Today's passage is the silence between John 19 and John 20, between the burial of Jesus and His resurrection.
Yesterday we ended chapter 19 with Jesus being sealed alone in a brand new tomb that has never been used before. It was Friday afternoon sometime just before sunset. Chapter 20 opens on Sunday morning. The Sabbath is skipped over. It's almost like a block of time that never happened. Today there is no passage to quote because we are reading between the lines. We are going to explore the void where John says nothing because the day happened.
Friday late afternoon was a mad rush of activity. Sunday morning before the sun even hinted at coming up Mary left her bed, her home, traveled through the likely silent streets of the city, out the city gates which was unorthodox to say the least and made her way in the darkness to the tomb. Action on Friday, action immediately on Sunday but not a word said about Sabbath.
It's both normal and odd. Normal because it is the Jewish way. Sabbath was a highly restricted day. They were allotted a step count which was roughly enough steps to walk to the nearest synagogue for worship and then back home. Nothing was to be carried. No fire was to be lit. Over 600 extra rules were added by the rabbis over the years beyond the very simple old testament writings to define and control Sabbath behaviour. To this day the strict sects of Jews believe that one Sabbath kept perfectly by all Jews will bring the arrival of the Messiah.
Mary didn't have enough steps to get to the tomb on Sabbath. Even if she did, touching the dead on Sabbath or even visiting a tomb was forbidden.
So the non activity of Mary and the other disciples was normal. They were raised to behave this way. What is odd is that Jesus taught them differently. He went beyond His step count on Sabbath. He touched the untouchables on Sabbath. He instructed them to do forbidden things on Sabbath like wash and carry beds. Did the 'renegade' behaviour of Jesus on the Sabbath not teach them anything? Were they willing to follow Him despite His 'rebellious' behaviour? Did their understanding of Sabbath change or was it as rigid as before they met Him?
We can't know for certain but what we do know is their feet were in cement on that particular Sabbath. It was like no one moved or breathed. We can be certain they didn't go to the Synagogue as was the custom of Jesus because they were terrified of the religious authorities. They were in survival mode. They had a bunker mentality. They were in shock. They were overwhelmed with the events of the previous 48ish hours.
How different it all could have been. Thousands of years of wasted Sabbaths and the greatest Sabbath of all was wasted the most. Friday late afternoon the voice of the Son of God declared in victory "It is finished"! It is likely the shortest most powerful vespers sermon ever preached. What could eclipse it? And yet it fell on deaf ears. Hearing they did not hear and seeing they did not see. John was right there holding Jesus' own mother while the words of emancipation fell from the lips of the Son of God: "It is finished". It's Over. Done. Complete. But they missed it. His words were interpreted as a referring to His physical life and the exhaling of His last breath. Little did they know that just as God declared "It is finished" in the Garden of Eden late Friday afternoon, so Jesus was declaring the end of His mission. From Adam on down every innocent victim on every altar had proclaimed this moment. From the first lie that entered the ears and warped the mind of Eve until now, humanity has never had proof of the heart of God. Now it is finished. From the first accusation made against the government of God by Lucifer in heaven before humanity ever existed until this moment on a hill outside Jerusalem the watching universe has never had conclusive proof of the heart of God for His vast creation. "It is finished". Satan is exposed. God's love is revealed in all His self sacrificing glory.
"Greater love has no man than this, than to lay down His life for His friends." - Jesus
"I no longer call you servants, I call you friends." - Jesus
All of that happened and the watching universe got it. They understood. Humanity was a different story. We saw but didn't see. We heard but didn't hear. Light flooded the darkness but the darkness could not comprehend it.
So began the darkest Sabbath the followers of Jesus ever spent when it should have been the greatest party. Darkness covered the land when Jesus died even though the day should have been bright. Darkness covered the people even though the Light was high on a hill for all to see. But God didn't leave Adam and Eve trembling in shame and hiding from His presence and neither did He leave Mary and the others to stumble in the darkness. Dawn is coming...