Is seeing believing? – A reflection on the Easter Sunday morning Gospel- John 20: 1-8
Even though our text ends at verse 8, it would do well to read this Gospel passage up to verse 18, for in these verses is found the story of faith in the resurrection, as experienced by Mary Magdalene. Interestingly, all the four Gospels mention Mary Magdalene, though each may vary in their narration.
The Gospel of John begins the story of Easter Sunday, ‘while it was still dark’ in contrast to the Synoptic Gospels ( Matthew, Mark and Luke) who situate it at dawn. For John’s Gospel, the element of light and darkness plays a very important role, and Jesus ‘the light of the world’ will be perceived as such, much later in time by His disciples, whose hopes have been dashed in darkness as a consequence of His crucifixion. Mary walks to the tomb in that darkness, for the light of the resurrection has not yet dawned on her.
It is interesting that the Gospel tells us that Mary simply “saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb”. She has not peered into it, nor does the promise of rising on the third day dawn upon her. Belief is yet to come for Mary and that, as we will read, will appear at twilight.
She runs to the Simon Peter and the ‘beloved disciple’, stating what she thinks has happened. Without mentioning a name, she places her assumptions that Jesus’ body has been stolen, by the most apparent suspects – the Romans or the Jewish authorities. But interestingly she uses the plural when she says “we do not know where they have laid him”. It almost appears that she wants to play her narration safe.
What follows has often been made to sound like a story of ‘one-upmanship’ – was Peter’s faith greater or the ‘beloved disciple’s?’ It does not matter who reached the tomb first, neither does it matter who entered first, nor does it matter that the Gospels record the beloved disciple as one who ‘believed’ while Peter ‘did not understand’, for we are not told explicitly that the ‘beloved disciple’ believed in the resurrection (for all you know, he may have ‘believed’ that Mary was correct – someone had stolen the body of Jesus!) What we do know from a further reading of the Gospels is that belief in the resurrection took a while to sink in for the twelve. Not so for Mary Magdalene! Patience is a virtue and patience pays off for her.
We are told that the two disciples return to their homes, while Mary Magdalene remains standing (like Mary the mother of Jesus, at the foot of the cross). She stands and we are told four times that she was weeping. The emotional connect kicks in for all those, who on Easter Sunday mourn the death of a loved one; for the loss of a loved one can’t be forgotten so easily; and so she weeps and continues to search, now looking in the tomb.
This time she sees two angels and they address her tears, “why are you weeping?” There is a marked difference in her response now. Earlier, while addressing the disciples she said that “they have taken the Lord and we do not know where they have laid Him”. Now her answer is more personal and more of a testimony for she says, “I do not know where they have laid Him.” Her search for her Lord is hers; it is a personal search and not a collective one (as should our search for the Lord be).
We are told she turns around and sees Jesus but does not recognize Him as the Resurrected Lord, as would we, for He does not have a resuscitated body. This time it is Jesus who answers her tears with His compassionate query, “Whom are you looking for?” It is a similar question that He asked the disciples who followed Him at the start of this Gospel, “What are you looking for?” (John 1:38) and the question He asked the guards in Gethsemane, “Whom do you seek?” Jesus wants to know from Mary what is she really seeking – Jesus of Nazareth or the Christ of faith? This is a question He asks us on Easter Sunday too!
The answer to His question lays in listening to His voice. Just as in the ‘sheep in the shepherd discourse’ in John 9:40-10:18 who hear HIS voice when HE calls them by name, Mary Magdalene recognizes Jesus as her master when He calls her by name. She needs no more proof!
What does Mary Magdalene teach us all? Simply this, that the journey from the Garden of Gethsemane to the ‘Garden of the Resurrection’ is a personal search for the voice of the Lord. This is a search that must go beyond initial failures to recognize Him in the forms we seek Him and in the ways we want. But even more, it teaches us to bear personal testimony to the triumph of experiencing Him. Let me take you to the final words of this pericope. Mary went and announced (proclamation) to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” thereby becoming a witness. The Easter proclamation of Alleluia is a proclamation of a witness.
Fr Warner D’Souza
Spread the love ♥