Holy Saturday – Easter Vigil

Easter Vigil.22 John 20:1-18

Two things about this Gospel from John delight and intrigue me. If you know me at all, you can probably guess the two things: Thing 1: the Shroud of Turin! Did you notice it? “Then Simon Peter came, following him, [who’d be John, a faster runner :-)] and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth! which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself.” And Peter went, “Huh. Look at that. It’s like a perfect photographic negative of Jesus. That could be an interesting relic.” And he scooped it up and took it home…”

Actually, that last part is only in the NIV. In the actual bible it says nothing about Peter or John taking or leaving the grave clothes behind. To be honest, it really kind of punches some holes in the Shroud of Turin which is a one piece 16ft linen cloth with an image of a Palestinian crucifixion victim of the 1st century who looks just like Jesus does in all the ancient icons. Scientists have never been able to figure out exactly how the image got on there. It looks like it was scorched on—as if the Body had been heated white hot. It’s not paint and it’s not a conventional burn mark. Weird.

Your hard core scientistic fundamentalist loves the Shroud, claiming it as a miraculous relic that proves the Resurrection really happened. More sober believers look at it with bemusement. Is it real or fake? Yes. One of those. Which one? Tough to say, isn’t it? From John, it appears Nicodemus and Joseph wrapped the Lord’s Body with strips of linen cloths, like an Egyptian mummy and then wrapped the Lord’s head with an additional face cloth. Tough to fit the Shroud of Turin into that picture, unless it’s “the face cloth” but 16 feet seems too big for that.

Anyway, there’s a lovely book called “The Relic Master” by Christopher Buckley, in which a fictional ex-Swiss mercenary turned relic dealer, along with Albrecht Durer the real 16th century Lutheran artist fake then steal the Shroud. A fun read. Luther was aware of things like the Shroud and thought it was all nonsense. Faith comes by hearing the Word, not by miracles, relics, or rational proofs for what the Scripture says happened.

I like to pretend to be totally convinced by the Shroud to throw people off, when I actually think it’s probably a fake, but who knows, really? I don’t care, either way. I do find it interesting the face cloth is mentioned, but… you would think if it had an image of Christ on it (like the Shroud) John might have mentioned that?

Besides, even if it was the Shroud (and was genuine) you will notice that Peter did not believe at all because of that. John believed Jesus was gone, but neither based their faith on the Scriptures, so it really wasn’t the Genuine Xn Faith, yet. The Apostles weren’t convinced by relics, shrouds, miracles, or reason. The Word of God alone was the sole basis of their faith and ours. Relics and shrouds and all that make fun stories and nothing more for us.

Thing 2: when Mary sees the resurrected Lord, she does not go, “Jesus! You look just like that image in the Shroud Peter just showed us. You must be the Risen Lord!” No. She doesn’t even recognize Jesus, at all! Which is really weird. Because you’d think in a Gospel written to lead us to faith in Jesus as Lord and Christ that you wouldn’t mention that his closest friends and disciples had some trouble recognizing Him risen from the dead.

When Mary sees Jesus, she supposed him to be the gardener and fingered him as the culprit who stole Jesus’ Body. She begs him to tell her what he’s done with the Lord’s Body. And Jesus goes, with a tone, I think, “Mary.” And she recognizes Jesus, and worships Him, but Jesus tells her to let go, that she can’t hold onto him like this because He’s ascending to the Father and she really must let go…

The main takeaway of this encounter, for me, is that it is just as Paul says. Faith comes by hearing the Word. And, as the Lord Himself says, “My sheep know My voice and they follow me.” VOICE RECOGNITION! This is the way we know Jesus as Lord and God and Savior. There simply is no other way. Not only are we not disadvantaged in any way by not seeing him in the normal face to face manner as Mary and Peter and John did, but we have a slight advantage because there was this “same but different!” thing about the Lord’s risen Body that made identification difficult. It was the unmistakable Voice that they recognized instantly, and believed in fully.

So what did the resurrected Lord look like? How was his Body different? Because Scriptures say our resurrected bodies will be like His glorious Body?

Well, it wasn’t glorious like on the Mount of Transfiguration—all shining like the Sun and Heavenly. Being mistaken for an ordinary gardener means, at minimum, that the Lord’s risen body is a very ordinary appearing human body just like the pre-resurrection body. Altered, but not in any obviously supernatural way.

Yet… he could appear and disappear at will, pass through locked doors, fly! 😉 etc. His resurrected body is just like ours now, but immortal, impervious to death and not bound by the current laws of physics, time, or space. Cool.

But that it was puzzling, tough for the first witnesses to believe the Resurrection, both rings true and encourages me. If you were making up the story, you wouldn’t include odd details as Peter’s total disbelief and Mary’s mistaking the Risen Lord for a gardener. My guess is that Jesus wouldn’t come out looking like a mummy (too scary!) so he did a little Jedi mind trick on “Fred” the gardener and “borrowed” Fred’s gardener cloths which fooled Mary. But that both of these heroes of faith struggled to believe the Resurrection means there’s hope for you and me!

And that’s the part I love best—knowing that though we may be silly and confused and slow to recognize him, Jesus loves us as we are and shows himself to us in the Way we can believe and follow Him all the way to Heaven. For Christ is Risen… Indeed. Amen.

About Pastor Martin

Pastor Kevin Martin has served six Lutheran congregations, beginning in 1986 as a field-worker in Trumbull, Connecticut, and vicarages in Arlington, Massachusetts and Belleville, Illinois. He has been pastor of congregations in Pembroke, Ontario and Akron, Ohio. Since 2000, he has served as pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church, Raleigh. Pastor Martin is a lifelong (confessional!) Lutheran (even though) he holds degrees from Valparaiso, Yale, and Concordia Seminary St. Louis. He and his wife Bonnie have been (happily) married since 1988, and have two (awesome!) adult children, Bethany and Christopher. Bonnie is an elementary school teacher. The Martin family enjoy music festivals, travel, golf, and swimming. They are also avid readers and movie-goers.

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