The Eyes Don't Have It
I know 'aye' is a word meaning "yes," and when the chairman says, "The ayes have it," he isn't referring to eyeballs. But the truth of our text is that the eyes don't have it.
Into the tomb is where the befuddled followers of Jesus think they'll find answers. You can't see this in English but the Greek phrase "into the tomb" is used six times in our text. Mary Magdalene comes early "into the tomb." Peter and John go running "into the tomb." John out runs Peter and came first "into the tomb." Peter arriving after John barrels past him and enters "into the tomb." Then John enters "into the tomb." And last of all, left by herself, Mary stoops over "into the tomb." The Greek preposition "into" shows movement, but only Peter and John actually go into it. The word "into" is used because inside the tomb is where they supposed Jesus' body was and after all, isn't it all about His body?
Inside the tomb is where they expected to find answers, and they expect to find them with their eyes. Did you notice the prominence of verbs of seeing? The text says "Mary saw that the stone had been removed." "John bent over and looked at the strips of linen." Peter "saw the strips of linen lying there as well as the burial clothfolded by itself." When John finally goes inside he "saw and believed" what Mary had said: "they have taken the Lord out of the tomb." That's all he could believe based on seeing because he "still did not understand the Scriptures that Jesus must rise from the dead."
Mary saw the empty tomb; John saw it too and then with Peter saw all that was and wasn't inside the tomb. After they left, Mary "saw two angels in white seated where the body of Jesus had been." Then she "turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she didn't realize it was Jesus." But in the end Mary proclaims to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord."
Seven times verbs for seeing are used, and they're three different words. When it says Mary saw the open tomb and when John first saw the empty grave linens, it uses a Greek word stressing the thought of the person who sees. When it says Peter saw the whole scene and when Mary sees the two angels and the risen but not recognized Jesus, it uses a Greek word that emphasizes a careful examination of the object. A third verb for seeing is used when John goes all the way into the tomb. This Greek word emphasizes what the person sees. John sees the conclusive evidence that Jesus isn't there. This Greek word is used again when Mary proclaims, "I have seen the Lord." But this time it's a Greek perfect which means, "I have seen Him; I still see Him now, and I will forever see Him."
Something happened to Mary. She saw the empty tomb. She saw angels. She even saw the risen Jesus but only thought Him the gardener. None of what she saw gave her a risen Lord. Peter and John saw even stranger things, but their eyes didn't give them a risen Jesus either. They saw the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus' head neatly folded up and the sarcophagus, the mummy casing that had contained the body of Jesus. It was still the height and length of a body, but it was sunken in because no body was there.
Where do I get this image from? John is the only Gospel to make a point of telling us "Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds" to bury Jesus according to the burial practices of the Jews. We know what those practices were. Myrrh and aloes were applied to strips of cloths as they were wound around each limb and then one big shroud was wrapped around the whole body. Peter and John saw this empty casing with their own eyes, and yet they didn't believe.
That's important because you think if you could see Jesus that would be that. You think your eyes would settle the matter for you. If Jesus would just appear to you, then you'd believe. Then you'd be a Christian. Then you'd take the faith seriously. Then the afterlife, the next life, the eternal life that a risen Jesus is proof of would be more important to you than this present life, this worldly life, your day to day life. But Jesus didn't even do that with Peter and John. He doesn't appeal to their eyes by appearing to them. No, He sends Mary to appeal to their ears.
If the eyes really could have it, then Jesus would go around appearing to people. In the first reading Peter addresses this too. He says, "God raised Jesus from the dead on the third day and caused Him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen." Only witnesses God had chosen would proclaim the resurrection. The rest would do what Matthew tells us the soldiers did. They saw everything that happened and reported it all to the chief priests. Neither the guards nor the chief priests believed. The chief priests bribed the guards to say Jesus' disciples had stolen His body and the guards took the money. Money before their eyes could make them "forget" they saw a risen Jesus.
My eyes, your eyes, even the eyes of the disciples don't have it. In Luke 16 Jesus tells us that. He says even if someone rises from the dead people won't believe it unless.and what follows the unless is the rest of our text. Mary is converted from looking for a dead Jesus to worshipping a risen one. How? Seeing an empty tomb, seeing angels, seeing a living Jesus, none of that stopped her tears. Mary only saw a gardener. It doesn't say as it does with the Emmaus disciples that she was kept from recognizing Jesus. Only unbelief closed her eyes, but what opened them?
See the scene. Mary is stooped down looking and listening to angels. Something they did perhaps lowering their eyes when Jesus appeared, made Mary turn to see Jesus. Remember she is described as seeing using the verb for closely inspecting, but her eyes tell her nothing but a gardener is there. Then she turns back to the empty tomb. We know she did this because the text reports that when Jesus spoke "she turned toward" Jesus a second time. She only recognized Jesus when she was turned away from Him. She only knew her Lord had risen by His word. Haven't you ever been watching a movie and you can't call the name of an actor, so you close your eyes? And that's it! You know that voice. Your eyes were no help, but your ears were.
Mary instantly recognizes Jesus, and O the relief! Jesus had cast 7 demons out of her. If Jesus hadn't risen from the dead, those demons would be back. It's the same for you. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 that if Jesus isn't risen from the dead we are the most miserable of all people. Why? Because the sins we thought paid for and forgiven aren't, and Death and Devil aren't defeated either. Jesus died to pay for sins. If Jesus stays dead, it means He didn't succeed in paying off your debt of sin. You're on the hook for the balance due a lifetime of sinning. And that means Death and Devil still have business with us. Death insists on paying its wages to our sins, and the Devil insists on claiming souls who have sold out to sins.
But Jesus is risen. The Word of Jesus convinced Mary. She whirls around and says, "Rabboni," not "Rabbi" but "Rabboni." Rabboni was only used by Jews in prayer to God. Mary is acknowledging Jesus is the Lord and God He had said He was all along. The devils can't come back now. Jesus has succeeded in doing what He had promised. You can't think that Mary or the disciples went to the tomb not remembering Jesus had promised 3 times to rise on third day. His enemies remembered; that's why they posted a guard at His tomb. The Emmaus disciples remembered; that's why they stayed in Jerusalem till the third day.
Mary remembered, but her ears not her eyes told her Jesus had fulfilled His promise. He had said He was giving His life as a ransom for many. He had said He would die an innocent but brutal death for the sins of the world, and He had promised He would rise on the third day, and now His living Word tells her it's all true. And then He tells Mary and us what His resurrection means. It means Jesus is our brother. He always had our flesh and blood but our sins separated us. But those sins were nailed to the cross on Good Friday. They were buried in His grave. On Easter He rose without them. So our sins no longer separate us from Jesus our Brother.
And with Jesus as your Brother you have God as your loving Father. Are children afraid of loving earthly fathers? Do children of loving earthly fathers fear what might come from them? Don't children who have loving earthly fathers expect only good things from them? Than how much more can you expect only good things from God your Father now that Jesus rising from the dead has made you part of His family?
But you can't see this with your eyes till you hear it with your ears. That's what Jesus says in Luke 16. "Unless a person hears God's Word they will not believe even if someone rises from the dead." Without the Word you'll never see Baptism as anything other than just plain water; Absolution will only be seen as wishful words; in Communion you will see no more than bread and wine. And you'll see death as just death and sinners as just sinful.
But with the Word everything is different. Haven't you ever been in love? Haven't you ever waited to hear from your beloved? And when you didn't wasn't life as dark and dank as a tomb? But then you did hear from your beloved, and then wasn't the whole world a different place? That's what happened when Mary heard Jesus' words. That's what was supposed to happen to the disciples when they heard His words from Mary's lips and to you when you hear His Words from mine. It didn't happen in the disciples' case, and they remained in a dank, dark tomb, even it was empty.
Let it not be so for you. I have words from your Beloved. He has risen! He has not just forgiven but forgotten your sins. He has chained the Devil up, and even when you do die it is no longer Death when you die in Him. Moreover, you are to see that Water rebirthing you and these words actually forgiving you. You are to see that Bread and Wine there are the Body and Blood of your risen Lord. While Mary couldn't hold on to Jesus because He hadn't yet ascended into heaven, you can hold on to Him because He has. You can hold on to Him in the Water, Word, Bread and Wine He has left to you with Words. Let your ears have His Words and your eyes will have your Savior. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Resurrection of Our Lord (20110424); John 20: 1-18