Commentary on Song of Songs 3:1-4a or 2 Corinthians 5:14-17; Ps 62; John 20:1-2,11-18
The Gospel reading, from John, describes the encounter of Mary Magdalen with the Risen Jesus. We are told that Mary went to the tomb early on Sunday morning, “while it was still dark”. The darkness not only indicates that it was before sunrise but also expresses the feelings in Mary’s heart. She had lost her beloved Master and was in deep mourning for him. She saw that the large stone guarding the entrance to the tomb had been removed and was very upset. So she ran back to tell Peter and the Beloved Disciple: “They have taken the Lord from the tomb and we don’t know where they have laid him.” The use of “we” suggests that there were, as the other gospels indicate, other women with Mary but they are not mentioned by John.
Peter and the Beloved Disciple then run to the tomb to verify the women’s report. They see the empty tomb and the burial cloths but it is only the Beloved Disciple who sees the significance of their arrangement and believes that the women’s report that Jesus is risen is, in fact, true.
They then go back to report to the larger group and Mary Magdalen is left alone outside the tomb, weeping. Still weeping, she looks into the tomb and sees two angels inside, one at the head and one at the foot of where Jesus had been. They ask her why she is weeping. The word “weeping” is used three times, indicating the depth of her grief. “They have taken my Lord and I do not know where they have put him.” It is not clear who the “they” might be.
Just then, she turns round and sees Jesus there, except that she does not recognise him – a common feature of all the resurrection stories. “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” he asks her. She thinks he must be the gardener. This was not surprising, as we had been told a little earlier (Jn 19:41) that Jesus’ tomb was in a garden. There is some Johannine irony here. At the very beginning, death had come to the human race in a garden, the Garden of Eden, where Adam and his wife and disobeyed Yahweh. Now, life is coming back in another garden. And, of course, Jesus is indeed the Gardener.
It is then that Jesus addresses her: “Mary!” In speaking of himself as the Good Shepherd, Jesus had said, “He calls his own sheep by name… The sheep follow him because they recognise his voice.” So here, Mary immediately recognises the voice of her Master; she knows that it is Jesus who is calling her. And she turns. But, just now, she had already turned to face him. This is a different turning – it is an interior turning to her Lord.
Jesus then tells her to stop clinging to him. She thinks she is clinging to the Jesus she knew before. But this is the Risen Jesus already on the way to be united to his Father. From now on she will have to find him in a very different way, in her brothers and sisters. So, she is told to go and tell the other disciples that Jesus is on his way to the Father, to his God and their God.
So Mary goes off to tell the disciples the exciting news: “I have seen the Lord!”
In many ways, Mary Magdalen can be called a Beloved Disciple. No one shows a stronger love for Jesus than this woman who had been liberated from a seriously sinful life. She was there with Jesus’ Mother and some other women at the foot of the cross keeping vigil, while not one of the men disciples was to be seen. After Jesus was buried, she kept vigil by his tomb. Early on Sunday morning, she was there again when the tomb was discovered to be empty. After the visit of Peter and the Beloved Disciple, she alone stayed on to mourn.
In this gospel, she is the very first person to whom the Risen Jesus reveals himself. And she is the very first of his followers to announce the Resurrection of the Lord. This gives her a unique place in the Gospel story.
There is a choice of two First Readings. The first is from the Song of Songs and expresses the lover’s distress at the loss of the one she loves and then her joy at finding him. “I sought him whom my heart loves but I did not find him… The watchmen came upon me… Have you seen him whom my heart loves?” Just then, she comes across him: “I had hardly left them when I found him whom my heart loves. I took hold of him and would not let him go…”
The similarity with the Gospel story is very close.
The alternative First Reading is from the Second Letter to the Corinthians. “The love of Christ drives us forward,” says Paul. It was this love that drove Mary Magdalen. And it speaks of a new relationship with Christ: “From now on we regard no one according to the flesh; even if we once knew Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know him so no longer.” This was what Mary Magdalen had to learn. She could no longer cling to the Christ she had known earlier.
The Christ we know now is to be found in every person and in every experience of our life. It is there that he is to love and served. We will ask Mary Magdalen to help us know Jesus better.