The Apostle Mary: Red Letter Year 12/26

John 20.1-18

“MM fin” by dashinvaine

1 Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. 2 She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

3 Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. 4 They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. 6 Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, 7 while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings. 8 Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed — 9 for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. 10 Then they went home.

11 Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. 12 She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her.

“Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

14 She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. 15 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”

She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”

16 “Mary!” Jesus said.

She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).

17 “Don’t keep clinging to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

18 Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.


Early in the morning, before dawn even, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb. Why? To be near Jesus even in death? To pray? Because she didn’t know what else to do? Because she hoped he would rise from the dead as he promised? We can’t be certain that she had heard Jesus predict his resurrection, but some did; why weren’t any of them holding vigil with Mary? It seems the community Jesus founded was down to just one member at this point. We can learn a lot from Mary’s faithfulness and her desire to be close to Jesus.

Then she find things not as they were when she left them on her last visit (no telling how often she went to the tomb over the weekend, but we would be safe to guess she spent a good deal of time there) and she runs to get Peter. We also can’t be sure whether she knew of Peter’s denials, but she knew he was absent at the cross and since, but that doesn’t stop her from going to him first. Mary also tells the beloved disciple, who (as I discussed last week), could be John son of Zebedee or several other people, including Mary herself. I see two hints here that make me want to read this as Mary’s account and the ‘beloved disciple’ as her pen name.

First, after hearing the news from Mary, Peter and the beloved disciple both run to the tomb. The beloved disciple outran Peter. We know this because the text above tells us three different times that the beloved disciple got there first. So either BD was quite proud of being faster than Peter, or this is a subtle way of saying, “I got there first.” But who got to the empty tomb first? Mary. Second, follow Mary’s movement in this passage. In v.1 she goes to the tomb. In v.2 she goes to where Peter is. In v.11 she is back at the tomb with no indication of movement. It’s like she never left, except we know she went to fetch Peter (and BD if that was someone else). If Mary was the beloved disciple that explains how she got back and why the author cared so much about who ran faster.

Not a flawless theory, but at least an interesting one. And more than that, one that lends itself to a point that is actually important (quite independent of the conjecture): whoever wrote this Gospel did so in close consultation with Mary. Mary is the first person the risen Jesus appeared to and the only person he appeared to alone. Verses 11-18 is one of my favorite passages in all the Bible because it beautifully conveys the powerful spiritual and emotional pathos of this moment. Mary was unconsolable – not even angels or Jesus himself could comfort her. It was not until Jesus spoke her name that any word got through her grief. And then her sorrow turned to joy and she wrapped her arms around the living man whose death she was mourning.

And then Jesus gave her a mission. He appointed her to share this best of news with his followers. This community of one was miraculously up to two and was about to grow quite rapidly as Mary preached and the other followers responded to her and began to preach as well. We should not read what Jesus says to Mary in v. 17 as only a one-time, functional, discrete order. Jesus gave Mary a life command to keep telling others about this Jesus she was love with, this man she had to be near. We have nearly forgotten this, but this is why she came to be known in the church as the apostle to the apostles. She is the mother of the church. Mary either wrote or greatly contributed to the Fourth Gospel as one way of obeying this command. Her witness at the cross and outside the empty tomb are central to the faith you and I have. We are the brothers and sisters Mary was sent to tell. I pray we would listen to her and learn from her example. I pray we will be in love with Jesus as Mary was, that we will long to be close to him like she did.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Myrrh Again: Red Letter Year 12/25

John 19.38-42

38 Afterward Joseph of Arimathea, who had been a secret disciple of Jesus (because he feared the Jewish leaders), asked Pilate for permission to take down Jesus’ body. When Pilate gave permission, Joseph came and took the body away. 39 With him came Nicodemus, the man who had come to Jesus at night. He brought about seventy-five pounds of perfumed ointment made from myrrh and aloes. 40 Following Jewish burial custom, they wrapped Jesus’ body with the spices in long sheets of linen cloth. 41 The place of crucifixion was near a garden, where there was a new tomb, never used before. 42 And so, because it was the day of preparation for the Jewish Passover and since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.


Merry Christmas! It is very late/early as I sit in the twinkling glow of our Christmas lights. The presents are all wrapped, everyone else is asleep (except maybe Emily who is making everyone presents this year and has been working very hard). The night is dark, quiet, and still. I love Christmas. One of my favorite parts is hanging out with Amy on Christmas Eve after the kids are all in bed. We unpackage toys, wrap gifts, and check one last time to make sure all the gifts are even between the kids. I imagine their reactions to that new thing they have been wanting, or even better, that thing I know they will love that they don’t even know exists yet. I know some Christians go on about the commercialization of Christmas. There are reasons to be concerned, but they relate to the consumerist nature of our culture generally, not some anomalous thing that happens once a year.

I think some of the Christian reaction against Christmas can be chalked up to being contrary for its own sake. I think they are insulted that people enjoy Christmas but avoid religious expressions of it, so they return the insult and fight for their religious day. But I’m not interested in a culture war because that makes it hard to love neighbors and connect with people. Like most people, I love giving gifts. It is a good thing that this has become such a dominant cultural event. It makes it easier to capture people’s imaginations with the amazing gift of God’s love, of God’s Son. They have received gifts before (perhaps amazing ones) and have some idea of how that feels. More than that, they have given gifts, and not just gift cards and socks, they have some experience in finding just the right gift, just what is needed, just what is most wanted, and then waiting with anticipation for the moment when the recipient opens the gift. Will they love it? Will they keep it? We know how this feels because we are a gifting culture (at least once a year), which helps us relate to a God who gives his own Son to us and then waits for our response. Will we like him? Will we love him? Will we keep him? Instead of fighting against culture, we can participate in culture and leverage it to help tell the story of God’s love.

And today we see that part of God’s story is receiving gifts from us. Jesus was given myrrh as a small boy (Matt. 2) and here he is given myrrh again. Both times it is a gift fit for a king. Both times it is given by a half-follower, someone who has heard of Jesus but is not (yet) a committed follower. When the wise men came through Jerusalem, Herod and his court asked about when and where to find the baby, but they only did so they could fight, not follow. No one else went down with gifts. Here after Jesus has died, none of his followers have come to bury him. They were too worried about an ongoing fight with the religious leaders to show their faces in public. The magi, Joseph, and Nicodemus are free to offer such gifts to Jesus precisely because they are not part of a cultural struggle that becomes more determinative than the Good News itself.

My point is – enjoy today. Enjoy the gifts you receive. Enjoy giving gifts to others. Enjoy the gift of time with family. Enjoy the food. Enjoy Christmas in all its spiritual and cultural significance. And don’t feel guilty for enjoying it, just enjoy it. Instead of distancing ourselves from the culture around us, let’s reengage it, let’s participate in it. And not in artificial ways that mimic culture while keeping a ‘safe’ distance from it (I’m looking at you Christian sub-culture), but for reals. Only by participating in our culture can we show God’s love for this world and only in dropping our war on culture can we become like the wise men, Joseph, and Nicodemus – people who give good gifts to God.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.