains my spiritual example and wise counsel. My mom, who, you couldn't quite put your finger on it, but just had a special relationship with Jesus! We could go on and on about this point but suffice it to say that Jesus was intentional in this progression from Mary, to disciples, and to Thomas.
His Glory and Victory was on full display!