First, congratulations! You have made your way through the Gospel of John, reading and exploring the Word of God. We know—both anecdotally and with quantitative evidence—that reading scripture is a catalyst for spiritual growth. So kudos to you for taking on this spiritual workout!
Before we move to our final set of readings, we have a favor to ask. Tell us what you think in
. What’s good about the Good Book Club? What could be better? What resources would you like to see? Nearly 10,000 people receive this weekly email—and we’d love to hear from all of you so that we can develop a Good Book Club experience that nurtures and challenges you. Thank you for taking a few minutes to share your thoughts.
Now, let’s move on to the final chapters of the Gospel of John.
This week, we concluded our readings with Jesus’ last words: “It is finished.” Imagine if this was the end of the story. I know of a church that used to lock the doors on Good Friday and change its voicemail message to say: “Jesus is dead. There is no church.” What a shock for people who called! But the congregation was driving home a critical point of our faith. Without these final chapters, we would not have the Church as we know it. But thank God, this is a life and death and LIFE story.
The community is preparing for the sabbath, and they do not want the men dying slowly on the cross. So the soldiers are ordered to break the legs of the men, which presumably would hasten their death. But when they come to Jesus, they see that he is already dead, so they do not break his legs. Several times in the last few weeks, we have read of an event happening to fulfill the promise of scripture, and this is the case again here. This is an echo of both Exodus 12, which forbids the breaking of bones of the Passover lamb, as well as the verse from Psalm 34: “He keeps all their bones; not one of them will be broken.”
Then we have a surprising turn: While Jesus’ disciples have fled, a religious leader named Joseph (of Arimathea) steps up to take care of the body and even offers his own tomb. Joseph, a rich man and believed to be a member of the religious council, has been a secret disciple of Jesus, but no more. He is joined by Nicodemus, another religious leader, in wrapping the body with spices and in linen. It is important to remember that these men had no idea that Jesus would be resurrected—they stepped forward at great risk to themselves to offer a loving, respectful farewell to their teacher.
Early on the morning after the sabbath, Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb and sees that the large stone has been rolled away. Surely she is panicked: Has someone desecrated the body of her beloved friend? Stolen it even? She runs to Simon Peter and another disciple, and they race to the tomb, only to find it empty, save for the linens rolled up in a place. While they return home, Mary Magdalene remains at the tomb, weeping. Two angels appear and speak to her, and when she turns around, she sees a man and mistakes him for a gardener. But it only takes a single word, the sound of her name, for Mary Magdalene to recognize the man as “Rabbouni,” teacher.
Take a moment to step back and consider this remarkable scene. In a day when women were considered property, Jesus makes his first appearance after the resurrection to a woman. It is yet another sign of the upside-down ways of Jesus, of compassion and love transcending cultural practices and mores. Mary Magdalene goes and proclaims to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.”
Naturally, this amazingly Good News encounters a few bumps along the way. First, the disciples are sequestered in fear that they might be next for crucifixion. When Jesus appears to them, he brings them peace—and shows them his wounds. But Thomas isn’t there, and he, like many of us, announces that he must see it to believe it. Jesus knows our human foibles and complies but with a gentle rebuke: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
In the final chapter, Jesus appears for the third time to the disciples and serves them a tasty breakfast of grilled fish and bread. He talks with Simon Peter and repeats three times (note: three is an important biblical number) to take care of his sheep, that is, to feed and tend to the flock of the world.
At the end of the previous chapter, John closes with a confounding statement: Jesus did many other signs but they are not written in this book. Why, John, why? Given Jesus’ astonishing signs already, I so wish we could have heard even more. It’s fun to imagine what they might have been. But here, in the last verses of the Gospel of John, the author answers the question: “But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”