Mary at the Empty Tomb - An Easter Reflection

Mary at the Empty Tomb - An Easter Reflection

Homily on Jn 20: 11-18, April 23, 2019, at Communion Service 

The Appearance to Mary of Magdala

But Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping. And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb and saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet where the body of Jesus had been. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid hi." When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for? She thought it was the gardener and said to him, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him." Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni," which means Teacher. Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" Mary of Magdala went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and what he told her.

This text is the inside experience of the resurrection. Mary stands at the tomb: it is empty, and the absence of Jesus’ body deepens her emptiness inside. She peers into the tomb, but does not seem to ‘see’ the two angels with “dazzling robes”. Finding the body of Jesus now becomes her only focus; she frantically searches for this body – the last tangible sign of her life with this wonderful teacher. 

She pays no real attention to the other figure, Jesus, who appears, she simply assumes is the gardener. And again, she doesn’t really ‘hear’ his second question “Whom are you looking for?” Here the Greek text uses an emotionally charged verb that connotes searching with emotional strength and is like Benedict’s ‘seeking God” (RB 58.7) that in Sister Aquinata Boeckmann’s words is always a “matter of love”. Mistaking Jesus as the gardener is actually close to the truth: he is the one who cares for every living being – even a barren fig tree. 

Jesus does not try to answer, he simply calls her by her name “Mary”. And her name, uttered by his familiar voice, filled with his love for her is like life finally breaking into her deadened heart – instantly she recognizes him and responds joyfully “teacher!” 

This one word, this personal call, frees her from her bondage in grief. Though she first clings to him, she can now also let him go and announce with joyful conviction “I have seen – and experienced – the Lord.” 

How often have I, have we stood at an empty tomb – of lost love, a betrayal, loss of ministry? There is no ‘tomb’, just a gaping void  – casting a pall over feelings, thoughts, moods. This text is a reminder: in such moments it is doubly important ‘not to harden our hearts’ in self-consuming grief, but rather be intentional to seek God’s presence outside – where Jesus in so many guises lovingly calls us by name to announce the good news of his full presence all around us. 

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