April 9, 2023
Revised Common Lectionary
Acts 10:34-43 or Jeremiah 31:1-6
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Colossians 3:1-4 or Acts 10:34-43
John 20:1-18 or Matthew 28:1-10
Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Acts 10:34a, 37-43
Psalm 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23
Colossians 3:1-4 or 1 Corinthians 5:6b-8
John 20:1-9 or Matthew 28:1-10
If you come across a fresh grave expecting it to be undisturbed but instead find it empty, what do you do? Each of the four canonical Gospels offer a somewhat different version of how those who experienced the empty tomb of Jesus responded to just such a discovery.
Today we are reflecting on the account from the Gospel of John, in which the central character is Mary Magdalene, a woman whom Jesus had healed. She was part of a group of women, some of them wealthy, who traveled with Jesus and supported his itinerant ministry from their own resources (see Lk 8:1-3). All four Gospels name her as a witness to his crucifixion, but only John gives her center stage in the story of the empty tomb.
In John’s account, Mary comes to the tomb early in the morning by herself. When she finds that the stone has been rolled away, she runs to tell Peter and the “other disciple.” They too run as they make their way to the tomb. They see the place where the body had been laid and the burial cloths neatly set aside. The “other disciple . . . saw and believed” (Jn 20:8), but in what or in whom? The text suggests that he may simply have believed that the tomb was empty, “for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead” (Jn 20:9)—and so, they simply head home. One can imagine them scratching their heads and shrugging their shoulders as they made their way back.
Mary, still grief stricken, does not return to her familiar surroundings. She peers into the tomb, where two angels ask her why she is weeping. She responds by restating the assumption that she had shared with the two disciples: “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him” (Jn 20:13). She is searching for Jesus but does not recognize him when a man she presumes to be the gardener speaks to her. Only when she hears him calling her name does she know that it is Jesus. She turns around and greets him: “Rabouni!” (Jn 20:16).
Mary experiences Jesus as different—she doesn’t know him at first—and yet she recognizes him when she hears her name. He has passed to a new life—he is the same but transformed. He instructs Mary to proclaim the news of this new life to the other disciples: “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (Jn 20:17).
It’s notable that Mary “turned around” (Jn 20:14) to address Jesus, an expression often used in the New Testament to signify change. She is indeed transformed in her encounter with the risen One. Unlike the two disciples who went home, Mary was willing to face the death of Jesus head on by lingering at the tomb. There she would hear the voice of the crucified One who was now raised, and then respond by turning toward him in faith. She was commissioned to be the “apostle to the apostles,” returning to the disciples and becoming the first to proclaim the good news of his rising: “I have seen the Lord!” (Jn 20:18)
Like Mary, we too have been changed. Today’s reading from the letter to the Colossians reminds us that through our encounter with Christ in baptism, we have died with him and have been raised with him to new life.
If indeed we have been “raised with Christ,” then we should “seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col 3:1). That doesn’t mean that we should spend our time thinking lofty, other-worldly thoughts; rather, we are to orient our lives to the new order that Christ both proclaimed and inaugurated in his life, death, and resurrection. The rising of Christ—and our participation in it—has clear ethical implications. We are to set aside the old ways that harm, alienate, and oppress others to embrace a life of service, sacrifice, and love as Jesus did.
The risen Christ has called our name in the waters of baptism, where we have died with him and been raised to a new life. That life, “hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3), is a promise for the future, but it begins now and empowers us to bear the fruit of goodness and righteousness every day and every moment of our lives. “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps 118:24).
A Hymn for Today: “Woman, Weeping in the Garden”
Dan Damon, FHS, while serving in 1991 as a United Methodist pastor in California, sat down to write a new hymn for Easter. Having failed to produce anything in time, he found himself inspired on Easter evening by the story of Mary Magdalene (John 20:1-9) on which he had preached earlier that day. Listen to two different musical settings here and here.
Woman, weeping in the garden,
who has pushed the stone aside?
Who has taken Jesus’ body,
Jesus Christ the crucified?
Woman, waiting in the garden,
after men have come and gone,
after angels give their witness,
silently you watch the dawn.
Woman, walking in the garden,
Jesus takes you by surprise;
when the gard’ner calls you,
“Mary!” faith and joy meet in your eyes.
Woman, weeping in the garden,
weep for joy, for you have seen
Jesus, the Messiah, risen;
Christ, of whom the prophets dream.
Woman, dancing from the garden,
find the others and proclaim
Christ is risen as he promised;
tell the world he knew your name!
Text: Daniel Charles Damon, b. 1955. © 1992, Hope Publishing Company. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857
Tune: KAKIS, KINGDOM (Copes), CEDARWOLF
Image Credit: Easter – Christ appears to Mary, JESU MAFA, Cameroon, 1973
“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.
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