"Go Home" - Rev. Andrew Scott, Pastor (printable version)
The sky was brightening in the east, but blackness still blanketed the earth, as the two men raced through the streets of Jerusalem, dodging and leaping over the shadows of curbs and carts and market-stalls toward the dark semi-circle of the city gate.
Once beyond it, out in the open, the light was better, and the stumbling jog gave way to an all-out sprint. Down they ran along the broad street that ran along the city wall, into the Kidron Valley. Just across the valley, in the growing light, they could see the mount of Olives. At its base, still shrouded in shadow, lay the Garden of Gethsemane.
They had been there, only a few days earlier, when Jesus was arrested, and Peter cut off the ear of Malchus, servant of the chief priest. But they didn’t have time to think about that at the moment. Their objective lay at the bottom of the valley: a low escarpment of limestone, the remains of a quarry, which once had produced blocks for Solomon’s Temple. Now the sheer rock face was pockmarked with hundreds of low square openings. Tombs.
Neither man knew what exactly what he was looking for. One of the women who had gone to the cemetery early that morning – Mary Magdalene – had shown up at their door, wild-eyed with panic, and shouted, “they have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” There was more to the story, of course – but Peter and John don’t seem to have hung around long enough to hear it. All they heard was that the tomb was empty.
Out in the open, John pulled away easily. Both he and Peter were fishermen by trade, and in good physical condition, but John seems to have been considerably younger, and in this sprint to the valley the age difference showed. He arrived at the tomb well before his companion. Seeing the stone rolled away, John ducked his head inside the entryway.
As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he noticed something odd. If someone had taken – stolen – Jesus’ body, you’d expect to find nothing at all. But there on the ledge where Jesus had lain, was the white linen sheet in which he had been buried, and… nothing else. Just then, Peter, gasping for breath, stumbled to a halt, and shoving John aside, squeezed his frame into tomb proper. He saw the linens, and something else: the small linen napkin that had covered Jesus’ face, folded neatly and set aside. Not to be outdone, John entered as well, and saw it for himself.
And then, satisfied that Jesus was not there, these two men, who had followed Jesus from the very beginning, who had been as close to him as anyone on earth – Simon, who Jesus called Peter, the rock, and John, the “beloved disciple,” who had sat next to Jesus at the Last Supper – did something that I think most people find baffling. They went home.
Why? Would you? Faced with the most incredible revelation in the history of the universe – the tomb is empty, Jesus is risen – wouldn’t you, I don’t know… maybe hang around for a few minutes to see if he shows up, or search for him in the Temple, or really do anything, but go home? And of course, the most disappointing part is that Mary Magdalene, who had followed them back to the tomb, didn’t go back to the city – she stayed there in the garden, weeping, and as a result was the first person to see, and speak, to the risen Christ.
You might say, well, they didn’t get it, and they were so confused they couldn’t think of anything else to do. Except for one detail: in chapter 20:8, John says that when he entered the tomb, “he saw and believed.” That is, he believed that Jesus had risen, that somehow he was alive. He adds in verse nine that “as yet they did not understand the Scriptures, that he must rise from the dead.” In other words, Peter and John didn’t understand how all of this fit together, how the resurrection of Jesus fulfilled prophecy, how it had to happen, because it had been the plan all along – that the disciples didn’t really grasp until Pentecost, until the Holy Spirit was poured out in fullness, who Jesus had promised would “teach you all things.” (John 14:26) But from that moment, they believed – they believed that Jesus had risen from the dead, and believing, they went home.
Which, incidentally, was exactly the right thing to do. If Jesus was alive, they wouldn’t have to find him. He would find them. And there were others – Andrew, Peter’s brother, and John’s brother James, and Matthew and the others, and in John’s home, Mary, Jesus’ mother, who Jesus had commended to John’s care, as he hung on the cross. They needed to know. They needed to know that it would be all right – all of it, not just their own situation, but everything, all creation, that it would be put right because Jesus lived. Because his promises had incredibly, unbelievably, proven to be true. It was no good to stand there in the garden. There were people back home, back in the city, who needed to know. There still are, you know. There always are.
Praise God that we’re able to gather together this morning, to sing the glories of the risen, living Savior, to join the joyful chorus of the angels and elders proclaiming the infinite worth of the lamb who was slain and now lives, who by his blood ransomed people for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, making them a kingdom and priests to our God. (Revelation 5:9-10) Praise God for the knowledge that because Jesus Christ lives, we have forgiveness and hope and life in his name. And then… whether it’s after breakfast, or after the 11 am service… go home. Back to your families, back to your jobs, back to your neighbors. Because they need to know. They need to hear the good news. Amen.