Some people will believe just about anything. What goes through your mind when someone makes a statement like that? Some people will believe just about anything. Have you thought that recently? Maybe in a conversation with someone you disagree with or while watching TV? Seeing articles and comments on social media?
We tend to believe things that confirm other things that we already believe and want to believe or that fit better into our own view of the world. In fact, we even seek out things that confirm what we already “know,” because that kind of confirmation makes us more comfortable with the world around us. When we simplify a situation and maintain it keeping to what we can grasp, it gives us a sense of control. Even if it’s something that upsets us, it still gives some kind of solace knowing that our own narrative of the world still rings true. It’s just easier when our understanding of the world remains unchallenged and everything falls in line with what we expect.
In the section before this reading from the Gospel of John, we see Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus prepare Jesus’ body for burial and place him into a new garden tomb to await the resurrection of the dead. That’s what they expect to happen. That was on Friday. Here we read that Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb very early in the morning on Sunday. She couldn’t come on the Sabbath, so it’s really the first opportunity she has. It’s still dark. She expects Jesus’ body to be there. But something’s wrong. The stone was moved. After all the events that have taken place until now—the arrest, the rushed and unjust trial, the expedited execution—it only fits that the religious rulers were not finished shaming Jesus. They were still after him to dishonor him further. It only fits that they have now come and stolen his body. What else was she supposed to think? What else was she supposed to believe? What else could’ve happened? Everything else has already gone terribly wrong! None of this was supposed to happen! And now it’s gotten even worse!
Mary doesn’t know what’s happened! She’s making the best sense she can from the situation—but her assertion is wrong. And she goes on to tell others the very same false assertion. Some people will believe just about anything. Because that’s what fits. I don’t mean this as criticism of Mary. In Western Christianity, Mary Magdalene, has often been identified with Mary of Bethany, which makes a lot of sense the way that John tells the gospel narrative. If that’s true, then Mary was there when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Either way, she knows that Jesus is powerful; she just doesn’t realize how powerful. Again, what is she supposed to think?
So, she runs and goes to Simon Peter and the disciple, whom Jesus loves. And she tells them what’s happened. Jesus’ body has been stolen: “they’ve taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they’ve laid him.” When Peter and the other disciple hear this, they take off running to the tomb. The other disciple gets there first and stopping short of entering he puts his head in to find the linen cloths just lying there. Peter makes it there right afterward but goes directly into the tomb. He sees the linen cloths but also the face cloth folded up in a place all by itself. They’re checking out the situation for themselves. But they saw the same thing that Mary had seen. Nothing changed. Is Mary right? Did someone come to steal Jesus’ body? What were they to think?
When’s the last time you just weren’t sure who to trust or what to believe? When’s the last time that you opened yourself up to an idea or opinion that pushed you beyond your zone of comfort? I think that’s a pretty common theme in our society as a whole today, but we often face it in our personal lives as well. We see this in realms of life. From a religious perspective, for many it’s just easier to believe that there is no god—or at least that if there is a god, he’s distant and wants nothing to do with our lives.
When the other disciple follows Peter into the tomb, John writes that he saw and he believed. He saw and he believed. This is a theme in the Gospel of John. In fact, it’s later when Thomas encounters the risen Christ that we are told: even those who don’t see will be blessed with the gift of believing. Though he believed it still went against everything else that this beloved disciple knew about the world. The dead weren’t supposed to be raised until the last day.
John writes that they just didn’t understand the Scripture. They didn’t get it yet. They didn’t yet get what God was doing in their lives and in life of the whole world. They didn’t understand that this was God himself shaking the cosmos to its core. That this was the biggest event that would take place in God’s creation on this side of the final judgment. After so many years of trial and pain and darkness, after so many years of humanity living under the curse of Adam, God had finally defeated death once and for all. And even though it doesn’t exactly fit with the way we like to see the world sometimes, even though we don’t completely understand it, our Lord tells us: believe. Believe!
When it seems like everything is going wrong, and you never thought it could get worse—and it does. Believe! Sometimes we misunderstand what our God is doing in our lives. When Mary sees the tomb empty she makes sense of it by focusing on the ones who have brought hurt to her and those close to her. We don’t read how Peter makes sense of it, but the other disciple, his mind goes straight to trusting in God. Sometimes we lose sight of the big picture. I know that I do. We blame others. We blame ourselves. We try to fit it into something that makes sense. Our focus is directed to all of the wrong things. We tell everyone our own perspective, our own observation, of what’s going on to the point that we really start to believe it and it takes our attention entirely off the risen one. Believe. Believe.
In the very next section, we read about the moments that followed once Peter and the other disciple go home, how Mary does have a direct encounter with Jesus himself, risen from the dead. And there’s no denying it, that what she never thought was possible, what was way beyond the world as she knew it, the last thing that ever could have happened, was true. The resurrection reshapes the way we see the world. It reshapes reality as we know it. It reshapes our relationship with God, our future with him, and the way live today. Live as one who believes.