Some of you might have suspected that I gave up blogging for Lent, but in reality, I just got busy tending to sick children, planning and hosting Micah’s birthday party, and otherwise wearing myself out in March. My hope is that this post will be a sort of new start for the Lectionary posts, but all I have there is hope.
The gospel of John really is a masterpiece, rhetorically speaking: its use of metaphor is consistent and impressive, and the key words that run through the text have rightfully become cornerstones of Christian confession. It’s hard to think theologically without John’s images of light and darkness, of abiding in the vine, of the shepherd and the hired hand, of the living water that quenches thirst, of the life eternal. And John’s account of the resurrection brings some of those unforgettable images to bear on the central event of the Christian story, the resurrection. The whole story is one not of divine act (the moment when Jesus stops being dead is always at one remove from the main narrative) but of revelation, and it begins, as so many things in John begin, with light coming into darkness.
When Mary Magdalene arrives at the tomb, a brief narrative phrase indicates that “it was still dark.” Certainly there’s a simple Newton’s-optics reading of this, an account that simply notes the rotation of the earth and the relative position of sun and horizon. But as a literary detail, the darkness here brings to mind the opening hymn of John, where the logos enters the darkness but the darkness does not overcome, where light makes wickedness visible. For the world still to be dark means that Nicodemus is still skulking about in secrecy. Darkness in John means all sorts of things, not least the sea before Jesus shows up.
As that darkness gives way to light in the course of the day, another image comes to take over the story. Perhaps it’s not solid evidence that the writer of John was aware of Paul’s letters, but at the least 1 Corinthians 15, Romans 5, and John 20 take Adam to be a central figure in the story of wretchedness and righteousness. In John the reference is the most subtle of the three: when Mary, surrounded by men she’s never seen, speaks with the shrouded Jesus, she mistakes him for a gardener. I’ll admit that I’d never noticed that, in contrast to Matthew, where the body of Jesus is a dangerous state secret, in John’s account, the Romans seem simply to allow Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea to take the body of the would-be revolutionary and bury it in a garden shrine of sorts. Gospel parallels here, though, don’t interest me as much as the fact that in this garden, as opposed to the one in Genesis 3, what enters the garden is dead, while what leaves the garden is a live, a lovely chiasmic movement from one garden to the next. Jesus, in John’s account, truly is the second Adam, who reverses the narrative of Genesis, leaving the scene and allowing the reader to see the woman in this garden repeating not the words of the Serpent but of the Savior hen she departs.
Because we have come along in a historical moment when “the resurrection” is the name of a recognizable story in our cultural past, it’s easy to neglect the literary echoes, both within John and across the Biblical canon, that make this narrative as rich as it is. As I craft and revise our sunrise-service sermon for Easter Sunday, I hope that I can bring our folks along through the rich and allusive text, even as they shiver (and possibly drip–they’re calling for rain) on an early Sunday morning.