Easter Sunday arrives with great celebration as Christians around the world gather in joy to worship our Risen Lord. But Easter also comes as as a day of great disbelief around the world and rejection of the resurrection story. Now please note that I was careful to use the word ‘disbelief’ and not ‘scepticism,’ for there are many of us who are Christian believers who are also sceptics at heart. I happen to be a sceptical kind of person. And as it turns out, I am in good company for before there was belief in the resurrection of Jesus there was scepticism. In John we read that Mary’s first inclination was not celebration, but rather the assumption that someone had taken the body of Jesus away:
So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him'”(John 20:2 NRSV).
And as Peter and the other disciple, John, get to the tomb, their belief in the resurrection of Jesus is not immediate either. John arrives first at the open tomb and stops, neither going in, nor celebrating. Peter goes in, but we do not hear of any celebration from him either. But as John enters the tomb, the reality, slowly it seems, but finally, begins to sink in.
Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed. (John 20:8 NRSV).
What did he believe? We draw our first conclusion from what he saw:
Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed. (John 20:6-8 NRSV)
The presence of the cloths used for burial is significant, for if anything was of value to a grave robber, it would be these along with all those spices wrapped among them. When a grave robber left a tomb they really would leave it empty and not take the time to unwrap the corpse. The detail of the cloth for Jesus’ head also is significant. These cloths were not all taken off and thrown down, but rather the impression is given of Jesus simply vacating them. When John takes all this in, he does not do so as one expecting and hoping that the news was good. He takes in the scene as one who weighs the evidence. He sees the evidence of the grave coverings and how they are arranged and comes to a conclusion: Jesus has risen from the dead.
But that would not be the end of all we could say about John’s belief. The word ‘believe’ in the Greek goes beyond the idea of mental assent, to trust and confidence in, which can be as much a heart thing as a head thing. And we find next a comment that, yes, though this was an unexpected turn of events, this is exactly what had to happen:
and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead” (John 20:8-9 NRSV).
That understanding, of how the Old Testament scriptures point to a risen Christ, would come in the days to come. And the belief that Jesus rose from the dead, with the forthcoming resurrection appearances confirming that belief, would lead to trust that God has all of history in His hands, that Jesus is not just risen, but is in fact Lord, God. All that preceded Jesus pointed to Him. All that follows Jesus flows from Him and will lead back to Him. The God who delivered His people from slavery in Egypt by miracles has now worked an even greater deliverance. His people, now from every tongue, tribe, and nation, are delivered from a slavery of sin unto death. Jesus is risen, so look back to God’s promises to deliver in the Old Testament scriptures. God is to be believed!
From that first moment of belief in John, from the kindling of belief in the resurrection will come an enflamed trust in God. This trust will hold the disciples as they face their deaths in persecution. This trust will hold the Church as it flourishes and grows under the harshest of conditions. This trust will hold you as you face the daily grind, even through that day which sees you ground back to the dust from which you were taken. Jesus is risen! God is to be believed! Hallelujah! Amen.