The two men were running through the streets of Jerusalem as fast as their feet could carry them. Having heard the news from Mary of Magdala, they were so startled that they abandoned the other disciples in the Upper Room without saying a word. They had to see for themselves.
John pulled ahead of Peter, shouting something unintelligible as he passed. This son of Zebedee had always been much quicker and more athletic than his counterpart. Peter was not surprised that he was left to himself, panting heavily as he continued past the house of the High Priest, Caiaphas, then into the upper city, racing past Herod’s palace. He finally lost sight of John who had disappeared through the city gate and onto the path toward the tomb.
John wasn’t really thinking about anything. He was simply running, with only the sound of his own hard breathing to keep him company. Reaching the tomb first was not his objective. He would probably wait for Peter when he arrived. For John, the distance between the Upper Room and the tomb was a looming obstacle… an impediment to finding the truth. He just wanted to get to the place where Jesus had been laid as fast as he could.
Rounding an abrupt curve in the path, the dark doorway of the tomb now stood before the one whom Jesus loved. This was not the way he remembered it just after the crucifixion of the Master. He had walked this path to the tomb before. Holding the arm of Mary, John led her solemnly to see the place where they had laid her son.
His body had not yet been completely prepared for burial due to the upcoming Sabbath, yet the two-ton stone that was used to seal the tomb had already been rolled in place. A Roman seal was placed upon it, a warning that the tomb must not be violated.
As he now approached, John noticed that the large stone had been rolled off to the side of the rocky opening. He stopped abruptly and did not enter through the now open door. John stooped to look inside, but could only see a few feet into the cave. Standing almost motionless as a garden statue, he waited for Peter to catch up. John could detect the faint aroma of spices that had been dropped by the women earlier that morning.
Startled by the news they were given, the contents of their linen bags had spilled on the ground. Today was the day when the women were planning to properly embalm the body of the Master. Joseph and Nicodemus had done their best preparing Jesus’ body in the short time left before the Sabbath, but there was much more to do.
Peter now arrived and didn’t even stop to speak with John. In almost a singular motion, he slowed from a run to a jog and then to a slow walk, marching past his fellow disciple and into the shadows of the tomb. His last glance of the Master had taken place just after a cock had crowed. He would never forget the expression on Jesus’ face – a face he had just declared he did not know.
Now, on the first day of the week, the Master’s body was missing. How he wanted to take back every second of the last 24 hours of his life. He wanted once more to hear Jesus’ laugh. He had once been called “a rock,” but today he felt no more significant than a tiny grain of sand.
The interior of the cavern appeared black as the night sky over the Sea of Galilee when Peter had approached it in the light of day. When he moved inside, though, his eyes adjusted and the details of the tomb became much clearer. He could now see the stone slab upon which the body had been laid and other details of the grotto.
On top of the rock table he noticed the white burial linens. They were placed as though a body were still present but now lay flat against the stone. “His body could not have been carried away,” Peter thought, “the cloths are still here. It was as if he had just disappeared… vanished… leaving everything else in place.”
Peter then saw the “sudarian” – the face cloth – rolled up neatly at one end of the slab. Stained with blood and other fluids, this cloth had been placed over the face of the Master after he had been taken down from the cross. “Who took the time to fold this,” Peter thought to himself, “and why?”
Just then John walked in and placed his hand on Peter’s shoulder. Startled, he turned, standing face to face with the beloved disciple. Outlined by a halo of light that came from the doorway, he could clearly see John’s eyes which were wide with wonder. Tears were flowing freely down his cheeks. No words needed to be spoken. In fact, no words could be spoken. Everything was not yet clear, but both of them knew that something had happened that would change the world forever.
Standing inside the empty tomb, John’s mind began to flood with ideas and images from the past few days. He had seen the Lord crucified. The metallic cadence of nails being pounded into the Master’s flesh still haunted him. He remembered the sight of Golgatha – the place of the skull.
Elevated above those who were crowded around in mourning or curiosity, Jesus’ body had become one with its cross of execution. Bits of flesh still hung loosely from His back as a bloody witness of the scourging that he had endured while still remaining conscious. The crown of thorns, now stained with blood from his brow, continued to mock his kingship.
John thought back to the cries of anguish he had heard at the time of the crucifixion. The wails came from the crowd not the cross. While the people shouted, Jesus spoke only a few times, remaining quiet in his suffering at all other times.
The beloved disciple remembered watching Jesus prepare to speak. He would straighten his body, placing the weight of his frame on his pierced feet in order to breath more freely. In short gasps he spoke both to God and to them. John would never forget when His Master’s eyes fell straight upon him as he was given guardianship of Mary, Jesus’ mother.
He remembered the words that Jesus uttered at the end, “It is finished.” Exhaling one last long breath, He became lifeless. Jesus had died and all of heaven and earth recoiled in response.
Now laying before this disciple were empty linens where the body had been. “Where was the body of the Master? Where had they taken him? Where was he?” Almost as soon as he entertained these questions, words in response began to form deep inside. “He is not here, he is risen. He has risen from the dead, he has conquered death.”
Now here, in this dirty cave that same sense of holy awe from the mountain fell upon John. The voices continued to speak as he and Peter walked out of the tomb, “He is not here; he is risen,” they echoed. John looked around, fully expecting that he would see the Master standing there, with his familiar grin and the deep laugh that always conveyed the inner joy he had when greeting one of his followers.
Once before he and Peter had both seen an empty tomb, John remembered. Lazarus had walked out of the grave in his own power at the command of Jesus. He had stood before the crowd, still wrapped in his grave clothes. Jesus spoke again, saying “loose him and let him go!” Unwrapped from his death shroud, Lazarus looked no different than he had a few weeks before. He was alive.
Here, in this tomb, however, the grave clothes remained. This, too, was resurrection but of a different kind. Both disciples knew in their hearts that their lives were forever changed. Walking back down the path with the tomb growing smaller behind them, they remained silent.
Both slowed their pace and then stopped abruptly. Side-by-side, they looked back toward the tomb. John couldn’t stand it any longer. “He’s alive, Peter! He’s alive!”
“I know!” Peter exclaimed. Breaking into a fast run, they raced back toward their homes… toward an uncertain but exciting future.
In St. John’s gospel account, the beloved disciple recalls, from a first person perspective, what happened at the empty tomb: who went, who arrived first, and what took place inside the tomb. However, only John could also tell what happened inside of his being.
What he was feeling and thinking? A small window is given us in the eighth verse of John Chapter 20: “So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb then also entered, and he saw and believed.”
There is so much we can grasp from this small nugget of the story. John had not yet seen his resurrected Master, yet he believed. The full account of the Christ’s resurrection was not yet revealed to him, yet he believed. The theological clarification of Christ’s rising from the dead had not been explained, yet he believed.
Do you believe that Christ died on a cross for our sins and rose again? That is all that is necessary to begin. Start there and let the world of faith unfold before your heart. Enter into the tomb, see that it is empty. Leave believing that He is risen! He is alive and active.
Our sins have been forgiven and we have hope in His Name! The Lord, through His Church, can take you now on a journey toward the future of your faith. St. Paul said, in I Corinthians 15, “if Christ has not been raised from the dead, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins… But now Christ has been raised from the dead!”
O hell, where is your victory?
Christ is risen, and you are cast down!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life is set free!
Christ is risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead.
For Christ, having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
To Christ be glory and power forever and ever. Amen!”