Our Perception of Resurrection – John18vv1-18 – MR2024-0401

Yesterday was Easter Sunday …  the high point of our liturgical year for many/most Christians.   

  • Easter Sunday is also known as Resurrection Sunday …the day many Christians set aside for the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead …
  • It is also a celebration of our own resurrection, as we have been inextricably linked to Jesus through the Incarnation and brought into deep fellowship with the Father and Holy Spirit.


A special video presentation, prepared by our Home Office …



A sermon provided by the GCI Home Office … 


TITLE  Our Perception of Resurrection: What Do We See?

TEXT  John 20:1-18  NRSVUE


You may have seen this optical illusion before: is it a rabbit or a duck?




The drawing was developed back in 1899 by Joseph Jastrow, an American psychologist, who used it to test how quickly people’s brains could switch between the two perceptions.  Supposedly, if people were shown the picture during Easter, they typically would see the rabbit first, but if shown the picture at other times of the year, the duck was the more common first perception.  The context was a critical aspect of their perception.

We understand that our perception of reality is affected by various biases, but we’re often unaware of them.  Our thoughts about Easter and the Resurrection have been filtered through our biases.  As we read today’s sermon text from John 20:1-18, we’ll notice how perception plays a role in the way Mary Magdalene and the disciples observed, interpreted, and responded to what they saw in the empty tomb and garden.


We sometimes forget that the resurrection happened in the dark, in the early morning hours.  Nobody witnessed the actual event, and writer and theologian Frederick Buechner points out how “the darkness of the resurrection itself, that morning when it was hard to be sure what you were seeing” affected the perception of Mary, Peter, and John at the tomb.

Let’s examine today’s sermon text to develop a few ideas about how we might embrace the resurrection more fully.  If we let it, the way we perceive resurrection in all its mystery impacts the way we live nowThe resurrection of Jesus asks us to feel our doubts and griefs to the fullest, witness our encounters with the Divine, and understand what resurrection’s re-creation means.


Feel doubts and griefs to the fullest

In John 20:1, it says that Mary Magdalene came to the tomb “while it was still dark.”  We have usually assumed that she was coming to finish the anointing of Jesus’ body with spices, but we have overlooked that she was probably also mourning the death of her hope for a different future, one free from Roman oppression where all people were valued, regardless of gender, ethnic heritage, or class.

Mary was willing to linger in a graveyard, which we might think of as a difficult place, a space without hope or promise.  We can contrast Mary’s willingness to feel her grief with the disciples’ response of trying to get back to “normal,” getting on with life.  After Peter and John looked into the tomb, here’s what they did:

Then the disciples returned to their homes. (John 20:10, NRSVUE)

The disciples and Mary had had “a week.”  They were trying to process the trauma they had seen and the death of their friend as well as their vision for the future.  But Mary made a different choice than Peter and John.  She chose to stay in that difficult place and weep.

Loss and death are inevitable parts of being human, and making the resurrection a soundbite or a pat answer sometimes feels as if we are minimizing the grief we or others suffer.  But there’s a problem with getting on with life when you haven’t allowed yourself the space to feel deep grief for the losses, disappointments, and suffering that are part of being human.  The problem is that resurrection can’t bring healing until death and the darkest doubts are felt, held, and cared for tenderly.  As we see in v. 11, the divine encounter doesn’t come until after the weepingThe weeping brings us to the end of ourselves and enables us to feel the presence of God.  Buechner says it like this:

The essential message is that nothing, no horror can happen that can permanently, irrevocably quench the presence of holiness that is always there “underneath the everlasting arms.” [Deuteronomy 33:27]  No matter what dreadful things take place, that remains the heart of reality.  There is that wonderful thing from the British saint, Julian of Norwich: “All shall be well, and all manner of things will be well.”  That somehow remains true no matter what.  That’s, I think, the message of Easter.

Mary’s weeping is mentioned four times in the passage, and this repetition emphasizes the importance of our human response to loss and suffering.  Theologian Karoline Lewis writes, “For the incarnation to be taken seriously, being human must be taken seriously.”  We need to feel our doubts and deep grief, knowing that the “everlasting arms” won’t let us go.


Witness our encounters with resurrection 

As we read in vv.1-10, we see two different responses to the resurrection.  To be fair, we have the benefit of hindsight as we read the account.  We like to think we would respond as Mary did, but maybe our responses would be like Peter and John.

  • On the one hand, we have Mary Magdalene who saw the stone had been rolled away.  Her response was to run to the disciples Peter and John to tell them what she saw (v. 2).
  • On the other hand, Peter and John “did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead” (v.9).  As we read before in v. 10, they went home.   The passage doesn’t tell us if they stuck around to look for clues or even took time to ponder this turn of events in light of all the things Jesus taught them.  They had been through a traumatic week, and like us, they probably wanted a sense of normalcy.  They wanted the calm routine of home.

When Mary decided to look inside the tomb again, she encountered two angels sitting where Jesus’ body had lain.

Was angelic visitation commonplace in those days?  The text doesn’t help us out, and Mary’s response seems pretty ordinary, more focused on her concern for the whereabouts of Jesus’ body and not the angelic beings in front of her.  Next, she mistakes Jesus for the gardener until he calls her by name.  What is Mary’s response to these resurrection encounters?

Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and she told them that he had said these things to her. (John 20:18, NRSVUE)

When we recognize that we’ve witnessed resurrection, we need to tell others about it.  In this instance, Mary didn’t actually see the resurrection of Jesus happen, but she saw the effects of it: angelic beings, a glorified JesusWe probably won’t witness an actual resurrection, but we do witness the effects of resurrection in our own lives, such as answered prayer, a divine intervention, or a synchronicity where we know God has been present.

  • Rather than attributing these to mere coincidence, we can witness them as God’s grace and goodness coming through our world and into our unique situations.
  • We can offer thanks and praise to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and when appropriate for someone’s encouragement, we can share our stories of hope, mystery, and divine encounter.


Understand resurrection’s re-creation 

John makes the literary choice to reveal that the gardener is really Jesus to the reader before he reveals it to Mary.  We watch the scenario unfold as the truth dawns on her and she says, “Rabbouni! (which means Teacher)” (v.16).  Jesus’ next words might be interpreted as harsh:

Jesus said to her, “Do not touch me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father.” (John 20:17, NRSVUE)

Other translations have Jesus telling Mary not to cling to him, and these might help us see that rather than implying Mary’s touch would have sullied him in some way, Jesus might have been communicating that his resurrection meant their way of interacting would be new and different.  No longer was he incarnated in a human body to be clung to, but a glorified body.  Their “band” wouldn’t be getting back together again in quite the same way.  More importantly, Jesus’ disciples, including Mary, needed to see that the resurrection meant that the hope they had for the future would be a different type of hope, a bigger hope that would impact the whole world, not juat their little corner of it.  And for uswe must understand that the healing and wholeness of resurrection doesn’t mean things will be the way they once were.  Just as the healing of a deep cut leaves a scar, our healing means we’re OK but different, stronger but more compassionate.

We often focus on the promise of future resurrection for us because Jesus was resurrected, and that is a valid viewpoint.  However, the promise of resurrection can seem far off, narrow, and limited.  It takes our attention from living our normal human lives as Jesus did and puts that attention on some future event.  Making heaven our resurrection focus rather than living the resurrection now turns our inclusion in the relationship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit into a “get out of jail free” card. As a result, we lack the ability to live the challenges of our human existence as Jesus did because we are always future-focused, unclear about our identity and role in the world today. Resurrection should impact the way we live now, not only our future state after death.

Lewis points out that the next verses show that the resurrection was only the beginning, and it was the ascension that provided the promise of our inclusion in the Father, Son, and Spirit relationship.  Going back to the previous point (Witness our encounters with resurrection), Jesus charges Mary with telling the others about this promise:

But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” (John 20: 17b)

Some compare this sharing of relationship like a kid bringing friends to his home after school.  They eat food out of the fridge, play video games, watch the family’s TV, sharing all these benefits as if they were part of the family.  The resurrection and ascension mean that we participate in the close relationship Jesus shares with the Father and Holy Spirit.  Paul writes this in Romans:

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. (Romans 8:29, NRSVUE)

Resurrection’s re-creation means understanding what resurrection means for you and me, not just in the future after death but now.

  • For Mary, her acknowledgement of “Rabbouni!” (v.16) shows Jesus’ identity as her teacher and her identity as his student.  She was no longer just a woman, a second-class citizen, and piece of property in a patriarchal society. She was a student of the risen Christ and empowered to share that with others.
  • As fellow followers of the risen Christ, we too are more than what our culture says we are.

Our identity and value – in fact, the identity and value of all human beings – rest on the resurrection and our inclusion in full relationship with the Divine.  As Paul writes in Galatians, we are unified and one in Christ:

 There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.   (Galatians 3:28, NRSVUE)

Enlarging our perception of the resurrection and its importance is our task today.

  • If we perceive the resurrection of Jesus as only a proof of our eventual release from the grave, we will miss the broader implications resurrection has for our lives now.
  • By following Mary Magdalene’s example, we
      • feel our feelings (even the difficult emotions) for our own suffering and the suffering of others,
      • witness the awe of our divine resurrection encounters with gratitude and praise,
      • and seek to understand the re-creation aspect of the resurrection with the ascension’s promise of deep fellowship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in our daily lives.

Call to Action: For Easter Sunday, contemplate your own perception of resurrection.  Think about a time of loss or disappointment and allow yourself to feel the grief while also noticing that “underneath are the everlasting arms.”  Consider a personal story about God’s presence in your life; offer a prayer of praise and share it with someone if appropriate.  Pray and ask for a deeper understanding of what resurrection is re-creating in your ordinary life, giving thanks for the ascension’s promise of inclusion and relationship.


Small Group Discussion Questions

  • The optical illusion pointed out that we see or perceive differently based on our context or other biases. Have you ever noticed something in a room or situation that no one else noticed?
  • How does this highlight the influence that our personal biases, personalities, temperament, education, etc., have on the way we understand the resurrection?
  • Being human means we must hold the tension between hope and the reality of suffering, loss, and death.  This means we must feel our emotions deeply to experience the healing hope of resurrection.  Why do we want to avoid feeling difficult emotions?
  • What are we afraid of?
  • Telling others when we’ve experienced the effects of resurrection in our daily lives takes our focus from a future event to the present.  How does Jesus’ resurrection influence your daily life now?
    • In other words, how do you live differently because of the resurrection and the promise of the ascension?
  • The sermon suggests that resurrection re-creates our interaction with the Father, Son, and Spirit as well as with other human beings.  Sometimes we tend to see God and others in a very narrow way.  What value is there to viewing God and God’s work with humanity through a more expansive lens?
    • In other words, if Jesus’ resurrection implies abundant living now, not just as a release from the grave, what does that look like?



John 20:1-18 Matthew 28:1- 15 Mark 16:1-8 Luke 24:1-12  

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 

So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!’

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 

Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 

He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 

Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 

as well as the cloth that had been wrapped round Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 

Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 

(They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 

10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

13 They asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying?’

‘They have taken my Lord away,’ she said, ‘and I don’t know where they have put him.’ 

14 At this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realise that it was Jesus.

15 He asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?’

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.’

16 Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’

She turned towards him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means ‘Teacher’).

17 Jesus said, ‘Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”’

18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: ‘I have seen the Lord!’ And she told them that he had said these things to her.

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: “He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.” Now I have told you.’

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciplesSuddenly Jesus met them.  ‘Greetings,’ he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshipped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’   

11 While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened.  12 When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13 telling them, ‘You are to say, “His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.” 14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.’ 15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, ‘Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?’

But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

‘Don’t be alarmed,’ he said. ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, “He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”’

Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.[a]

[The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have verses 9–20.]

When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. 10 She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. 11 When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.

12 Afterwards Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. 13 These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either.

14 Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.

15 He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on people who are ill, and they will get well.’

19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. 20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: “The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.”’ Then they remembered his words.

When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 12 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.

Join us on Friday, when we plan to review an article entitled, Are the accounts of the resurrection contradictory? … by Ian Paul, a theologian and author.


Not only will we see how to treat with the contradictions … BUT we’ll also get some insight into how to read and study the Bible.








Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top