The Empty Tomb … From Darkness to Light

A Special Introduction to This Page

The Scripture passage below, from the 20th Chapter of St. John’s Gospel, is one of classic “Easter Sunday morning” passages. It narrates the beginning of Easter Day, the “Third Day” of which we hear in other places in the Scripture…the Day on which a great miracle would (DID!) take place and which would change the world, life, and the destiny of the human race, forever; the Resurrection Day of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior and Redeemer of all.

Those eighteen verses at the beginning of Chapter 20, (which comprise almost half of the entire of the same Chapter) tell the story, in a carefully presented set of “scenes,” of the arrival of Mary Magdalene at “the tomb in the early morning, while it was still dark,” which then unfold to bring to our full awareness of mind and feeling of heart, the overwhelming and powerful reality of the Resurrection. Jesus, as just described in the closing verses of Chapter 19, was dead…his lifeless and tortured body being taken down from the Cross and laid in a tomb, with a large stone covering the entrance; “finality” indeed!

But now we read, and deeply FEEL the impact of the miracle of the Resurrection, Jesus, was dead, and now he lives; was gone and now returned; was broken and now is whole again; TRIUMPHANT! Mary Magdalene, as well as Peter and “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” i.e., St. John himself, all of whom appear in the eighteen verses of Chapter 20, and who are the “first witnesses” of the Resurrection, are all of “US” in a way, surprised by the deepest joy at the experience of Jesus’ Resurrection…sharing everything through their eyes and hearts. Peter and John, having investigated the now empty tomb, return home to let the other disciples of Jesus know “the Good News.” Mary, who both opens and closes the scene presented the verses, has an even deeper encounter with Jesus in his Resurrection. She SEES Jesus “in the flesh,” in his newly “glorified Body,” and HEARS HIS VOICE CALL HER NAME, which is the very personal act by which she recognizes him after mistaking him for the gardener in the location of the tomb. It is the incredibly joyful recognition of the presence of Jesus which lifts Mary out of her sorrow, grief, and despair. He is alive…and now, so is she!

After reading the beautiful story of Mary at the tomb, and her discovery of Jesus, resurrected and alive, I hope you’ll all listen to the poem (in audio file) linked to this column. It is meant to be a poetic rendering of Mary’s thoughts and feelings after her recognition that her grief and despair are finally over, and that her new life in the Risen Lord has begun.

Friends, Sisters and Brothers everywhere…today, Easter Sunday and forever, we are ALL, in a special way, like Mary Magdalene. We too, as filled with sorrow as we might be (for a hundred unnamed reasons) now, like Mary, can REJOICE at our own encounter with the Lord…WHO CALLS OUR NAMES AND FOREVER CHANGES OUR LIVES.

Happy Easter to all!

John 20:1-18

The Empty Tomb

On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.” So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb. The both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first; he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in. When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place. Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed. For they did not yet understand the scripture that he had to rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned home.

The Appearance to Mary of Magdala

But Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping. And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb and say 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 him.” When she 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.

Listen to Fr. Richard Boyle, OSM