Mary Magdalene and the disciples on Easter Morn

Anthony Zimmerman
Reproduced with Permission

1 And on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalen cometh early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre; and she saw the stone taken away from the sepulchre. 2 She ran, therefore, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and saith to them: They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him (John 20).

John's Gospel focuses here on Mary Magdalene alone, but it is feasible that she came with the other women named in the Synoptics. Together they had planned to return to the tomb after the Sabbath to anoint the body of Jesus, as Luke relates:

And the women that were come with him from Galilee, following after, saw the sepulchre, and how his body was laid. And returning, they prepared spices and ointments; and on the sabbath day they rested, according to the commandment (Luke 23:54-55).

More precipitous than the others, when Magdalene saw the empty tomb she raced back to tell Peter and John. She missed thereby the appearance of Jesus to the other women. How did she know where to find Peter and John? Perhaps the disciples were living in a kind of ghetto keeping in close contact. The women had been the early risers. John continues:

3 Peter therefore went out, and that other disciple, and they came to the sepulchre. 4 And they both ran together, and that other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. 5 And when he stooped down, he saw the linen cloths lying; but yet he went not in.

In John's Gospel it is always "Peter and the other disciple" never vice versa. There is no trace here of the rivalry that had once been, when the mother of James and John had made a futile attempt to coax Jesus to situate her boys to His right and left, to to Peter to third position. When John's Gospel was committed to writing half a century later, Peter had already achieved martyrdom, and his successor was caring for the universal Church in Rome. The ambitions of John's mother notwithstanding, Peter and John were great friends and worked together closely.

John, who had outraced Peter, sensed that something of great importance was evident in the tomb, something that Peter must see before anyone else:

6 Then cometh Simon Peter, following him, and went into the sepulchre, and saw the linen cloths lying, 7 And the napkin that had been about his head, not lying with the linen cloths, but apart, wrapped up into one place. 8 Then that other disciple also went in, who came first to the sepulchre: and he saw, and believed. 9 For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead. 10 The disciples therefore departed again to their home.

If a thief had stolen the body, he would not have left behind the linen cloths. These were laid out in orderly fashion (perhaps by the angel witnesses). Note that none of the Gospels mentions who took charge of those linen cloths. My guess is that Nicodemus who had purchased the linen cloths reclaimed them now. Eventually they were preserved in safe-keeping. For this is the Holy Shroud with the image of Christ imprinted upon it. An object of such great significance was sure to be treasured by the Early Church.

John "saw and believed." What about Peter, who saw what John saw? He, too, must have been mulling in his mind the possibility that Jesus had risen from the dead. But he recalled also that he had thrice denied Christ. I think that he blinked, and that he went back to his lodgings to pray and to wait. How would Jesus treat him now? The entire community was likely also waiting to see. In the meantime the witness of the women and the fact of the empty tomb and of the folded shroud began to excite them with real hopes. On the minds of all of them was the question: If Christ is risen, how will He treat Peter, their loud-mouthed leader, who had failed to stand up for Christ when it counted, who had caved in from fear when servant girls pointed fingers at him? The community was in suspense.

Eventually they had their answer: "Christ has risen and appeared to Peter" blurted a happy community when welcoming back the two disciples from Emmaus. Apparently Christ appeared to Peter privately and put his fears to rest. When Peter had reported the happy news to the community, they recognized him again as boss man. His mission to confirm the brethren (Luke 22:32) had begun, and was to be proclaimed by Christ later on the shores of Lake Galilee: ("Feed my sheep").

Peter and John returned to their quarters, but in the meantime Mary Magdalene was back at the tomb:

11 But Mary stood at the sepulchre without, weeping. Now as she was weeping, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting, one at the head, and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been laid. 13 They say to her: Woman, why weepest thou? She saith to them: Because they have taken away my Lord; and I know not where they have laid him. 14 When she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing; and she knew not that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus saith to her: Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, thinking it was the gardener, saith to him: Sir, if thou hast taken him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.

So excited was she that there was only one thought in her mind: She must find Jesus. She overlooked the incongruous appearance of the two angels inside the tomb. She didn't even recognize Jesus at sight. Then Jesus said simply: "Mary." She woke up from her daze.

16 Jesus saith to her: Mary. She turning, saith to him: Rabboni (which is to say, Master). 17 Jesus saith to her: Do not touch me, for I am not yet ascended to my Father. But go to my brethren, and say to them: I ascend to my Father and to your Father, to my God and your God. 18 Mary Magdalen cometh, and telleth the disciples: I have seen the Lord, and these things he said to me.

Her heart melted, and she grabbed Him by the feet. No more questions, no more worries, this was it. Jesus calmed down her excitement, then sent her to be "an apostle to the apostles" as the Fathers were wont to say. Fleet-footed now, she ran as if on air, and then gushed to the disciples "I have seen the Lord!!!"

I once had the unforgettable experience of sitting for a long time on a bench just outside the Holy Sepulchre, reflecting on this scene. It was on the very spot where Mary turned to see Jesus. Somehow heaven never seemed closer to me. When Jesus spoke the word "Mary" she came out of her daze, and all the world was right again. You and I await a similar experience. After death, when Jesus greets us and calls us by name, our eternal happiness will begin. This world will be behind us, and we will be enraptured by the goodness and kindness of Jesus, and "my Father and your Father, my God and your God." Eternal rest grant unto us, O Lord.