Reflection on the Gospel John 20:11-18 —By Fr. Alcuin Hurl, FHS
On Easter Sunday we were left with an empty tomb, burial clothes and the dim rays of Easter faith beginning to dawn in the hearts of the disciples. This week we see how Mary Magdalene and the disciples step into the full brightness of the light Easter faith a personal encounter with the Risen Lord. Even though we cannot see Jesus are we able to encounter the Risen Lord like the disciples? Let us turn to the Gospel and see.
While Peter and the Beloved Disciple depart, Mary Magdalene remains outside the tomb weeping. Despite the linen burial clothes left behind in the tomb she still thinks someone stole the body of Jesus. Mary then looks into the tomb and sees two angels in white who ask her why she is weeping. Mary here seems to be too overwhelmed with sorrow to be struck by fear at the sight of the angels which is the usual response in the Bible. It seems that Mary’s deep love for Jesus makes her too focused on finding his body and too sad to be afraid.
When Jesus finally does appear to Mary she mistakes him for a cemetery gardener. When Jesus asks her why she is weeping and for whom she is looking she replies that if he knows where the body of is she will come and pick up his body herself and take him away. This is a funny thing to say because if we follow the dimensions of the Shroud of Turin Jesus was an unusually muscular man that stood six feet two inches from the ground. By contrast the average man of the time in Israel only stood five feet five inches. The fact that she believes that she could actually have the strength to carry such a hulking man’s corpse all by herself shows the depth of her love for Jesus. For love often makes us believe the impossible. In fact, maybe she could have done it. It is this same love that makes her open to the divine gift of faith in the resurrection.
The fact that Jesus appears as a gardener in a garden combined with the the fact that Jesus and the angels both call Mary “Woman” makes us think of the Garden of Eden. Jesus is presented here as the New Adam who has reestablished for his wife Eve, that is the Church, the intimacy they once had with God when they walked with him in the cool of the day.
Mary only recognizes Jesus when he calls aloud her name: “Mary”. If you saw your Hotda or Wo:wo (Grandma) in heaven you may not actually recognize her in her new spiritual body. But if you heard her voice call your name with its unmatched warmth and affection it would be different. Also, John us of the promise of Jesus that the sheep who follow him will indeed “know his voice.” (Jn 10:4). Mary replies: “Rabboni,” and seems to have fallen to the ground clinging to his feet. Yet instead of consoling Mary he corrects her by telling her to stop holding on to him. What Jesus seems to mean is that she is holding on to her former understanding of him. Mary thinks Jesus has just been resuscitated like her brother Lazarus and so everything is going to be as it always was in their lives. Yet, he is no longer simply her earthy Rabbi but now is the Risen Lord who is ascending to the Father to make peace between God and man. Jesus asks her to let go of the limited categories of her thinking and open up to a new understanding of him as the Risen Lord which she does at this moment.
After her recognition of him Jesus sends Mary to the disciples with a message: “I ascend to my Father and your Father to my God and your God.” This astounding statement means that those who believe and are baptized into Christ have the same relationship with the Father as does Jesus. Mary returns to the disciples and says “I have seen the Lord.” We see here that Mary finally gets it. She does not call him “Rabbi” nor “my Lord” as she did earlier but now refers to Jesus as “the Lord” which acknowledges his true cosmic greatness as the Risen One. She let go of her former categories and opened to the gift of faith.
Now in the ancient world ‘apostle’ meant someone who was sent by the King with a message. This is why St. Thomas Aquinas calls Mary Magdalene the “Apostle of the Apostles.” This honors her as the first person to encounter the Risen Lord and to be sent by him with a message to testify to this encounter. Yet, still the apostles don’t believe her until Jesus himself appears in their midst and shows them his five wounds.
What about us who cannot visibly see the Risen Lord? The good news for us is that simply seeing Jesus physically was not enough for Mary to believe. The moment Mary recognizes Jesus is when she hears his familiar loving voice call her name. And only when he tells her that he must ascend to the Father who is also her Father does she understand that he is the Risen Lord.
As we listen to Mary’s story we are also called to hear Jesus lovingly call our name. We are called to see the love he has for us when we witness him show his five wounds to the disciples. A true encounter with Jesus is experiencing the love that flows from his word. When we do this we confirm the words of Jesus:“blessed are those who have not seen but have believed.” Then, we like Mary Magdalen, can say to others we “have seen the Lord.”