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.

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